Reinventing the Story of Age

On the cultural code of generations, the 'cool old guy', and brands

I know we're not supposed to talk about "the generations" because segmentation like that is usually an oversimplification. I get that and it's true.

But there is a right way to talk about it, and when you do, you see the underlying conditions that explain our beliefs and behaviors, a.k.a. strategic gold. 

In our newest episode of Talks at Concept Bureau, global brand strategist and researcher Martin Karaffa talks to us about "The Cultural Code of the Cool Old Guy", and the identity of older men in today's society. It's a fascinating topic that reveals truths not just about a generation of older men, but about all of us, in any generation.

Some insights from this talk that I still can't get out of my head:

  • How Boomers danced on Soul Train vs. how Gen Z dances on TikTok and what that tells us about anxious cultures

  • Both Boomers and Gen Z were born into unique social and political climates that shaped their tendencies toward self-fulfillment and apprehension, respectively

  • "It's expensive to live in your head", or how climbing up Maslow's hierarchy makes happiness more costly

  • Reinventing the story of age will require us to see the patterns that bridge the people of every living generation

America and much of the western world still hasn't figured out how to fit old age into its youth-centric narratives. Youth is such a powerful symbol of all that is desirable, but where does that leave the masses who have aged out? Where does that leave the men who hit higher numbers but are living longer and healthier lives?

Why is the matter of age still such a difficult thing for our culture to resolve?

As partner at Hofstede Insights (now the Culture Factor Group), Martin has done a great deal of meaningful study around age, masculinity, global belief systems and values. There is so much to learn and understand here.

This talk will give you an incredible awareness of how generations evolve over time, and a deep respect for the ways in which different people navigate their worlds. 

If you want to reinvent the story of age, start here.

For The Intellectually Isolated

We're one week into Exposure Therapy, our new community for strategic minds, and I already know there is something really special happening here.

I've also learned 3 important things about this incredible group:

  1. People really want to be exposed to new thinking, and after our first community research drop on Positioning & Storytelling, I can tell this is where our most provocative work is going to happen.

  2. As our member Iñaki Escudero says, Exposure Therapy isn't just a membership, it's "wisdom, knowledge, community, curiosity, enlightenment, connection, and endless awe."  

  3. This is for people who feel intellectually isolated. I heard this more than anything else in our onboarding interviews. Smart people who do strategy usually have to do it alone.

If you feel intellectually isolated, if you want to indulge your curiosity and feel enlightened while connecting meaningfully to other people, I invite you to apply for our March cohort. 

Applications are open. Come join us. 

Too Good To Be True

Here's what we've been consuming.

Using Fiction to Find Your Strategy (Harvard Business Review): "Design fiction is a technique that immerses executives and employees deeply in various possible futures, and uses artifacts such as short movies, fictitious newspaper articles, and imaginary commercials to generate transformation roadmaps. Rooted in the future but helping to act in the present, design fiction results in concrete actions taken to adjust companies’ visions, strategies, and activities to create a better future."

Why we stopped making Einsteins (The Intrinsic Perspective): "Some geniuses weren’t tutored, although verifying an absence is surprisingly difficult; tutoring is often not deigned to be mentioned except in detailed biographies. Certainly though, it appears that would-be-genius children had extremely abnormal amounts of one-on-one time with intellectually-inclined adults, who often introduced them to advanced topics far beyond their age. Once you begin looking, tutors pop up like mushrooms around historical geniuses."

How Surveillance Is Changing Our Most Intimate Relationships (The New Republic): "the effect is particularly pernicious when it comes to our relationships with our neighbors, with our employers, and with our romantic partners—three intimate connections that control a staggering proportion of our day-to-day experiences. And these relationships are increasingly being watched. When surveillance is a given, it might seem invisible, but as it spreads, it redraws the lines of our closest relationships."

Merch Madness (Eater): "Restaurant merch is now so cool, resident cool girl Alison Roman is selling merch for a restaurant that doesn’t exist. I myself have purchased the infamous Daddy’s Little Meatball shirt and, for some reason, a hat that says “Pizza Shirt” from a Philly pizzeria I’ve never been to. We can’t even see the shark anymore... This penchant for nostalgia, this “pics or it didn’t happen” mentality, is another piece of the merch-addiction pie. Merch is a very effective “You are here,” a dropped pin on the mall map of your life."

The Friendship Problem (What Do We Do Now That We're Here): “One question I keep asking that I had no idea was going to be so pertinent: When you grew up, did you play freely on the street? … And the majority of the people learned to play freely on the street. They learned social negotiation. They learned unscripted, un-choreographed, unmonitored interaction with people. They fought, they made rules, they made peace, they made friends, they broke up, they made friends again. They developed social muscles. And the majority of these very same people’s children do not play freely on the street. And I think that an adult needs to play freely on the street as well."

The 100-Year Extinction Panic Is Back, Right on Schedule (New York Times): "Apocalyptic anxieties are a mainstay of human culture. But they are not a constant. In response to rapid changes in science, technology and geopolitics, they tend to spike into brief but intense extinction panics — periods of acute pessimism about humanity’s future — before quieting again as those developments are metabolized. These days, it can feel as though the existential challenges humanity faces are unprecedented. But a major extinction panic happened 100 years ago, and the similarities are unnerving."

[BONUS] Last week's episode of Brands and Outliers was a great conversation about how the bustling negativity economy has taken over our homes (see TikTok's girl with the list), our dogs (see overmedication of pets), and even the night sky (see "Sky Grief"), and it's distorted our perceptions of reality. We also discussed how reality is increasingly downstream from digital and early signals that we're starting to think about maximizing “second life”.

Somewhere In The Middle

Quick hits of insight in socially acceptable places.

Patently Trippy

Creative inspirations for the other side of your brain.

Here's the true meaning of framing in strategy:

"I could put this candle in an all-white gallery space and make it look like a piece of art. I could also put this candle in a garage and make it look like a piece of trash. I often think of that analogy in design. I could design the candle, or I could design the room that surrounds it.” - Virgil Abloh

We understand things in context. If you don't control the context, you don't control the story.

We discussed this in our first research drop for Exposure Therapy last week, and its a good reminder that so much of brand strategy is framing the room around your brand. 

Every brand lives within many frames. There's the national frame of your country, the local frame of your markets, the physical frame of point of sale, the mental and contextual frames of your category, and so on.

Each frame is an opportunity to play within a larger story... or play against it. Nobody says those frames have to be followed.

Sometimes the things that jump outside of the frame are more important than those that stay within it.


Jasmine Bina
Founder & CEO
Concept Bureau, Inc.