By J.D. Booth
Feb. 14, 2013
It’s not quite time travel, but for the co-authors of “Pendulum: How Past Generations Shape our Present and Predict Our Future,” it might as well be.
Not only do Roy H. Williams and Michael R. Drew give their readers more than a glimpse into what’s to come as far as business, marketing and what they say is an inexorable march toward connectivity, they show carefully collected evidence that it’s already happened-and will happen again.
But first a little background on how these predictors seemingly put it all together.
Williams is known in marketing circles as the “Wizard of Ads”-a moniker he earned after dramatically raising sales for several of his early clients, many of them in the jewelry business, and many taking what might have been a leap in taking Williams’ advice.
For years, the Wizard, based in Austin, Texas, has doled out his wisdom in steady spoonfuls-a Monday Morning Memo, classes he’s taught or brought in others to teach at the non-profit Wizard Academy, and clients who gladly pay for his advice.
And Williams has learned to “eat his cooking”: A clause in his contract ties his fee to any increase in his client’s sales. And vice versa.
Michael Drew has worked with Williams for years, notably on marketing the “Wizard Trilogy,” a collection of marketing truisms that were on the New York Times Bestseller list.
When they began working on the ideas behind Pendulum, a friend recommended they check out another book, “Generations, the History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069,” by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Those authors had identified a 20-year cycle of change, predicting as the title suggests, a continuation of that cycle several years into the future (the book was published in 1992).
Williams was impressed but not satisfied. He believed in his heart that the key “pattern” was actually twice as long as Generations had revealed.
For Williams, an evangelical Christian, noting that the Bible has more than twenty, 40-year generational patterns in the Old Testament alone, it was the flint that sparked the writing flame that became Pendulum.
As Michael Drew explained, Williams began his own research into historical patterns, including reviewing 120 years of history.
And then Dr. Kerry Mullis chimed in.
Mullis, a chemist who in 1993 won the Nobel Prize for improving polymerase chain reaction (think CSI and DNA testing) and who later took one of Williams’ classes at the Wizard Academy, urged the authors to take more of a scientific approach to what became Pendulum.
“He essentially said we needed to do our best to disprove the Pendulum concept,” said Drew.
A funny thing happened on the way to writing their book.
“As we did the research, trying to disprove what we thought was occurring, the more obvious it became,” added Drew.
So where are we now?
According to Williams and Drew, 2003 was the beginning of a shift (back) to what they call a “We” cycle-an emphasis on ideals like “conformity for the common good” and strengthening a society’s sense of purpose as it considers all its problems.
The opposite side of the swing, which for the authors of Pendulum is the period from 1983 to 2003, is the “Me” period, with its demands for freedom of expression, personal liberty, big dreams and desires to be “Number One.”
“Think of the Pendulum as the 40-year heartbeat of society, systolic and diastolic,” write Williams and Drew. “Contract and the Pendulum swings upward, relax and the Pendulum swings down again.
Where the energy of the “swing” comes from is apparently the all-too-human tendency to take good things too far.
“The beautiful ‘we’ dream of working together for the common good gains momentum until it becomes duty, obligation, and sacrifice,” the authors point out. “What began in joy ends in bondage.”
Drew continues to be one of the “up front” faces in the presentation of the Pendulum concepts, having set up an ambitious book marketing program (which is, after all, what he’s done for some 70-plus books that have made it to various “bestseller” lists).
And he’s busy presenting to youth groups, corporations and private audiences across the nation and beyond.
In what may be one of the most interesting “changes of lens” that Pendulum offers, it could be argued that the traditional age-related generations (think baby boomer or Generation X) isn’t really what’s driving societal change at all. Rather, it’s the long-standing swing between the emphasis on “Me” and “We.”
Quoting New York Times columnist David Brooks in their book, Williams and Drew point out that the swing to “We” is obvious in Brooks’ writings, including this one from a column written May 30, 2011 titled “It’s Not About You.”
“Finally, graduates are told to be independent-minded and to express their inner spirit,” Brooks wrote. “But, of course, doing your job well often means suppressing yourself -¦ [and] being a good doctor often means being part of a team, following the rules of an institution, going down a regimented checklist.”
The authors of Pendulum also quote Catherine Colbert, who writes for the Hoovers blog site Bizmology, in support of the idea that “swing” trumps age. Referring to Millennials, Colbert wrote: “The age of this group isn’t as important as its attitude.”
Williams and Drew say historical social patterns shouldn’t be any more surprising than any other ebb and flow in nature-like the gravity of the moon affecting the tides.
“‘Me’ is the gravity of the moon,” they write. “‘We’ is the momentum of water.”
Even more poignant may be the authors’ reluctance to tack political agendas or philosophies to a discussion of “me” or “we” phases in the swing of the pendulum.
“If you attempt to assign political beliefs to the swings, you’ll become as confused as a termite in a yo-yo,” they add early in the book.
What is somewhat prescient about the future is the identification of “Alphas,” leaders that emerge in literature, entertainment and technology about six years before one of the “Me/We” swings begins to take hold, may be critical to fully understanding (and adjusting) to what drives society.
Drew and Williams look at movies like 1999’s “Fight Club,” “8 Mile” (2002) and even “Juno” (2006) as evidence of the shift to the “We” side of their pendulum.
But not all points of culture make it smoothly to the other side.
Take, for example, what was supposed to be a 2003 blockbuster starring real-life romantic stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. “Gigli” was touted to be a $54-million hit, but turned out to be a famous dud, bringing in less than $7 million worldwide.
Nearly at the same time, a ticket for the first in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise was nearly impossible to get. Its message, according to Pendulum: “working together is the only way to get what we want.”
The box office impact of the two films was also underscored by the phenomenon of texts that amplified what individuals thought of the two films (bad in the case of Gigli; good for Pirates).
And that connectedness is part of the “We” swing.
Williams and Drew, leading up to the publication of Pendulum, gathered a group of colleagues to discuss what to expect from the current period in that cycle (2013 to 2023).
One of those present was Jeffrey Eisenberg, co-author (with his brother Bryan) of several best-selling books on marketing, among them “Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?” and “Call to Action.”
Asked to make his prediction for “what’s next,” Eisenberg said he foresees a “continuation of the trend to give up privacy for the greater good.”
Referencing the Patriot Act and more recently the Facebook phenomenon, Eisenberg says, “most people don’t yet realize that when they look something up on Google, it doesn’t always show them what it might show someone else. This personalization of data just drives each of us deeper into a perpetual cocoon . . . and we are giving up privacy because we don’t want to pay for stuff. We like the comfort of it. And there is also this feeling of needing to prove that we have nothing to hide.”
Michael Drew, who was part of the panel, may have the most ominous prediction for the years 2013 to 2023.
“I think we are going to stay in a recession,” he said. “We probably aren’t going to see a full recovery of the economy until around 2023.”
Co-author Roy Williams, who was also part of the panel discussion, believes the general public will try to purge the system of corrupt politicians.
“We’ve seen too much self-serving among our politicians, and a ‘We’ generation just won’t stand for it.”
Michael Drew might not be quite as pessimistic, if only from the perspective that knowing and understanding how the swing in the pendulum will affect society gives people a tool they can use to at least cope, if not succeed, from the tectonic changes ahead.
In digging deeper into the premise of Pendulum, Drew has developed a companion presentation in which he talks about how companies can gain lessons from how the Internet continues to change how people live and work.
“It’s not a marketing and sales tool,” notes Drew. “It’s a relationship building device that’s foundational and fundamental. And the micro-conversations that we have in the real world are finding a new home online.”
Understanding personality types (such as that found in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) can be a helpful way to customize business conversations (including advertising), says Drew.
But understanding is key to thriving in a “We” cycle.
“In a ‘We’ cycle, it’s about pull and relationships. When we were in the ‘Me’ cycle, people were pushed to be better, to take action. Now it’s about allowing the audience to have a relationship with you.”