PRSA Counselors Academy: Watts Wacker

Watts WackerCounselor’s Academy ended on a high with a tour de force presentation by Watts Wacker, the celebrated futurist. (Watts describes himself much more entertainingly as a “twenty-first century alchemist.”)

Wacker was at turns humorous, inspirational and thought provoking. I can’t do him justice in one blog posting. You really have to see him. But I’d like to offer some snippets:

“What does the World look like after The abolition of context? There is no context today. The study of what has come before. Studying what has come before will not provide good insight into the future. It used to be that the mainstream would define the future. Now the fringe, the edge, has replaced the mainstream in the Zeitgeist. How else could Ozzy Osborne become a model for fatherhood?”

“People do not know what to trust anymore. People do not believe that institutions are prepared for the future. There’s never been a better time for people to swallow hard, summon courage and take the radical step. In our industry,this will lead to the demise of the traditional ad agency. Because the traditional agencies are unable to step outside of what they know.”

“We can’t stay here. There is a groundswell of people coming up who are saying, I’m ready to go. I just need to know who to trust to take me there.”

“Self selecting social organziation: a thousand years ago, the biggest contribution of Christ was the organization of life around families. Now we are moving to a neo-tribalism, a desperate search of people to find someone like themselves. This is what blogs are about.”

“In the broadcast model, value equalled the size of the audience. … Metcalfe’s Law of Networking Theory: The next person into a network makes everything before it have more value (e.g. fax machines). Every new person in, makes everything have more value.”

“As we move into this self-selecting organization, you have messaging, content creation, networking and commerce creation. The value creation becomes truly exponential. … You’re the ones who can help our clients put themselves together with new self-selecting communities.”

“The media centric life: We no longer define one another through possessions. We now define one another through the media we consume. We are starting to frame social discourse around something other than stuff. This media centric-ness is growing at a precipitous rate.

“All life is mediated. It’s all third person-driven. We should start to think about messaging as a result of that. We are now living in the pluperfect tense. Newspapers no longer write about what happened yesterday; they are writing about what may happen tomorrow. We are living in a future-focussed world.”

“We have new forms of tribal media. When Gianni Versace was shot, there was a cover story on Biker Magazine. That was counterintuitive. But as I looked at this I realized that the mass media tell you what you need to know about, but the tribal media tell you what you need to think about.”

“Post-America Geopolitics: We are seeing the dawn of the post-America era. Australia is an example of a country that spent the past century oriented to the west and now it is defining it’s future in relation to China.”

“Beauty and Earth: The post modern movement has come to conclusion. Just as the Empire Struck Back, so has beauty. In post-modernism, beauty wasn’t to be appreciated; it was to be parsed. … Beauty is coming back. We will have a new relationship with beauty. And the earth will be the recipient of that.”

What would I do if I were you?

“Relationship Theory: We have to really understand this. … The greatest currency in the world is reciprocity. Stop holding stuff back. You must give a view. Sellers should understand that I am never the same consumer two times in a row.”

“Story telling and myths: What can you hold on to in a time of change. Myths are truth stories. … A good story teller tells a story well. A great story teller helps me find myself in the story.”

“From “fringe” to “mainstream”: Malcolm Gladwell told us about one stop on the line; remember there’s a whole train line. Anything that makes it to social convention begins on the fringe. We don’t recognize enough where things are and where they are going. Stop hiring people like me to be a cool hunter for you. Do it yourself.”

“Do right to do well: Adam Smith was right, It’s called enlightened self interest for a reason.”

  • lauren

    I find Wacker’s commentary on “the media centric life” interesting as he has decided to focus on the concrete / abstract dichotomy between possession / media, but hasn’t mentioned the idea that perhaps instead of simply moving away from a possession-based hierarchy (because, really, the media one is able to consume is generally, to a certain extent, dictated by one’s media-mediating possessions)what is happening is that we are actually just furthering the commodification of knowledge (and media is merely the happy means to that end), which in turn is furthering the stratification of knowledge – taking it into a new age where there are merely more ways of attributing value to ‘what people know’ via how they obtain that knowledge. Which, really, is nothing new. I’m not arguing with him, I just find his focus interesting from the little blurb you’ve selected and would really like to hear the context in which this statement was made.

    Joe, thanks for giving me something to ponder on a Monday afternoon.

  • Hi Lauren,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I wish that my fingers had been able to type faster and that I could provide you with a more complete report of Wacker’s comments. However, I don’t think he really expected everyone to agree with him. He was really priming us to think about these things. As he said, he is a 21st century alchemist – an elusive dream!

  • Sean Reid

    Wow! This was like reading throught the book of Proverbs! Thanks Joe…

    This is the one that most caught my attention:

    “People do not know what to trust anymore. People do not believe that institutions are prepared for the future. There’s never been a better time for people to swallow hard, summon courage and take the radical step…”

    Sadly, I believe this is true in so many ways, and in fact it is the Information Age that has brought this on. My question would be, is it the end of “trust” or the end of “ignorance”?

    Take the world of medicine for example. It used to be that our GP was the one stop shop for all your day-to-day medical needs. My observation (and it is strictly an observation) is that there really is no “one-stop-shop” in medicine any more. GPs have been reduced to little more that convoys and facilitators between patients and a vast array of specialists to cover every medical eventuality. The institutions we “trusted” to bring us our medicines are now viewed predominantly as corporate pirates and bullies, or worse. On the flip side, it seems that medical NGOs have fallen prey to politics at the expense of fair-minded objectivity…we see this in the stem cell debate particularly in the US. And what about those plugging natural remedies. Even that bunch has become fractuired between the real deal, and snake oil salesmen.

    We are surrounded by medical advise. All of it different. All of it “right”. Never has the onus been more firmly on the patient to take charge of his or her own medical well-being.

    Just some rambling in response to some deep thoughts…

    Thanks again for sharing. Wacker sounds like a cut above the rest 😉


  • Sean,
    I think of it as the end of “trust” and the end of “innocence”…