Why do you live where you live?
Or perhaps a better question would be, where do you feel like you’re at home? And why?
This week, across our social media, we explored a little of what ‘home’ is across the world. Historically, buildings are the products of our cultures. Today, building new homes – especially in cities – presents challenges that come with increasing populations and shrinking space. Some businesses like Evocative are approaching this new set of criteria with innovation. Sustainably sourced materials, efficient use of space and a minimal (or let’s say, tip-toe) carbon footprint are the bare minimum for any businesses wishing to withstand the symptoms of globalisation.
But we’d like to talk about what growing populations and bigger, more dynamic shifts in migration flows mean to the concept of ‘identity’. The last couple of years have seen some shameful reactions to fluid cultural shifts. Brexit and other predominantly nationalist movements are symptomatic of nations hanging on to what they believe creates their ‘national identity’.
This week on Facebook we reviewed an article about the concept of ‘nation branding’ and helping governments promote their countries; more specifically, pinpointing the features that make a particular country different from its neighbours. The Institute for Identity talks about the psychology of helping a nation rediscover the essence of its culture (The Guardian: How to sell a country: the booming business of nation branding by Samanth Subramanian, 2017). Distilling and redistributing ancient values and attributes that persist low-key in a country’s modern culture can be part of the process. Having a sense of identity can shape the way a government prioritises budget and attention to social issues, and effectively permeates the functioning ideologies of a populace.
But perhaps holding on to established traditions and habits, mixed with what makes a country different from or superior to its neighbours, is part of the problem. Competing, instead of collaborating, is continuing to live somewhere in the 18th Century. Political consultant and nation-identity expert Simon Anholt talks about the ‘dual mandate’ responsibility of governments of the future. He contends that in the current state of globalisation, anybody in a position of power has two responsibilities; to their own territory, and to the entire human race.
Simon says that there is ‘beauty, power and wonder’ in the effect of globalisation. While the increased connectivity and mixing of languages, ethnicities and cultures could be seen as ‘cultural dilution’, people can get a more effective understanding of how this mixing is actually contributing to cultural enhancement. Anholt says that anybody who thinks coming up with ideas is difficult, has only ever discussed ideas with people from their own culture. In his TED talk, he challenges listeners to approach their next idea as follows:
Don’t ask someone from your own culture. Create a network. Go on Facebook, and ask someone from a different culture to help you. In return, you can help them. In this way, we can create and move between ‘mini-worlds.’
In the modern world, people can often find themselves feeling more connected with someone on a different continent over social media than with their next-door neighbour. Cultural difference is now less about traditions and social practice, and more about life experience, upbringing, priorities and approaches to life.
Anholt hopes that wide-scale cultural change will be possible once it becomes impossible for politicians to discuss anything without relating it to or considering the rest of the world. Governments may struggle to find what is special or unique about their own country, but perhaps ‘nation branding’ is the incorrect term for giving a state or country a new identity. It has connotations of sloganeering, of setting a competitive bar with others, rather than mixing and diversifying the information that flows in and out of a culture.
In his TED talk in Amsterdam, Simon describes what he would like his ‘new cosmopolitan’ Good Country Party to embody (The Guardian: Simon Anholt Interview: ‘There is only one global superpower – public opinion‘ by Tim Adams, 2014). He says it’s a non-political party because it doesn’t represent a single country. He would prefer to represent the space between countries. New Cosmopolitans get together to create and learn, without losing cultural diversity. Rather, it is cultural diversity that will drive the concept of ‘the good country’.
Simon believes that new ideas come from mixing different experiences and attitudes resulting from different cultural upbringings. A ‘good country’ is where, instead of spending time and resources competing with other nations, a governing group or leadership system focuses on working towards solving social and environmental problems in the world as a whole. Having an ‘identity crisis’ does not need to be the downfall of a nation, but rather an opportunity to see multi-culturalism in a new light and embrace the enriching aspects of mixing and communicating with the rest of the world.
To conclude, the principles surrounding ‘branding’ often contribute to identifying the differences between companies. Some perceptions of nation-branding can lead to a similar differentiation. But with an important difference – what few current governments seem to realise is that brand competition (especially if that ‘brand’ is a country) doesn’t have to mean isolating one culture from another. Perhaps there is an alternative: by sharing the processes that go into defining fundamental values, governments – and perhaps businesses, too – can better understand the different reasons somebody might have for making or doing the same thing as you. Perhaps companies, too, have something to learn from Anholt’s modified, globalist approach to the discipline of branding?