Being on top of your business means having a vision. As Sir Isaac Newton once said: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Social commentator Hugh Mackay is a ‘giant’ and when he talks about how we’re changing and the trends that are emerging, savvy business people should see that he’s opening the window of opportunity.
For over 30 years, his Mackay Report was compulsory reading but after a French company paid for a slice of the action, it’s now the Ipsos-Mackay Report.
A few years ago he released his book called Right and Wrong: How To Decide For Yourself. Mackay thinks ethics are making a comeback in a troubled world. “I think that whenever we talk about the marketplace in Australia in these early years of the 21st century, whatever market and whatever relationship with business we’re looking at, the central thing we can’t ignore is that this is a very edgy community,” he observed.
“We’ve tripled our consumption of anti-depressants in the last 10 years, we’re among the world’s heaviest consumers of anti-depressants. In fact, 25% of the Australian adult population are taking some form of mood drug whether they be tranquillisers or anti-depressants.”
Mackay rightly remarked that it was an extraordinary figure emanating out of us being dazed by the experience of living through such a revolutionary period as the last quarter-century. He thinks the gender revolution fundamentally changed the face of business and as a consequence has changed the marketplace, the political landscape and the retail environment.
And while that has all been happening, the process of economic restructuring has produced hundreds and thousands of casualties.
We’ve been expecting a pay off for all these changes but the compensation hasn’t arrived yet, except in the form of part-time work and not the kind of work that the people who were retrenched necessarily wanted to do.
The restructuring, in his mind, has had a tremendous emotional impact on Australians, as has the information technology revolution: changing the way we live, changing the way we work, the way we communicate with each other, the way we entertain and inform ourselves.
“I think that’s a huge story for business to understand because people are fatigued, exhausted, bewildered by all those revolutions and they have really switched off,” he ventured. “They’ve turned away from the big picture, they don’t want to know about globalisation, foreign investment, population policy, aboriginal reconciliation, youth unemployment, etc. “They’ve turned their focus away from that and turned their focus inward which means they’ve become quite obsessed with the quality of their own lives and this has driven them to be very active consumers.”
This is great for retail stores and real estate agents, and the consumer confidence index, and even some of the happiness index measures, he says, but it’s really a reflection of a marketplace that is in retreat from some of the big issues that have been reshaping us. In other words, we might be running away, but what we run to will at least make us materially happy and we have a big interest in improving the quality of our own individual lives.
“I think a major social trend that business needs to watch very closely is the fact that at the moment we’re very focused on backyards, I mean literally backyards,” Mackay pointed out. “If you look at our television viewing habits, you’ll see that we aren’t so interested in news and current affairs. What we’re interested in is backyards and home renovation and cooking and so on.”
This is a big plus for small business. In fact, Mackay argues that this is a symptom of people who are starting to think small and who are getting very local in their focus. They’re very interested in their backyard, in their street, in their suburb, in their kids’ schools. And the next step in the way they see this world of revolutionary changes is to become more mistrustful of the big institutions, whether that’s the church, the judiciary, the police, politicians and even institutions like marriage and the family.
“We’re looking at the lowest rate of marriage that we have had for a hundred years,” Mackay noted.
“We have the lowest birth rate in our history, we’re looking at rapidly shrinking households and within the next couple of years the most common household type in Australia will have become the single person household, with 50% of our households containing 1 or 2 people.”
Mackay thinks these are very big changes and it comes with a greater feeling of mistrust. Business corporations are part of this focus of mistrust. We’re a bit uneasy about who the real people are who are driving the big picture, who we associate with all this trouble, all this instability and uncertainty.
This gives rise to a more local focus and it provides opportunities to small, trustworthy operations. The lesson might be this: Be ethical and watch the customers come.
Here are some survival tips for small businesses:
• The world is changing and the window of opportunity is open
• Small businesses have a chance to show consumers just how good they can be
• Foster trust and ethical practices in your business dealings and consumers will see you for what you really are - honest.