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Finally, a Decade We Can Name Is in Sight. And It’s Going to Be Awesome.

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INFLUENCER: Barkley's David Gutting on why the upcoming '20s will be even more significant to culture than the 1960s
I came of age in the '60s. I remember exactly where I was when JFK and Dr. King were assassinated. I gloat over millennials and Z’s because I grew up with the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan, and Motown.

The Temptations almost played at my prom - except the Jesuits who ran our school vetoed that. For the greater glory of God or whatever, they denied us slow dancing with our girlfriends to the real 'My Girl'.

I almost went to the Democratic Convention in ’68. Almost went to Woodstock. That’s the thing about that decade. There were too many almosts. I’m glad I missed one almost — Vietnam (high draft lottery number).

My daughter told me once that she wished she had grown up during the '60s. I told her, “You might feel that, but most people didn’t do all that they said.” But it was a real decade. 

Ever since 2000, we haven’t known what to call our decades. Maybe that contributed to such soulless times. That’s about to change.

The '20s are coming — and I think they’re going to roar more than the Roaring '20s of a century ago. For one simple reason: the power of ideas. More specifically, the power of ideas to sort things out.

For me, 2019 is all about getting ready for the '20s. We live in troubled times. Things were more troubled in the 60s — and what got us through? Ideas.

We started — and accomplished — big things in the '60s. Civil rights. An end to a terrible war. The early seeds of LGBTQ equality. The roots of modern feminism. The environmental movement. The moon landing.

The '60s were the first decade in which we became a true, interconnected culture. One of my great influences from that era was McLuhan because he understood the chaos of the media explosion and the global village it produced. How I wish he was with us today to explain things.

But trust this: a great vortex of ideas — cultural, economic, social, political, and business — in a supercharged networked media system will once again collide and then bring stability.

Drawing from the past, here’s how:

The '60s were not all idealism — see the above accomplishments. What made the decade special was that in politics, business and culture the focus was on enlarging things, not narrowing things. Companies and their brands served more than just growing shareholder value. Success depended on a flourishing middle class, not on CEOs making 500 times a line employee.

The marquis product of the '60s creative revolution was 'Think Small', DDB’s masterpiece for VW — a car and a brand for the masses.

In politics, you won elections by building coalitions of people who were different, not by stirring up 'the base'. The anti-war movement succeeded because a core of dissidents persuaded average Americans that Vietnam was a mistake.

Looking back on the '60s, the lesson is that change brings unity, but only when you invite everyone along. Rock and roll was here to stay because eventually everyone rocked to it.

In these last two nameless decades, we voted for politicians who only cultivated the base and it fractured us. I predict that the next great governing majority will be built under a classic 'big tent'. The party that builds it will rule for a generation.

Similarly, brands have spent too much on the short-term win and on narrow targeting of loyalists — despite overwhelming evidence that it’s a waste of money and that loyalty is an outcome, not a strategy. And while data analytics make us smart in so many ways, it also thinks two moves ahead — not five or ten.

We need a new Think Small and the next creative revolution to imagine it. For 19 years, we’ve been trapped in a time warp of surface innovation that has made the world better for the 20% who have a 401(k), premium healthcare and a passport. Meanwhile, life expectancy is declining!

I’m excited about 2019 because it means the '20s are coming and we can make them more dynamic, and more peaceful, than the '60s. We have creative, strategic, analytic and technological skills that will change the world on a scale grander than Project Apollo.

But if all we do is stir up the base or devote our energy to brand and shareholder value, what’s the point?

Change is a verb — but only when the ideas are big.

Like asking for the Temptations to play your prom.

David Gutting is SVP/director of intelligence at Barkley
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