In the Age of Meaning, Owning Becomes Passé

According The Atlantic, young Americans aren’t buying cars.

The horror!

As the auto industry goes into a tailspin, every other industry needs to pay attention.

Values and behaviors are changing in ways that challenge traditional business models, marketing approaches, and the ways in which you deal with customers and employees.

So, what do people want these days, if they don’t want to own stuff?

In a fascinating Fast Company post, “Why Millennials Don’t Want to Buy Stuff”, consultant Josh Allan Dykstra explains:

  • “Humanity is experiencing an evolution in consciousness. We are starting to think differently about what it means to “own” something. This is why a similar ambivalence towards ownership is emerging in all sorts of areas, from car-buying to music listening to entertainment consumption. Though technology facilitates this evolution and new generations champion it, the big push behind it all is that our thinking is changing.”


In our paper, “The Age of Meaning” we explore this concept and note how this evolution in consciousness is making people more discerning about what they buy, whom they buy from, and for whom they work. As such, this has profound impact on any company and changes the way it needs to reach out to people inside and outside the business.

We refer to an individual’s quest to create meaning in their lives. Mr. Dykstra refers to this as “connection”:

  • The biggest insight we can glean from the death of ownership is about connection. This is the thing which is now scarce, because when we can easily acquire anything, the question becomes, “What do we do with this?” The value now lies in the doing. In other words, the reason we acquire “stuff” is becoming more about what we get from the acquisition. Purchasing something isn’t really about the thing itself anymore. Today, a product or service is powerful because of how it connects people to something – or someone – else. It has impact because we can do something worthwhile with it, tell others about it, or have it say something about us. As leaders and entrepreneurs, we can intentionally use this knowledge to our advantage. We just have to think about the stuff we sell in a slightly new way.


How to connect to people seeking to create meaning in their lives

The article also details three reasons why people are buying differently these days, and offers tips on how businesses can address these emerging desires.

  1. People buy things because of what they can do with them. TIP: Create crystal-clear communication that helps people connect to how your product or service makes their lives better. An obsession with simplicity is essential.
  2. People buy things because of what they can tell others about it. TIP: Help connect people to other people through your business. Sales isn’t really about selling anymore, it’s about building a community.
  3. People buy things because of what having it says about them. TIP: Connect people to something bigger than themselves through your product or service. A bigger impact is almost always there, we just tend to forget about it.


In the Age of Meaning, businesses, products, and services need to rethink how they reach out to people who are seeking meaningful connections.

They need to look within what they do today, extract the hidden meaning that lies within, and build that into a meaningful presence that fits squarely with what people want today.

This is not business as usual.

It is the way businesses thrive in the Age of Meaning.

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