Dominance hierarchy is a phenomenon in which a clear hierarchy is established within a social group, often through aggression or force. Once a dominance hierarchy is established, the dominant group will often create a social ranking system to designate how, where and when members of different social groups may interact. These ranking systems apportion different levels of value to people in different groups, who will then have to compete for access to resources, services and opportunities.
In modern society, multiple dominant hierarchies may exist at the same time across multiple spheres, each with their own social ranking systems and criteria. An overt example would be China’s recently devised Social Credit System, in which every citizen is assigned a numerical value designating their social “worth”, but the same principle can also be identified in more precarious social hierarchies, such as race, class, education and occupation.
But what happens when we witness the failure of these systems – or when a system can no longer sufficiently achieve its objective of distribution? Does this serve us better as individuals?
Are we trading the safety of an institution for the pursuit, and acquisition of personal freedom and power?
With this in mind, it’s possible that we have finally begun to see the promise of Ascending Authority come to fruition.
For previous generations, audiences looked to established entities and brands for inspiration and guidance. Attitude was the most vital quality required in order to stand out.
Today, this has changed. New thinking can now be found around every street corner, influencing our understanding of the past, the present, the low and the high.
The next wave of innovators are the keyholders. They choose their inspiration the same way they choose their collaborators. They learn, they broadcast, they fail and they stay up. It changes day to day, hour to hour. Their very mode of being is responsive and never stagnant.
When individuals fight for their truth, power and influence can no longer travel in one direction, descending from the top to the bottom. The individual acquires the access, influence and power to armour themselves.
Where technology’s proliferation increasingly gave millennials a voice with which they could interact with brands, Gen Z are now moving one step further. They don’t respond to brands; brands respond to them. This new power shift has already initiated a flurry of smaller changes, such as the increased co-creation and customisation of products, crowdsourced campaigns and the rise of micro-influencers that shun the spotlight over big celebrities that openly court fame.
Subtle drivers are impacting brand manoeuvres worldwide as they come to terms with the notion of being reactive, existing in a climate of 'opt in’ or ‘opt out'. Nobody is falling in line and simply doing as told. Where once a systemic framework drove the formation, cohesion and continued existence of an ecosystem, that same framework is now being broken, and new bridges being built, in a way that will radically alter the way our consumptive society functions, if not transforming it altogether. Indeed, many old institutions have already been caught out and forced to change the foundations of their ideas and communications. Others, too slow to react and too complacent in the status quo, have collapsed entirely.
Major changes are happening inside the old hierarchies that once arranged and organised our society. The “ascending authority” – younger generations leading trends and movements from the bottom up – are now becoming astute listeners, confident decision makers and pragmatic movers. From magazine publications and fashion houses to tech circles and even political parties, the old guard is waking up to an uncomfortable proposition; prepare for replacement, by choice or by force. The new wave has opened the door and is in the boardroom, and they’re not there to gain a better view. They’re there to hold their own conversation, and to keep the door open for the next group.
The new wave has opened the door and is in the boardroom, and they’re not there to gain a better view.
In 2018, we may have reached the year that marks the beginning of the next phase; the ‘post-ascending authority’. Young people and marginalised groups’ cultural takeover is no longer the next phase; it is the norm. This year began with unease and turbulence, but it is within this instability that we acclimatise and evolve.
So, the big question is this: Now that the youth have found themselves finally in a position to shape the future, what does that future look like?
Stay tuned for a series of responses to come from industry thought leaders.
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Read response #1 from Harry Benson here.
Read response #2 from Lillian He here.
Submission of new ideas and responses can be received at firstname.lastname@example.org