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Currents X Codes

kids sliding down a wet tarpaulin

It’s more important than ever to understand the cultural context, read the cultural moment and be ‘on code’.

If we zoom out we can examine New Zealand’s shifting codes in the context of global cultural currents – long term global phenomena that influence all areas of daily life, driven by social, technological, economic, environmental and political events and forces. These currents influence our values and beliefs, and thus our motivations, decisions and behaviours.

While our Cultural Codes allow us to tailor how we identify with New Zealanders, understanding cultural currents provides greater insight into what’s driving the evolution of the codes. By placing codes in a broader context we can start to recognise how and question why New Zealanders behave the way they do.

6 of our meta Cultural Currents stand out as driving the shift in NZ's Cultural Codes:

codes x currents diagram

Earned Success

The cultural currents of Work Revolution and Everyone’s a Creator help us understand the Earned Success code in a larger context.

Notions of status and success have broadened immensely. What we gain recognition for has become both more diverse and more niche. The path to celebrity is cheaper and easier than ever, and there are a myriad more boundary-less ways for word of success to spread. Whether the traditional sporting hero, successful entrepreneur, travelling yogi Instagram influencer or accidental YouTube sensation, everyone has the chance to be known for something these days. Tall poppies are running amok.

With the digital transformation of business, the nature of work and success today means excelling at social media and building your own ‘personal brand’, especially if you have global ambitions. This shift to shameless self-promotion is difficult for the notoriously humble Kiwi, but is the reality of the workforce today. Being a tall poppy is more likely to bring you success – it’s survival, not choice.

It’s not surprising then, that celebrating success has become more acceptable. But our Kiwi code suggests that it still needs to be dignified, authentic, done with humility and a slightly collective, patriotic spin.

Outward World View

The cultural currents of Superdiverse Mindsets and Work Revolution help us understand the Outward World View code.

The shift to daring to take pride in success is apparent in Outward World View, an emergent Kiwi code that posits that while New Zealand no longer feels isolated, we still look to the rest of the world to celebrate and validate our ‘world class’ achievements. It captures the identity transition of a Commonwealth’s younger sibling growing into an independent nation with a unique outlook, yet still needing approval from more established counterparts.

Individual expression and self-determination

This cultural code sits in the realm of Gender Freedom and Superdiversity. Within these two meta-currents are the macro-currents of Identity Remix and Dialogue.

  • Identity Remix: As global citizens, globally attuned while ethnically, religiously, and socially diverse, we are forging our own identities in an ever more culturally remixed world.
  • Dialogue: The need for conversation and safe platforms to express oneself and promote empathy amongst different audiences.

The Trump election and Brexit were turning points, catalysing citizen action and activism, to help people understand what’s happening and where to go next, and bringing the need for dialogue to the forefront. Global cultural currents indicate more platforms for conversation and open-ness. And if you seek it out, you can find this dialogue happening in NZ too, although with less urgency. But uncomfortable conversations are hard for Kiwis who will do just about anything to avoid conflict.

While New Zealand is considered a progressive country, we are still conservative in many ways. Auckland’s Pride Parade, for example, is very different to its overseas counterparts. At an event meant to promote sexual diversity and freedom to love whoever you want, sex was barely mentioned and bodies were almost completely covered up.

Alison Mau and Stuff launched a national #metoonz investigation into sexual harassment after a comparative lack of action in New Zealand, writing: "Since the Harvey Weinstein allegations came out in October last year, I've been watching very, very closely and reading as much as I can about what's going on worldwide and I've seen some amazing reports from the United States, the United Kingdom and even Australia. But there's been... radio silence here in New Zealand.” 

The Belief in Social Equivalence code suggests that we are self-reflective as a nation but don't seem to know how to get to where we want to be. Is our ‘don’t rock the boat’ mentality an advantage or something that is holding us back?

auckland pride parade
Auckland Pride Parade

Belief in Social Equivalence

Given the ambivalence apparent in the cultural code of individual expression and self-determination, it’s understandable that Kiwis are feeling pessimistic about social equivalence.

“We’re living in an economy, not a community.” While New Zealanders’ values of fairness and equality stand strong and unfaltering, times are uncertain and getting ahead has become competitive. Fearful of getting on the wrong side of the inequality and housing gap, people need to ensure their families succeed. The ‘she’ll be right’ mentality doesn’t fit with today’s uncertainty.

The New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study through the University of Auckland suggests that although people are aware of social and environmental issues, they are becoming disillusioned with the impact they can have as individuals.

Belief in Social Equivalence lies in the ambit of the Audacious Change cultural current which sees people looking for daring approaches to effect true, transparent, inclusive change.

Problems seem big and intractable with solutions hard to imagine. Like many around the world, New Zealanders are looking to companies to play their part. While the New Zealand economy is thriving, people believe that social conditions are worsening and so is the environment. Companies willing to step up and show they care about these issues will earn the respect of Kiwis. Kiwi pessimism suggests that New Zealanders need some impetus, guidance and lifting up in this context, a role that brands can have a part in.

Connection to nature

Encapsulated in our meta-current Nature, the yearning for nature is felt all around the world as we seek equilibrium. Driven by climate change, anti-industrialism, urban lifestyles and a digital backlash, disconnection with nature is also impacted by our living in a more competitive society, loosening community ties, work-dominated and time poor lives, and more involved parenting styles.

The desire to be close to nature drives worldwide trends such as mindfulness, meditation, and unplugging. While reconnection to nature is a global cultural shift, the uniquely Kiwi take on this is the nostalgia and sense of loss that New Zealanders are losing a way of life.

We are all influenced by global movements and media, whether we like to admit it or not. Understanding how these influences are filtered and manifested in a uniquely Kiwi way is how brands can ensure they are culturally relevant in an way that resonates with New Zealanders and echoes across land and through time.

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Antonia Mann
Cultural strategist at TRA

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