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Understanding Individuality and Self-determination

women with curly hair smiling directly at camera

Have you ever walked into a café or restaurant or even down a supermarket aisle and felt a sense of déjà vu?

In a nutshell

  1. The Kiwi Code Individuality and Self-determination provides an opportunity to break the sameness that many categories inadvertently fall into. It requires an understanding of the current cultural landscape and the nuances of what individuality means in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
  2. The stuff we make and experiences we provide as organisations actively contribute to an individual’s identity and the way they are perceived in public.
  3. If we want to demonstrate individuality and self-determination in a genuine and authentic way, we should consider how our tone of voice can reinforce or enhance our current (or future) role/s in society.

It’s almost like things are becoming more and more alike and it is becoming harder to distinguish things. This sameness tends to occur when everyone is looking at things through a similar lens or problem-solving with the same tools, solutions, activations and aesthetics begin to converge.  

The Kiwi Code Individuality and Self-determination provides an opportunity to break the sameness that many categories inadvertently fall into. It requires an understanding of the current cultural landscape and the nuances of what individuality means in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Our identity

Erving Goffman’s microsociological (the study of human social interaction and agency in our everyday lives) theory of Impression management (The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 1959) provides a useful framework in which face-to-face interactions can be analysed to better understand the social dynamics that play a part in self-expression and individuality while navigating the cultural context of Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Impression management theory describes the goal-orientated conscious (or unconscious) process in which we regulate and control information so that we can instil a positive impression of our self onto the people we are interacting with. The theory gives us a viewpoint in which the stuff we make and experiences we provide as organisations actively contribute to an individual’s identity and the way they are perceived in public. In many ways, the products and services one choses to use acts as a celebration of one’s individuality and self-determination.

In many ways, the products and services one choses to use acts as a celebration of one’s individuality and self-determination.

Goffman’s theory describes social interactions as happening on a metaphorical ‘stage’ whereby ‘actors’ (us as people) work together to create, maintain, defend or enhance our own, and each other’s’ identities and role/s in a given situation through the use of language (verbal and body), clothing and a myriad of other things we might draw on to navigate a situation. We may even play many roles, drawing upon multiple ‘masks’ or wearing several simultaneously, bringing a unique perspective and reinforcing one’s individuality.

Our identities in this case are not singular or fixed. Rather, a social construct constantly in flux and negotiation - a product of social interaction.

Cultural forces

As social interactions do not happen in a vacuum, we also need to consider the cultural forces at work.

In the case of New Zealand, while being an individual and expressing differences is valued, maintaining collective harmony is also important.

In the case of New Zealand, while being an individual and expressing differences is valued, maintaining collective harmony is also important.

To bring back Goffman’s metaphorical stage, when we interact with others we try to maintain social harmony (“support the collective good”), Kiwis “don’t rock the boat” and “don’t make a song and dance about it” so that things go smoothly. However, things go awry when this harmony is broken by actions that undermine the collective, even if the act of individuality had good intention.

two men high fiving with a sunset in the background

What does it all mean?

So, what does this all mean for us as organisations that want to demonstrate this Kiwi Code??

It requires a shift to look at our customers as whole people that live complex lives (wearing many ‘masks’, carrying out many roles), who cannot always be viewed through a lens that is transactional, binary, or otherwise. Furthermore, context matters and understanding the nuances of individuality and self-determination in Aotearoa, New Zealand is important. If we want to meaningfully connect with our audience, we must also consider our tone of voice.

If we want to meaningfully connect with our audience, we must also consider our tone of voice.

Language affects mindset, and mindset affects behaviour. More and more in discussions within focus groups, co-creations and the like, we are hearing people express that they want to be talked to like they are humans that live varied and different lives - not to be pigeonholed. They want their nuances to be acknowledge and understood and to feel like there is some form of mutual dialogue.

Thus, if we want to demonstrate individuality and self-determination in a genuine and authentic way, we should consider how our tone of voice can reinforce or enhance our current (or future) role/s in society. It’s not about giving sermon, talking down to people or bringing others down for our own benefit. Whether it is reframing our communications to be more about adult to adult conversations, speaking on a level playing field (whatever that might look like in our relevant industry). Ask yourself, what impression do we want to instil onto our customers and perhaps to make it simpler, which ‘masks’ do we not want to be wearing?

The role of organisations

As makers of stuff and creators of experiences, how might we meaningfully contribute to our customers’ lives that reinforces, creates or maintains their identity? And, perhaps, there is even an opportunity to give or gift a ‘mask’ to our customers, being an enabler for their future social interactions.

No matter what we decide to do, we need to be genuine and authentic, and at times, one may need to draw upon some past actions or strong reasoning for taking the stance, so that our actions are not seen as coming out of the blue.

No matter what we decide to do, we need to be genuine and authentic, and at times, one may need to draw upon some past actions or strong reasoning for taking the stance, so that our actions are not seen as coming out of the blue.

Our recent survey conducted in 2019 looked at how well organisations demonstrate the Kiwi Codes. It showed that retailers generally fare quite well demonstrating the Individuality and Self-determination code, however, overall, brands don’t do so well and there is definitely room for improvement. Being on-code and demonstrating Individuality and Self-determination requires understanding the nuances of what individuality means in Aotearoa, New Zealand and that it is coupled with self-determination. It also requires empathy – understanding peoples’ uniqueness and difference, celebrating it and not putting people in a box.

Jonny Almario
Cultural insights specialist

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