Nichebusting. The emerging mindset that matters most
Just who are the youth of the urban middle class? According to many reputable youth reports, they are optimistic, confident, impatient, fun-loving, socially active, etcetera, etcetera. Not that there’s anything wrong with what the reports say. It’s just that these very things get repeated year after year. Aren’t these things anyway the very definition of ‘youth’? To top it off, brands have hitched themselves to this reflective bandwagon. Ironic isn’t it, that the way marketing defines the youth hasn’t changed, yet the youth themselves are experiencing great change and nobody knows how to capture it. One can’t help but wonder whether we’re missing a trick here.
Truth is, the story isn’t quite as rosy as has been portrayed. Distinguished historian, Romila Thapar laments in her new book that there has been a noticeable decline in liberal values since independence. We are seeing signs of this decline even amongst our urban youth. There is a concerning retreat to the safety of conservatism and convention. Can the youth push out from this downtrend and help India become the progressive nation that our forefathers envisioned? I’d be sceptical, if it weren’t for an emerging mindset that has the power to shape the future. For the time being, let’s call this mindset ‘nichebusting’ — the ability to plan and discover new ideas that don’t just sit among small, insular communities, but spread far and wide.
Nichebusting is taking root across a variety of youth sub-cultures. The most obvious one is the cult of creatives and designers. Their niche is strong, but there isn’t a lot of busting out to the mainstream just yet. The real nichebusting is coming from university campuses, think tanks and digital ventures.
Buckminster Fuller once said, ‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change things, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.’ We live in a society where mass change requires Herculean effort. The only answer is the invention of a completely new order that rips stereotypes apart and creates a Renaissance of sorts. Nichebusting is just that — open-sourced, human-centred, both left and right-brained. Nothing like the rigid, linear models that currently drive planning and execution in India.
Residential campuses, for example, become points of intersection where people from diverse backgrounds share opposing opinions, yet also share ideals and values that unite them in purpose. Jawaharlal Nehru University and its socialist bent is one such example.
Imagine a nation of young, enterprising people, problem-solving for society and evolving popular culture. A nation that is thriving because it offers its citizens a sense of holistic wellbeing. It’s a long way to get there, but if this emerging mindset is any indicator, it’s satisfying to believe that we will.
Nichebusting is taking root across a variety of youth sub-cultures. The most obvious one is the cult of creatives and designers. Their niche is strong, but there isn’t a lot of busting out to the mainstream just yet. The real nichebusting is coming from university campuses, think tanks and digital ventures. These are zones of enterprise where socio-cultural and economic norms get hotly debated, issues get identified, and the ambition to make change gathers momentum. Residential campuses, for example, become points of intersection where people from diverse backgrounds share opposing opinions, yet also share ideals and values that unite them in purpose. Jawaharlal Nehru University and its socialist bent is one such example. Indian Institute of Technology, on the other hand, is quite entrepreneurial.
There are three major forces that are creating favourable conditions for innovation. The first is the global cross-pollination of people and cultures. The second force is the growing sense of national and cultural identity. The third, and this is key, is access to technology. Technology reduces operational barriers, improves economic viability and increases output quality. Those who have experienced the benefit of all three forces are most likely to become nichebusters. They are more dynamic, more risk tolerant, motivated towards a goal, and astute.
There are five defining characteristics of nichebusting:
1. Hardwired for design
Design thinking is fundamental to nichebusting. It means that you must have empathy, vision and a plan. And that you must be comfortable with the fact that the plan itself will change based on the discoveries you make. Design thinking is a diamond-shaped process that begins with the identification of a human problem, moves into an expansive exploration of possibilities, synthesises towards a solution and ultimately culminates in a beautifully functional experience. Sounds quite obvious, but it’s not easy. According to IDEO’s Tim Brown, ‘The myth of innovation is that brilliant ideas leap fully formed from the minds of geniuses. In reality, most ideas are borne from rigor and discipline.’
2. Remixes influences
Originality is a quest best left to those who are overly precious. Like the old adage, ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, the nichebusting mindset is open to diverse influences and willing to plunder somewhat shamelessly from them. In doing so, you can find inspiration, feel validated and, most importantly, understand your own potential. Many great artists have done exactly this and espouse the wisdom of it. Francis Ford Coppola makes a compelling appeal, ‘We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice.’ Embracing, remixing and blending what already exists won’t make you an imposter. It makes your ideas naturally interesting, and worth sharing forward.
3. Strikes at stereotypes
Where there are gross cultural generalisations, there are also counter inclinations. As our lives get increasingly distributed across various social worlds, there is greater truth to be found in the long tail. Nichebusting picks up on these counter points and dares to predict whether they will merely survive or thrive. You don’t have to be an anthropologist or a futurist to make a forecast. What you need are the powers of observation, pattern recognition, analysis and yes, a measure of cockiness to believe in your vision.
4. In constant beta mode
‘I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.’ It is only fitting to quote Steve Jobs in an article such as this. We are living in an age of rapid technological advancement, constant experimentation and therefore perpetual betterment. It is never good enough to stop at just one idea. There will always be versions, derivatives and hybrids to think about. Nichebusting urges you to remain at the forefront and is highly competitive. It’s not only about being first, but also about staying far ahead and apart from everyone else. As Ronak Gupta, a student at IIT Delhi told us, ‘At IIT everyone is always running. If you don’t run, you will be left behind.’
5. Relentless acumen
Though it would be nice to say that nichebusting is a selfless pursuit — for the love of an idea or a social cause alone — it is not possible. Nichebusting must include capitalist sense in addition to die-hard commitment. Add to that the ability to master multiple disciplines, open doors, construct a network and deliver a strong sales pitch. Nichebusting requires a steel constitution that even Superman would envy. A recent article in Wired magazine told the story of Boomtrain, an early-stage startup whose founders were looking to persuade Silicon Valley accelerators to fund their idea. To put it mildly, it was beyond stressful.
There are many examples of nichebusters across India. I’m not discussing them in this article but, if you have read through to this point, you yourself are probably one of them. The purpose of the article is to bring to light a relevant, progressive spirit and give it a name. We should be telling the youth what is so productively awesome about their generation, empowering them with a meaningful identity and exciting them with the prospects that they themselves will make for the nation. Marketing should wake up and recognise where the youth could be going. Making ads asking the youth to follow their dreams is not enough. Especially because nichebusting is a mindset that matters greatly. Not only to young people but also to the direction of the nation and to India’s reputation in the world.
This article was originally published in issue 22 of Kyoorius Magazine.
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