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Book Preface

In December 2020 I came across a Pew Research study that contrasted those who voted for  Biden and Trump. The study pointed out that only about 2% of each set of voters said that the “other side” knew them “very well.” Unique to this study was how it also provided for open-ended comments to let each participant voice what they wanted others to know about themselves. 

Here were two groups of people essentially representing the vast majority of Americans who didn’t understand each other and, at the same time, spoke in a very personal manner. The differences were stark and authentic. They simply saw the world differently. I couldn’t help but think how these two different visions could not affect the more mundane aspects of daily life - deciding what food to buy, what clothes to wear, or what car to drive. I was hooked on this question. 

I knew I needed something that could serve as a foundation for explaining the differences between conservatives and liberals, and more importantly, something that could serve to explain why they buy what they do.  I remembered reading George Lakoff’s book, Moral Politics, in the late 1990s, which had the subtitle, “How Liberals and Conservatives Think.” I promptly found my copy and re-read it. Lakoff brought out fascinating differences between the two groups in the 1990s that ring true today. 

Yet I felt I needed something else in my quest. I struggled a bit with his metaphors of  “strict father” and “nurturant parent” to describe conservatives and liberals. It was also clear that Lakoff was predisposed to a liberal worldview. He was, after all, a professor at University of California Berkeley. He also dedicated the final third of his book to justifying the liberal worldview. 

I’m not a conservative, but I knew I needed a more dispassionate foundation. If I was going to explore what motivates these two groups to form purchase decisions, I needed a different framework, something very neutral and credible to everyone. Yet Lakoff certainly kept my excitement high about the topic, keeping me going.  

As I searched through endless articles, books, and academic papers, I kept bumping into the work of a person who would become a central hero to this book: British social anthropologist Mary Douglas. She’s not someone you hear about outside of academic circles, but her work in studying different social groups, including primitive cultures, influenced thousands of students and hundreds of social anthropological research projects.  She was influenced by Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist who effectively founded the discipline of sociology in the late nineteenth century. 

I was struck by her work and the fact that there was interesting overlap with George Lakoff’s work from cognitive linguistics. Seeing the overlap from two very different academic disciplines gave me confidence that there was a dispassionate foundation to be had. From there, it just kept building and building. 

As you set about reading this book, I ask that you keep three things in mind:

First, I am not a scientist, cognitive linguist, social anthropologist, political scientist, or historian. I am a business person looking for ideas to help others grow their businesses. I spent a career helping other business people through work focused on communications. At the heart of that work was understanding who the customer is and how to get more of them. 

I came to realize over the years that the biggest, most important business decisions require simple truths grounded in evidence that have a big potential impact. The need for simplicity in evidence for big decisions is one reason social anthropology works so well here. As Mary Douglas said in her book, Thought Styles, “One of the objections of art historians to the approaches of anthropology and sociology is that we oversimplify. Yes, we do.” 

Mary Douglas was interested in themes that run through social groups and cultures, not explaining every person or behavior. Emile Durkheim, who influenced her work, was the one who coined the phrase, “collective consciousness.” It’s the collective consciousness we need about markets to improve performance - how customers and markets think as a group. 

Second, this book is not about politics, nor does it promote one group over another. It’s about two worldviews - conservative and liberal - and how they represent two interesting markets. You won’t find discussion of government policy, political candidates, elections, tax brackets, or redistricting. I realize that when you hear the words “conservative” and “liberal” it sounds like politics. Politics is just one expression of worldview. There are many others, including what people buy, as you will see. 

Finally, and most important, this book represents a beginning, not an end. Unlike other books about conservatives and liberals or research papers that explore the two groups, this work offers clear testable propositions for business. There will be ideas here that you can use to grow your business using the best possible measure of success - business results - most likely at very little or no cost. If there’s one thing that can bring everyone together in business, it’s more customers saying, “I’ll take one.”

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