Is Optimism Dead?

As we approach 2020, the future feels less certain than ever for customers. So that’s why we’ve launched Life as a Customer, a window into the worlds of 700 customers, powered by C Space. We share our first findings in this article…

Bill Alberti

Chief Client Officer at C Space

Bill Alberti is C Space’s Chief Client Officer. Day by day he’s driving a more progressive and customer inspired version of change for the world’s biggest and boldest blue-chip brands. He’s like the Atlas of our world – holding client strategy and marketing on his shoulders across C Space’s 200 clients and 200,000 consumers. Before C Space, Bill was an ad man at Arnold Worldwide and was instrumental to the agency’s success. In his free time, Bill goes boating in the Boston “Ha-bah,” packing his best angling gear to go fly fishing, and still latches on to his childhood dream of becoming a Zamboni driver…

Kylie C. is a mother of two young boys, living in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana, about 30 miles west of Baton Rouge. Kylie is middle class, has a good job, is in good health and is conservative in her views, but generally dislikes politics.

C Space is getting to know Kylie, and about 700 other people from all walks of life, in an ongoing global study, which is re-imagining business from the customer’s perspective, called Life as a Customer.

When we asked Kylie about her hopes and fears as she goes into 2019 she said, “My biggest hope for the future is to give my kids the best life I can. My biggest fear is not being able to do that.”

At first glance, there isn’t anything too striking about Kylie’s comment. But when we look at the thousands of comments like hers, we see a common theme emerging: her hopes are that her fears don’t come true (and vice versa).

Regardless of the issue – whether it’s politics, the environment, world peace, healthcare or finances – people’s fears are bigger than their hopes. People are saying they hope something bad won’t happen, so that their fears don’t come true; and they fear something bad will happen, so their hopes don’t come true. Either way, it’s about the hope or fear of something bad happening, not about the possibilities of something great happening, damn the fear.

Whichever way you look at it, people broadly share a deeply pessimistic view of the present and the future (despite not identifying themselves as pessimists … since no one wants to be seen as a pessimist).

When we dig into why people like Kylie default to the negative, the reasons are obvious and familiar to all of us. We hear of the worries about macro politics, finances, violence and the environment that seem to surround us 24/7 in 2019. It appears that this macro “cultural negativity” is affecting our micro cultures of family, person, home and work.

But an even bigger question than “why?” is “so what?” What should businesses do to be relevant and meaningful to customers when their customers generally feel lousy about things today and tomorrow?

At C Space, we often find it valuable to look at tough challenges with creative techniques – to “look for possibility” rather than ask for easy answers. So we explored the topic of “the best advice you ever got”… and, unsurprisingly, people shared common maxims we’ve all heard before: “haste makes waste,” “never make a decision in anger,” “the journey is the destination,” and so on.

One of the most fascinating things we found was that the advice centered on seeing things from a different perspective. Then, using that perspective as a starting point, the advice encouraged action. But action from a place of empathy. Of taking yourself out of your own shoes and putting yourself in someone else’s.

As interesting as the advice given, was who most often gave the advice: people’s grandparents. Grandparents, by definition, have two generations more experience than grandchildren. This experience has afforded them wisdom built on tough times and struggles that were, arguably more stressful, divisive and difficult than ours in 2019. Despite the challenges of their lives, their advice nearly always defaulted to the positive. To the optimistic. Not simply in theory, but in practice.

Trina G., a mother of three from Coffee County, Alabama, told us a story of her grandmother’s advice to her when she got in trouble for being mean to another student as a teenager. Her grandmother told her, “I want you to put yourself in that kid’s shoes and imagine how you made them feel today. Don’t do people like that. Do to everybody as you would want them to do unto you.” Trina continued, “I’ve made a lot more friends than enemies, thanks to my grandma.”

Rather than let Trina wallow in self-pity or punishment, her grandmother inspired Trina to shift her perspective and then act on that shift throughout her life. To make “more friends than enemies” by thinking about how people wanted to feel. Action with empathy.

There’s a great lesson for business in Trina’s story: shift perspective – from what a company wants customers to do, to how customers want to feel. To act with empathy, by default.

Given a society of people who tend to default to the negative, companies that can default to empathy can act as a catalyst of optimism in a world that feels overly pessimistic at present. Empathy that can help Kylie see bigger possibilities and less fear. Empathy that enabled Trina to live out the advice she got from her grandmother. Empathy can help us all make “more friends than enemies” and realize greater opportunities to grow – for companies and for customers alike.


As part of “Life as a Customer,” C Space will be exploring business challenges from the customer’s perspective throughout 2019. Please reach out to us at: sophie@cspace.com to ask any questions and to make sure you’re getting our take on the customer’s perspective to inspire your own.

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