Introducing Contemporary Australian Ideals #1: The Grit Generation

July 11, 2014

Cultural Ideals: An Introduction

The Lab is excited to share the first of five contemporary Australian ideals: Grit. For the last six months, we’ve been gathering qualitative data across nine cultural spheres: home, health and well-being, self-expression, play and entertainment, work, money, food, travel, and relationships. We identified major trends within each sphere, and the commonalities between them. Over the next five weeks, we’ll be exploring the five ideals that were present across a range of different spheres. To kick off, let’s take a closer look at Grit, using Millennials as a case study.

We Were Promised Jetpacks: The Age of Entitlement (1979—2006)

There’s no shortage of criticism aimed at Millennials. On a long list of pejoratives, narcissism is the most frequently cited vice. The Narcissism Epidemic, by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell, is the seminal work on the topic. They argue that the increase in narcissism over the last thirty years is equivalent to the increase in obesity over the same period.  

The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) empirically measures narcissism using a forty-item questionnaire involving a series of binary statements. Respondents are asked to select which statement best reflects their personality. For example:

A. I am very much like most other people

B. I am an extraordinary person

Twenge and Campbell compared NPI results from the same age group, in the same location, between 1979 and 2006. Results are illustrated graphically below (85 samples, 16,275 respondents). 

Source: Egos Inflating Over Time: A CrossTemporal MetaAnalysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory Twenge, Jean M; Konrath, Sara; Foster, Joshua D.; Keith Campbell, W; Bushman, Brad J. Journal of Personality, 2008, Vol.76(4), pp.875-902

In short, every trait associated with narcissism increased between 1980 & 2006, including assertiveness, dominance, extraversion, self-esteem and individualism. The authors concluded that Millennials are the most narcissistic generation to date.  

Millennial’s narcissistic entitlement is the opposite of grit, because it expects success without the requisite hard work. But since the NPI findings were first published in 2006, we’ve seen a counter-trend in response to changing macro environmental conditions.

Revival of ANZAC Values: Grit, Resilience, Hard Work (2008—)

Emily Bianchi, a social researcher, recently authored a paper entitled Entering Adulthood in a Recession Tempers Later Narcissism. She contends that macro-environmental conditions, most notably the Global Financial Crisis, have changed Millennial attitudes of superiority and entitlement, because they have come of age—graduated from university and entered the work force—in a turbulent economic climate. Australia’s youth unemployment rate, for example, has been increasing since 2008.

Young workers are often first on the chopping block because they lack experience. Redundancy, or inability to find a job, becomes a defining life experience, forcing Millennials to recalibrate their self-worth. Bianchi explains, 

“Emerging adulthood is a particularly impressionable stage of your life … a time when identity values and attitudes are typically explored, developed and solidified. Challenging environmental circumstances typically engenders a more interdependent and other-oriented mind-set … Narcissism is tempered by adversity and failure.”

Bianchi’s research is an interesting development in the narcissism narrative. It suggests that the financial crisis, and subsequent economic insecurity, is a driving force behind the prominence of grit as an aspirational ideal amongst Millennials.

Importantly, we have observed grit across all life stages—Millennials is merely a case study. From self-help books to our changing definition of success, grit is a pervasive Australian ideal.  

The Key to Success? Grit. TED Talk by Angela Duckworth.

How can brands tap into grit?

We’ve identified a range of narratives within grit, as well as the other contemporary Australian ideals, which brands can use to help create powerful stories. Moreover, we’ve identified narratives against the trend, which, equally, brands can utilize. The application is bespoke depending on the specific category and brand, so please get in touch if you’d like to discuss the ideals in more detail. Stay tuned for the next installment: Wabi Sabi.