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The rise of the Renaissance Man
The broadest overview of the past 10 years in Canada reveals a jagged panorama of noteworthy
events that have left a deep impression in the minds and imaginations of Canadians, weaving
themselves into the fabric of their lives. The September 11th attacks, two recessions, climate
change and job outsourcing via globalization lead a long and varied list of dramatic upheavals.
Disillusion, division and cynicism are flooding the political scene at an unprecedented pace. Bad
news seems to dominate our everyday reality, certainly on the public and media scenes.

The world seems increasingly chaotic. One might assume that such a turbulent era would spawn
depressed mental postures. Surprisingly, we’ve observed the exact opposite: our analyses all
point to a resilient, opportunity-seeking, population – at least a burgeoning majority of it – filled
with vitality, eager to adapt to the ever-changing world, and driven to develop their potential to
the fullest.

Our work reveals that over the years, the Canadian population has developed a unique capacity
for resilience, transforming the potential threats encountered in their daily lives into opportunities
for advancement.

In many ways, the current context leads us to believe that we are witnessing a revolution in the
way Canadians view their lives, a movement we have labelled the Rise of a New Renaissance
Man. This trend or phenomenon may not be universal, but there is no denying that it is currently
driving and dividing people into separate camps. Reduced to its simplest expression, the
catchphrase for these modern times has become: to adapt or not to adapt.

In analyzing the characteristics defining this leading trend in Canadian society today, as well as its
various implications for marketing, branding, public policies, human resources, management and
all other areas, we observe that the context that spawned the original Renaissance Man circa
1510 is being uncannily mirrored in Canadian society 500 years later – in 2010.

(the earth is no longer flat!)
During the 50s and 60s, society’s worldview was determined by what we call a predictive,
deterministic paradigm. Life was controlled and dominated by Man. We built dams to control and
harness the flow of rivers; we developed and executed 5-year plans in the certainty that things
would unfurl according to schedule. Every aspect of our lives was modelled on a “flat” straight
line that was invariably bound for the stars. Our parents believed that “tomorrow was bound to
be better than today, just as today was certain to be better than yesterday”. At the same time,
social, political and technical progress carried the promise of a continually ascending lifestyle and
well-being. Work-centric life gave way to a leisure society.

We can safely declare that the current era represents a notable paradigm shift. Even though the
days of wine and roses are long gone, many of us grew up in that era and still feel entitled to the
comfort of predictability. Unfortunately, our modern times repeatedly demonstrate just how
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unpredictable life has become, that things can happen at any moment to tip the scales. Many
aspects of life, so long taken for granted, could suddenly and irreversibly morph into new and
unexpected situations. Whether on a global socio-economic scale, where upheavals can heavily
impact our lives, or on a more personal level, where deference to authority has given way to
individuality, meaning even those closest to us can abruptly deviate from established
commitments and loyalties, our lives can be changed in the blink of an eye.

This passage from a “deterministic paradigm of predictability” to a new paradigm based on chaos,
complexity and uncertainty indicates a view of a world that has become “round” after having lain
“flat” (linear) since the dawn of time.

This context has created a force that segments society and its markets into two camps: on one
side are individuals who perceive that fast moving change provide opportunities and personal
possibilities; on the other side, individuals who decode change as a threat and actively pursue
security and comforting experiences. As can be seen in the following illustration, the figures we
obtained in our surveys over the past decade are quite revealing:

To Adapt or Not to Adapt

Opportunities or Threats

  Adaptability                                                              Uncertainty &
& Opportunities                                                            Need for comfort
                                  2001 : 46%               2001 : 54%
                                  2009 : 56%               2009 : 44%

    This axis, or factor, summarizes several indicators.
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More than two Canadians out of five (and growing) are adapting well:

Rapidly heading toward one in two Canadians:

These numbers provide unique readings: not only do we see a growing majority of Canadians
who are learning to adapt to uncertainty, but we also observe an increased determination to find
opportunities therein. They show a decided and growing capacity for a “right-brained,
polysensorial, intuitive” approach to life, an opportunistic, instinctive, almost animalistic way to
connect with what is unique and relevant to them in this new world and to draw inspiration from

Alain de Vulpian, our French colleague, calls this growing trend “Socioperception”2, a capacity to
“sense” the world and the people around us, to constantly adapt to it and them, and find ways to
make the most of it and them while developing a “systemic intuition” of the others and the
“systems they face”.

    De Vulpian, Alain - Empathie, socioperception et anticipation, Cahiers de SoL n° 11-12 – p. 61.
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Globalisation and Planetary Online Networking
As in the Renaissance period, when the discovery of the Americas and the New World opened up
countless new possibilities for trade as well as access to many new resources, today’s
globalisation represents an obvious equivalent that can play a fantastic, catalysing role in people’s

One need only develop a new idea ready to be marketed or a personal interest or passion that
craves to be shared, and the global scope of our lives today permanently opens up innumerable
new streams of possibilities. If you want to put something new on the market, the planet is
yours! Moreover, we constantly discover new people whom we connect with via the internet and
social media, with whom we are increasingly eager to share different thoughts and interests. The
world is becoming smaller by the hour as we connect with one another in real time and with
unprecedented ease (Skype, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Technology compresses space and time,
many universes and levels of relationship are collapsing on one another and, spectators to it all, a
growing proportion of the population not only adapts to it, but is fascinated by the endless
possibilities it provides.

This may already have been stated by academics more than a few times over the past few years.
Our wish here is simply to point out the boundless and growing enthusiasm with which Canadians
are integrating these tools into their lives and leveraging them.

This enthusiasm is also fuelled by the perception that all these new technical possibilities not only
compress time and space and allow us to connect with anyone, anywhere, at any time, but also
represent the means for us to leverage our possibilities. The new world is therefore wide open to
us, close at hand and just a click away.

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Gutenberg and Broadband Access
For his innovative use of mechanical movable type printing, Gutenberg was long considered the
father of all modern printing and although the curve of adoption of this innovation was quite slow
in its infancy – virtually the only book published at the time was the Bible – it nevertheless
represented a fantastic revolution in its capacity to circulate and disseminate ideas.

The current growth of internet broadband access in our households and the exponential
progression of content it provides is certainly today’s equivalent of Gutenberg’s printing press.
Today, as never before in the history of mankind, we have easy access to a unique mass of
knowledge: everything and anything can be found one “Google” away, a smorgasbord of content
that offers culture, entertainment, science, consumption, politics or any other insight we may
need in our drive to get ahead.

The availability of this content, and the growing tendency of Canadians to use it, has made
organizational transparency one of the most important values in our society and the consumption
market today, a particularly delicate issue as consumers tend to view everything through an
ethical prism. Consumers are turning into experts3 in all their areas of consumption. They read
everything they can get their hands – and eyes – on regarding any product or service they wish
to purchase or any cause they are engaged in, and more often than not, they share this
knowledge with the people they’re connected with4. This accessibility of content is more
empowering and enabling for citizens and consumers than ever and there is no denying their
awareness of those possibilities, and their constant demand for more.

This empowerment and discernment also drive consumers to ever greater levels of scepticism.
They no longer completely trust advertising and brands, relying instead on the “friends” with
whom they “tweet” to trade opinions. Scepticism also constantly feeds cynicism against politicians
and, in the labour market, encourages employees to be more demanding of their employers.

    A trend that we call Consumptivity in our sociocultural trends
    They become ambassadors of their consumption experience
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          I want to have an impact on today’s society by sharing my
              points of view and opinions with the public at large

          Totally agree
            Somewhat                                             47%

            Somewhat                               30%

               Totally           8%

Learning, Exploring and Leveraging One’s Possibilities
The Renaissance Man of the 16th century sought to expand his knowledge through reading and
re-discovery of the Bible and the writings of Greek philosophers. In fulfilling the same need,
today’s “Explorers” enjoy a unique and unprecedented access to an abundance of content;
however, while the Renaissance Man mainly strove to elevate his soul, people today look for
content to stimulate their minds and develop their personal possibilities while having fun.

Over the past few years, personal development has become one of the most important and
growing drivers behind people’s choices in every area of life. They want to discover new people
with new ways of living, seeking to stimulate themselves and foster their own development. In
seeking to further expand their possibilities, they closely monitor the development of new
technologies. In fact, this is one of the key motivations that evolved very rapidly over the past
years: we observed a growing proportion of people convinced they had within themselves a
wealth of untapped potential and looking for ways to realize it in the new world.

When we combine all these characteristics, threats and evolutions, we strongly conclude that
we’re witnessing the Rise of the New Renaissance Man.

In the broad segmentation of the population provided by the Panorama/3SC socio-cultural map,
we can see that in 2001, 22% of Canadians belonged to our “quadrant” of Personal
Development/Exploration-seekers. This proportion ratcheted up to 32% at the end of 2009.
Representing one-third of all Canadians, these individuals are opinion-leaders who heavily
influence the trends. They combine all the characteristics previously discussed in this article and
are at the core of this leading movement toward personal development.

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Such is not the case for everyone in our society. Sadly, at the other end of the spectrum, one
Canadian out of five is what we call a Nihilist, people who have lost or tend to lose hope in
society and have difficulty finding meaning in their lives. These Nihilists are the exception
however, as a majority of Canadians follow this overall path toward personal development even if
they don’t share each and every characteristic with the Explorers.

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Conclusion and Implications
We believe that our surveys are measuring something that is deeply rooted in people’s
motivations and that such growing trends carry very important implications for the types of
experiences that Canadians are looking for. They look for stimulation, new experiences,
empowerment; they are possibilities-driven, want to live in harmony with the people around
them, their communities and the environment. Moreover, they want to get these experiences
from the markets, institutions and businesses they deal with, as well as from their employers.

Some brands and corporations are marvellously relevant in answering these needs. Brands such
as Apple, Tim Hortons, and Cirque du Soleil, as well as Shoppers Drug Mart and WestJet, are
reinventing the experiences they provide in their respective categories, more than adequately
fulfilling the growing needs of Canadians. Now, it may be true that these brands deservedly
succeeded in winning over the Canadian consumer, but the challenge and opportunity are
available to everyone. Brands and institutions have to find ways to be creative and stimulating, to
bring leverage to people, open up possibilities and provide empowerment.

In the labour market, these trends seem to be in even greater demand… but how can a job be
stimulating and filled with opportunities on a daily basis? I’m afraid that is the price we have to
pay today in order to keep valuable employees in our ranks and to attract new, dynamic talents.

In conclusion, two truths seem amply evident: on one hand, the world is becoming an
increasingly demanding place for corporations and institutions to navigate in, and for individuals
as well; on the other hand, we are living in fascinating times that open up an unprecedented
array of opportunities.

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