In search of significance

June 1, 2016

We live in interesting times. We are more prosperous than ever before in human history, but we increasingly feel that we must run harder and harder even to stay in one place – let alone making any headway.

In all of this haste we are becoming estranged from ourselves and from one another. Life is fragmenting into small pieces and we are plagued by a lack of prospects. There is no time to recognise who we really are and what we are ultimately looking for in life. Some people hold that we are heading the right way, but just need to go faster, perhaps by prolonging our working hours. Others even think that we could afford to slow down if only we could be sure about our choice of direction.

It’s time for the big questions. What is progress? What makes life worth having? What do we ultimately need more of, and what should we cut back on to live a good life?

The average person in Finland owns 10,000 commodities. Would our lives be any better if we owned 20,000? What objective is sufficiently deserving of the best efforts of our unique lives? Is progress best represented by bigger display screens, smarter phones and faster computers? What can we learn from the fact that the sense of wellbeing among citizens of developed industrialised countries has not increased since the 1960s?

Advanced design is all about the quest for successful living. It does not relapse to the style of the early 2000s as a mere provider of experiences, but advances to the next level of seeking significance, thereby responding to the shift that has replaced money with time as the determiner of adequacy and opportunity. This engages with the customer not merely as a passive consumer, but as an active stakeholder.

A successfully designed product or service will open new horizons of significance in life that enable users to connect their own lives to a greater whole. For example the customer experience of café service will be increasingly determined by knowledge of where the coffee beans were grown, who was involved in the work, and what the cultivation conditions were.

The products and services of the future will benefit business owners, their employees and the surrounding community. They will combine self-interest and the common good, because they will be based on shared value creation. They will give future generations a reason to be proud of us.

Progress will be anything that maximises hope for the future and that unleashes the full potential of people and human excellence. It will be experienced as a thoroughgoing zest for life that makes us feel more worthy as people and ready to face each new day.

Life will be enjoyable in a society where people trust one another, work in harmony and take care of each other. A climate of progress will enable us to be everything that people can be at their best.

Dr. Arto O. Salonen is an adjunct professor at the University of Helsinki. The title of his doctoral dissertation is Sustainable Development and its Promotion in a Welfare Society in a Global Age. He is currently researching sustainable consumption and societal change for successful living.