November 30, 2022

The Death of Demographics: David Allison

After decades of award-winning work for some of the biggest brands in the world, David Allison was left questioning the use of demographics to understand consumer behavior. Does anyone act their age anymore? Does gender dictate what we care about? Does income education or marital status explain why people do what they do? 

In a contemporary world, the answer is no. Demographics tell us nothing about how people make decisions about anything. So David went looking for a better way and soon discovered that behavioral scientists knew the answer all along: What we value determines what we do.

This idea was the basis for We Are All the Same Age Now, and he’s continued that thread through to his new book, The Death of Demographics. If you’re a marketer or a creator, the behavioral science analytics in David’s book will change the way you look at your target audiences and change the way you look at the world.

Let’s get to my conversation with David Allison.

Josh Raymer: Welcome to Author Hour. I’m your host for today, Josh Raymer. Happy to be joined by David Allison, two-time author, the new book is called, The Death of Demographics. David, thanks so much for joining the show today, my friend. How are you?

David Allison: I’m doing great, thanks for having me over. Nice place you got here, I like it.

Josh Raymer: Thanks so much. Happy that you’re here, happy to be talking about the new book, really excited to dive in today. The book is called, The Death of Demographics. So if this were an autopsy, what would you list as the cause of death for demographics?

David Allison: Well, you know, truth be told, demographics died out as a way to understand people a very long, long time ago. Demographics are a system of looking at each other from olden days and today, we don’t need to use that system anymore. There was a time when it was very essential where everybody had a demographic destiny, where there was rules to follow or social orders would just all fall apart and suddenly, nobody would be able to function. 

If you were in, you know, 14th century small town in France, and you were a young woman and you weren’t making babies to repopulate the next generation, you are not living up to societal expectations of what your role in the world was supposed to be and similarly as a young man, if you weren’t out killing the food and bringing in the stuff off the farm and old people had a job to do, young people had a job to do, everybody had a role, and it was about survival of the species, but we don’t have to live like that anymore. 

Today, we get to largely curate our own lives. There’s still work to do of course, there’s still segments of the population that aren’t as able to curate as freely as they would like to, whereas as they should be able to but largely, we don’t have to live by demographic rules and restrictions anymore and yet, we still like to do it because we haven’t had a new system. 

We still sit in boardrooms and look at each other and go, “Well, who are we trying to talk to?” Eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old me who make $50,000 a year and have a college education and their entry-level employees at a big firm. So therefore, they’re going to be all like this, or they’re going to be all like that, and it’s just nonsense. It just doesn’t mean anything anymore.

What Killed Demographics?

Josh Raymer: Yeah, I have to imagine, David, any time I turn on the news, recently it feels like—I’m starting to see more of this, “Well, this is how Gen Z differentiates from Millennials” and having worked together before and being introduced to Valuegraphics previously, it always made me roll my eyes because I thought about you pounding your fist on the desk saying, “No, no, this is not how we should be looking at this.” But this is the world like you said, that we still live in because we haven’t found a suitable replacement.

David Allison: I’m going to jump in right there.

Josh Raymer: Yes, please.

David Allison: Because you just opened up that door for me in a great way. So we have this global database now. We’ve talked to 750,000 people around the world in 152 languages, and we’re accurate in a 180 countries and one of the benefits of the way we built this dataset. If you’re a data geek, you’ll know what this means, it’s a random stratified statistically representative sample of the population of planet earth, which basically just means is it’s an exact replica in miniature.

So we have the same proportionate number of Gen Z and Gen X and men and women in all the different countries of the world. So we can go in there and say, “How similar is Gen Z? How similar are Millennials? Is it okay for us to say, Millennials are doing this and Gen Z are doing that and boomers are all like this. Can we actually do that? Does the data hold it up?” 

The answer’s no. It absolutely doesn’t and, in fact, if you take any demographics label, gender, income, marital, sex, number of kids, age and say the people within those labels, let’s call them buckets, the people within those buckets, how similar are they to each other? Well, the data will tell you that across the board, this is an average, so some are a little higher, some are a little lower, but 10.5% similar within any one of those buckets. 

So you think about that for a moment. That means they’re 90% unsimilar, dissimilar, unalike. So you spend a buck trying to talk to Gen Z because you think they’re all going to be like this or they’re all going to, you know, want that, you only got a 10.5% chance that they’re going to respond to anything you’re going to say. 

That’s a 90% fail rate on that dollar, and I know I’m rambling here but I’m going to keep going. You think about marketers getting all excited around digital campaigns or email campaigns where they get a 3 or 4% response rate, that’s like, “Yay, champagne time, we got a 4% response rate!”

That’s a sucky response rate. That’s a 96% fail, and we get excited about it? It’s because we’re using demographics to try and understand people. There’s the proof, it just doesn’t work. If we’re celebrating failure or marginal, marginal, tiny infinitesimal victories and we think that’s amazing, the system is broken.

Josh Raymer: And we don’t even realize how broken it is. I mean, even anecdotally, seeing some of these stories about, “Well, millennials do this,” and I fall into that bucket of millennials and a lot of times, I’ll just click into this story because I’m curious, and I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no. None of this is right, none of this applies to me.” And yet you’re painting with such a broad brush, it’s like, we haven’t even opened our eyes to how broken the system is yet and that I feel like is the power of what you’re doing is you’re helping illustrate, “Guys, what are we doing? Look at what we’re celebrating. There is such a better way for us to move forward.”

David Allison: Yeah, so let’s talk about that for a moment. So it’s easy to get up on a stage or on a podcast and rip something to shreds because that’s fun, and humans are all good at that. We love being critical. Just like, turn on to your favorite social media channel and see how good we are at ripping things to shreds but coming up with a solution, that’s harder, particularly when it’s something so ingrained as how we all look at each other. 

How we all think about other people. So we had to start by saying, “Okay, what are we really trying to do here? What is this for?” And the reason we need a new system is because we are trying to understand what makes people tick. Putting people in a bucket based on age isn’t really useful. 

Putting people in a bucket based on who they are in the inside and what they care about and what drives them to be a certain kind of person, that’s useful information because every organization on earth, regardless of how big or small or what industry you’re in, every organization, we’re all just trying to get some people to pay attention to us and do something we’d like them to do.

So if we can put people in buckets based on how they decide to do things, that would be a useful thing to do, instead of demographics, which are kind of not useful at all. So Valuegraphics came to because after you take even just the shallowest of dives into the fields of behavioral science like psychology and psychiatry and neurology, you find out that people only decide to do things based on their values and it’s not sometimes, “If I feel like it.”

We are neurologically hardwired to chase our values all day long from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, we don’t have a choice. Everything you do all day long is about your values, and if you need any evidence of how powerful they are, you just need to look around the world today.

People everywhere, they’re doubling down on their values. If you look at, let’s just talk about a few things that are rocking and rolling our world right now, the future of work, you know? Quiet Quitting, the Great Resignation, diversity, equity, inclusion, working from home, those are all about our values. 

You talk about, you know, the future of leadership, that’s all about active listening and empathetic leadership and creating an engaged workplace culture, and that’s all about honoring people’s values. You look at what’s going on with brands and marketing and advertising. 

You think about purpose driven brands that are rocketing into, you know, stratospheric success and the ones that are caught doing a little bit of green-washing and, you know, not being entirely values driven, they just go down over night with a one media story and a billion tweets and suddenly, they’ve lost, you know, three quarters of their stock price.

So values are driving everything that everyone’s doing and thinking about and how we’re all behaving. In fact, I don’t even think we’re in the sharing economy anymore or the experience economy. I think today, we’re in the values economy.

So we need, if that’s the case, a way to measure values and stop thinking about them as, you know, nice, poetic words that we choose with all good intentions and instead start thinking about them like a business metric. Just like everything else, we need data. 

We need to go, okay, it’s great to sit around with the board of directors and go, “I think one of our values should be sustainability because that plays really well in the markets today.” It’s like, “Well, yeah, sure, but unless it’s not.” 

Let’s find out what your values really are using science and technology and data so that you can say, “These are the things that people will respond to,” not “I think” or “Wouldn’t it be great if…” but for sure and this is for your outside audiences, your customers and for your inside audiences, your employees, your shareholders, your vendors. 

All these different constituencies that every business has, if you can get data on what the values are, well then you kind of have the operating system for all those humans because remember, humans only do things if they’re driven by their values. So there’s a whole new way of looking at people, a whole new way of looking at the world.

Seeing the World Through a Value Lens

Josh Raymer: Yeah, what we value determines what we do, the mantra throughout the book that I like a lot for a couple of reasons, David. Number one, demographics, at least to me, feel divisive. They are put in place too divide people, like you said, into buckets. I feel like demographics are meant to separate, to segregate whereas Valuegraphics bring us together. 

They help us understand a better way to look at other people, which is what we value. So it feels almost more unifying or inclusive, and I also like that it is quantifying. What I’m sure even some business leaders even if they talked about, “Well, we’re a values driven organization” or you know “We hold these certain values higher than others.” They would say their values is a little squishy, it’s a little nebulous.

David Allison: Yeah, squishy is a good word.

Josh Raymer: Yeah, I like what you all are doing in that it’s more inclusive, it’s more all-encompassing but it’s also based on data and I’m curious, when you’ve taken this to clients or businesses or just anyone, what has the response been like when people have their eyes open to this new way of looking at other people?

David Allison: Once you start to see the world around you with a values-driven lens, you can’t unsee it. It’s a remarkable transformation that happens, every time I’m on a stage speaking, every time somebody writes me a note after reading my book, every time I’m working with a client, organization somewhere in the world, there’s a moment where you can see the cartoon light bulb go on over their head. 

It’s easiest to see when I’m on a stage. I’m standing in front of thousand people on a big stage somewhere, and they’re – you know, they bring the speaker in because it’s somewhere between their one meeting and another meeting, so everybody’s having some coffee and a Danish or whatever, and there’s a moment when I’m explaining what this is about, where the room goes silent and all the cutlery stops clattering on the cups and saucers and everybody’s staring at me and you just know that was the cartoon lightbulb moment.

It’s so powerful that I get notes from people, two or three years later sometimes saying, “I can’t stop this, I don’t know whether I should thank you or curse you,” because I just – every time I listen to the news now and I hear someone say, “Middle-aged suburban women are voting this way.”

It’s like, “No, they’re not.” A couple that you call during dinner and interrupted their meal, who are willing to talk to you for your poll for CNN tonight or Fox or whoever you are, they might have said, “Yes.” But that’s not a representation of a demographic. That’s a representation of people who picked up a phone and were willing to interrupt their dinner and talk to a stranger about a political poll.

You’re talking to a particular group of people with a set of values who allow that to happen because that’s a behavior driven by their values. The other people who hung up and said, “Piss off, don’t bug me, it’s dinner time,” or didn’t even answer their phone in the first place, they’re also middle-aged women who live in the suburbs, and they’re not going to be voting in the same way because you’re not talking to a demographic. 

You’re talking to a group of people whose values made it possible for you to talk to them at that moment in time. So it can radically transform someone’s life and it can radically transform how an organization shows up. There’s this thing called stakeholder capitalism. It has the word capitalism in it, so it kind of makes some people, the hair on the back of their neck stand up, but all it means is that a business has to be responsible to five different constituencies.

So yes, there’s your shareholder, but there’s also your employees and there’s your customers and then there’s your vendors and partners and there’s also the communities that you’re operating in. I would argue and say beyond what the formal boundaries of stakeholder capitalism are about, that there’s two other groups, which is the employees you don’t have yet, the ones you’re going to have tomorrow.

The customers you don’t have yet, the ones you would like to have tomorrow, the people who aren’t yet in the room. You need to understand what all of those groups are about. That’s what stakeholder capitalism is about, and 30% of the market companies in the United States of America, it’s 181 different companies from Apple to Walmart all subscribe to this notion that business is not just about customers or shareholders, it’s about all five of these different constituencies. 

So you sit down and think about, how can finding a set of shared values impact such a complex thing? All these different groups of people that seemingly have, you know, different reasons to be interested in a particular company. “I’m going to buy something, I’m going to work here. I’m going to invest here. I’m in a community that’s impacted by these things.”

If you look at people and look at them as human beings instead of stakeholders, you’ll find that there’s a certain set of values that they’re all aligned with and if you look at those certain set of values, let’s say it is environmentalism and family and perhaps, I don’t know, personal growth, those might be the core values that bind everyone together. 

Well now, that company has a kind of a beacon that gives a focus to all of those different constituencies, and that beacon, what it can do is light the way to this intersection that everyone’s hunting for, this intersection of purpose and profit. If you find that, you have this beacon that you can follow. 

You have all the constituencies that you’re serving, united around a common set of core human values, that’s going to be an incredibly powerful transformation from the chaotic kinds of firing off in all directions, ways that companies tend to move forward in the world today. It can be an amazing unifying force, as you’ve already said.

Josh Raymer: Absolutely, and there’s that light bulb moment, I think that’s a perfect way to describe it, that “aha,” that eureka moment, and one of the ones that I think folks are going to get in this book, and you mentioned it earlier, what really sets this dataset apart is the scope. It is vast.

You guys have interviewed 700,000 plus people across a hundred plus languages in 150 plus countries. It’s a truly global dataset, and so I’m curious, as you all begin to compile this data and put everything together, have there been some fascinating or surprising insights from say, what the US values or what other countries value? Something that might surprise folks listening.

David Allison: Well, I think the most surprising thing of all is that there’s only 56 core human values. There’s only 56 things that drive what every human on earth is doing and will ever do. Put that into some kind of context, there’s 88 keys on a piano keyboard. So it’s more difficult to play happy birthday on the piano than it is to understand the sum total of all human behaviors and emotions and decisions for the entire planet.

That’s pretty remarkable. Despite what many people would like us to believe at this moment in our global history, we’re more alike than you might think. So of course, those values order and reorder and rank and re-rank in various ways for various parts of the world, but it’s still only 56 things. It’s not that many, you know?

Another way to think about it is if you look at geneticists trying to understand, what are the component parts of what it means to be biologically human. There are like 3,000 different building blocks to understand what it means to be a human and whether you’re tall or short or fat or skinny or male or female and different amounts of pigment in your skin, all that kind of stuff.

But to understand what those humans are going to do, the operating system for those biological pieces of hardware called humans, there’s only 56 component parts that can combine and recombine. So that’s surprising thing number one. Surprising thing number two, this is a good unifying story before I tell you a divisive story. 

The unifying story is that no matter who we profile and where in the world they are, everywhere from China to Alabama and everywhere in between. We’ve been profiling people for organizations like PayPal and the United Nations Foundation and five-star school supplies and Lulu Lemons. Some of the biggest brands in the world and always, there’s a set of values that show up. 

A set of five values. They show up more often than anything else. We call them the togetherness values, and these five values are, belonging, community, friendship, relationships and family, and in every single profile we’ve done, business to business, business to consumer, high tech cloud engineers in the Silicon Valley to fashion shoppers in the streets of Beijing, always, there are togetherness values.

More than anything, humans just want to be together. It’s why we had such a hard time with the pandemic and lockdown and all of those restrictions because we – our ways of wanting to be with each other, those five different ways that we want to be together, they were all blocked. We got to be together with whoever we live with, and that just wasn’t enough. 

We wanted to be together in all five of those ways and in various parts of the world and different kinds of combinations, of course, but togetherness is a universal drive force for humanity, which I think is quite beautiful to know and to know it with data, not just, “That sounds great.” I’d say that it’s actual data.

Okay, I’ll tell you some differences. Here’s a fun one, I have a feeling, most of the people listening today will be from the United States or maybe from Canada since we’re neighbors. In the United States, belonging is the most important value to the entire population, followed by family.

In Canada, it’s the reverse. So let’s talk about the United States for a moment, some of the things we see going on right now. It’s a pretty divisive time in your country, my friend. There’s a lot of folks fighting with each other about which tribe they belong to, and I’m not surprised given that belonging is the most important value to everybody in the United States of America.

So important, in fact, that it’s more important than family. Now, think about the number of stories we’ve heard about how Uncle Bob and Aunt Sally are no longer invited to Thanksgiving dinner because they’re on the other side. They chose the wrong color, and we just can’t have them in their house. 

Our families are less important than where we feel we belong. That’s a thing that shows up in the data loud and clear that is showing up in real life, loud and clear. Now, here in Canada, we watch because you are our big-big-big brother to the south. Now, we watch the news. We watch and see what’s going on down there, and we see these stories and they seem impossible for us to understand. Family here is more important than belonging. 

It’s just two values, and they flipped, but we can see that difference in the attitudes towards politics and family in these two countries sitting side by side. Another thing that I thought was really fascinating to find was stick on the theme of family because it does show up as being quite important in various parts of the world. It’s in uniquely important value in China, it’s number one in China, but it’s not just number one, it’s kind of an uber value. 

It is an ultra-value in China. In other parts of the world, a group of people or an individual can have family at the top of their list and then maybe some friendship stuff going on, and then maybe their environmentalism is another value that is part of how they navigate their lives, and there could be three or four other things. You can hold all of those values simultaneously and be making decisions about everything you do all day long based on this set of filters that your prefrontal cortex is using to help you navigate, like your GPS systems, the rituals, and the moments of your life. 

In China however, it’s family first and singularly only family matters until you’re at a place where you feel family is all good, got everything I need for my family, family is all stable now, now I’ll move on and think about some of these other values. So in China, it’s only family and then everything else, whereas the rest of the world, it can be family plus this and that and the other thing and another one. 

So that’s like kind of unique story about how that one value is incredibly different the way it is accessed I suppose you could say in China. I can keep going forever. I mean, we’ve got 56 values and 180 countries. So you got to just jump in here at some point and give me a slap and say, “That’s enough David, let’s move on.” 

Josh Raymer: Well, you talk about the moment when the silverware stops clinking, when folks are having their coffee and their Danish. Listening to you describe that the belonging value supersedes the family value in the United States was that eureka moment for me because I see it. I’ve seen it, I am continuing to see this show up, and this be the driving value even more than family, which is odd to think about. 

As an American, the way we espouse the value of family and the importance that we place on the family unit, but you are exactly right. You put your finger right on that wound, and I almost winced a little bit. I was like, “That is hard to hear, but very true.” 

David Allison: Well, if you want to dive into politics for a moment, I mean, you have a former president who identified a group of people within the country whose values hadn’t been respected for a very long time. They didn’t feel heard, they didn’t feel like their values were a part of the national conversation. He stood up and said, “Your values are important, your values are valid.” 

He didn’t used those words, but that’s what he was signaling and that’s what he said, and we wonder at the loyalty that some people have to that fellow, and it is a very plain thing for me to see. It doesn’t really matter what he says or does because he’s tapped into this essential part of what it is to be human. The facts are changing, the reality around those values can morph and bend and weave because as long as he stays on those values, those people who are most loyal will follow him to the ends of the earth. 

Now on the other side of the political spectrum, we have similar things going on, of course, but I want to talk about it for a moment in terms of how the blues look at what’s going on over there in the reds. There is a lot of anger and finger pointing and people who are upset with this apparent never-ending loyalty to this former president. What I think would help is if everybody realized that we’re all values driven. 

So whichever side of the divide you’re on at the moment, we all just take a step back and say, “Hey, wait a minute, those folks are acting on a set of values. We’re acting on a set of values. As Americans, what are some of the values that we have in common here?” If values are this important that they’re cause these kinds of behaviors, disowning family, following a guy who maybe a lot of us think shouldn’t be followed, if values are that important, then let’s turn to values for the answers.

Why can’t we find the places where Americans agree and use those places to at least start shaking hands a little bit and getting onto the same page and seeing if we can’t find a way to move forward with some more unity because, as you referenced earlier, it is one of my favorite lines are values unite us. If we can, as easily as they can divide us, our values can unite us. 

So if we bring values back into these conversations and instead of dissing the other guy’s values, say, “I understand these are your values. Here is our values. Let’s see where these overlap and use that as a place to build a better future.” I think there is a way out but not as long as we continue to disqualify the values of the other side. We got to talk a common language here. 

Value Archetypes

Josh Raymer: Absolutely. So folks, if you’re wondering how can this be actionable or applicable, I mean, David is making a beautiful case here, and I think something that we as Americans can understand, we see it every day, we live it every day and David, that’s what I love about this book and the dataset that you all have built is that it is built to unite us, to help us find a better way forward. 

It is built to be actionable and applicable, and one of the parts in the book that I really wanted to dig into with you is in part four. You identify 15 archetypes, and I quote from the book here, you say, “This is perhaps the most important finding from all the work we’ve done,” and reading about these archetypes, I agree. So I want to dive into that a little bit. Can you explain how these archetypes work and why they’re so important for people to understand? 

David Allison: Yeah, so we’ve been talking a lot about these 56 core human values. In addition to that, with these 750,000 surveys we’ve done around the world, we’ve been asking people a whole lot of questions about their want and their needs and their expectations. So we have values, 56, and then wants, needs and expectations. In total, there is 430 something, I think it is 436 different metrics that we’ve measured for people all over the world in this very, very accurate way. 

Now, if we think about Halloween candy for a moment. So you come home, your kids come home for Halloween and they got the pillowcases full of candy, and you dump them all out in the dining room table, and it is your job to sort them out, put them in piles. So you could use a whole bunch of different ways to do that. In fact, when we worked for a custom clients, what we do is we sort the data specific to a set of requirements that they set out for us. 

“We only want to understand people in this way or that was or these kinds of customer or people who, you know, made a hot fudge sundae last week and are going to buy bananas tomorrow.” So no matter who they want to understand, we can go into that pile of Halloween candy and go, “Oh, it’s these guys here. This is what you need to pay attention to,” but for the purposes of the book, what we did is say, “What are the number of piles that we’d have to create from all these candy in order to put them into biggest possible chunks?” 

So we get a pile of candy over there that is all about chocolate-based stuff. There is another pile of candy over there that is all about hard candies, and there’s another pile of candy over there that is all bubble gum. So the data kind of told us how you could sort it out by just looking at it and going, “Okay, that makes sense. Put those things together, those things together.” Long story short, there’s 15 big gargantuan piles of candy that kind of make sense when you look at all the data. 

So those are the archetypes, these are like the biggest tribes we could find of people who have similar values and wants and needs and expectations within the global data set. Now, the reason that’s important is it – well, lots of reasons, but one of them is there’s 15 kinds of people in the world. Again, not all that many, right? Fifteen clusters of people based on what’s on the inside not what’s on the outside, 15 kinds of people that are going to move through their life in a similar way and going to make decisions about everything that they do based on a similar set of values. 

In the book, and this is why I believe this is the most important part of the book, we give you a tool that you can use to profile whoever you want, whatever group of people you’re interested in understanding and figure out, which of those archetypes is most similar. So let’s say you got a little company or you’re not for profit or you’re a big giant global Fortune 500, it doesn’t matter, you send this little survey, this little 15 question survey out to whoever you can. 

Get as many responses as you can, I gave you the answer key in the book as well, and it will help you identify which of the 15 archetypes is kind of your tribe, and then there is a chapter devoted to each of those archetypes where we spill the beans with everything we know about that archetype. Okay, you find this archetype, you’re archetype number three. Well, that means you need to be talking about this stuff, and this is going to be way more important in this part of the world than it is in that part of the world. 

Here are some things you might want to do in order to get those folks to pay attention, do the things you’d like them to do. So it’s a rough and ready do it yourself, build your own kit for using Valuegraphics for the cost of a book. Now, when we work with clients, you know it’s hell of a lot more accurate. You know, there is potentially millions of different profiles that we can pull out of the database, super, super precise, but this is at least a great start.

I’d like to say it’s like playing the piano with your fist, you know? It’s banging away, it’s not going to be super pretty but at least you’re on the Valuegraphic piano and not playing that stupid old demographic cello with no strings that somebody threw in the corner of the stage back there three weeks ago. It just doesn’t matter anymore. Ignore the cello, play the valuegraphic piano even if you are just banging on it with your fists.

Josh Raymer: I love that. I continue to love the illustrations and examples you use here to help us wrap our arms around what this looks like, and the archetypes is such an interesting way to do that and one of the things I love that you all did in this book is you gave them fun names. You know, you have the seekers, the creatives, the savers, the harmonious.

I love that because it makes it easy to remember and the names, I believe, you know, hint at what it is that this archetype values and so, David, you’ve done such an amazing job so far helping us understand how to apply what it is that is in this book. And so you mentioned the 15 chapters, one for each of these archetypes, and you’ve spilled the beans, is there a way, as we wrap up here, can we take one of these archetypes, and maybe this is work you’ve done with a client, and help our listeners understand how they might use these to speak to whatever audience it is they’re trying to reach? Can you give us an example? 

David Allison: Yeah, you know what? I was just speaking the other day to, this isn’t using the archetypes, but this is how I think what you’re asking for is how can we take a value and make it into an action? How do you build that bridge and connect those dots? It is a very fair thing because it is fine to say that, you know, “Oh, my people are all interested in X or Y, but what do I do with that?” 

So here’s an example, I was speaking in Tampa, Florida, just last week to really amazing conferences called Service World, and these are people who are in the service industry specifically HVAC companies, plumbers, electricians, all the people who keep the rest of us warm and safe and comfortable in our homes and offices, the places we live and work and play. 

Now, in that conference there is sort of a subgroup of the best of the best, and they are really focused on running their companies in the most effective and efficient way, and they’re called service nations. So service world is the conference, and the service nation group, they asked me to come and talk to them about how they can get more people to come into the trades. It is like every industry sector right now, recruitment is tough. 

We’re just having a hard time finding people to come work, in particularly around getting people to come into these apprenticeships and the trades. So we went out and profiled people who are keen to work in the trades to take on an apprenticeship and stop doing whatever they’re doing now instead to find out what makes them tick. Now, we’ve presented a whole lot of data that this group can use, but I’ll talk about just one thing. 

We found that one of their most motivating values, the thing that they used to make decisions about everything that they do is a value from the 56 values in the Valuegraphic database called service to others. Now, service to others interestingly in the United States of America is 56th most important. It is the least important value to the general population of the United States, and it’s hugely important to people who want to work in the trades. 

So what can people who have companies in the trades who are trying to attract new people to be apprentices do with this? There is a couple of ideas, the simplest one is to just realize you’re in the service industry and to start talking about what you do as helping other people live safe, happy, comfortable lives, where people, our company, this career of yours is about helping people. We’re going to do that through plumbing, through electricity, through HVAC, through all these different things. 

But reframe your messages in a way that emphasize and put to the forefront what you’re really all about. You are not here to fix the plumbing, you’re here to make me safe and comfortable and happy. You are here to look after me. This audience of people who want to come into the trades will find that incredibly compelling, and it’s not being said, this industry is not doing a great job of pointing out the fact that we refer to ourselves as service industry professionals. 

That’s just not the narrative. Now, here’s one last little thing that I thought was really interesting. We are getting ready for the speech. You know, it’s always our call with the client in advance to find out who is going to be in the room because every keynote that I do is based on custom data like this that we pull from the database for the people that are going to be listening to me and somebody from the organization said, “Yeah, you know what? When we’re trying to get people into the trades, one of the things we know is that it’s a huge influence on the decision is the spouse.” 

It’s the wives and the girlfriends because, largely, it’s the guys who are thinking about coming into the trades. It is starting to change, it is largely still the guys. So unbeknownst to the client, I also said, “You know what? Let’s profile the wives. Let’s find out what makes them tick,” because if they’re a part of this decision then maybe one of the things that we can do to get more people to come into the apprentice programs and the trades is to give them the information and the language they need to go home and talk to the wife or the girlfriend about, “Hey, you know what? We should be doing this?” 

So one of the things we found, just one thing we found for the wives is the value that they place on social standing, that is one of the 56 values, it doesn’t show up as very important to the potential apprentices at all, but it is hugely important to their wives, and I can’t see these potential apprentices going home and going, “Hey honey, you know what? This is going to be a really good move for us because people are going to think better of us.” 

That is not a conversation I can see these folks having, but they should be, and so how can the companies that are trying to attract new people into the trades take advantage of this piece of information. Well, the suggestion that I had for them was: get the wives, the girlfriends, the spouses involved in the company. There should be some give back work that you’re doing to the communities that you are serving. 

There should be some social change action that you are trying to make happen within the communities that your company operates. Get the spouses to be involved helping to decide how that goes down, where that money is being donated, what kind of volunteer hours can we put in and what kinds of places, give them a place where their social standing amongst each other is going to help them feel great about this. 

So that they feel like they’re part of this too and that everybody sees that they are contributing, find a way to give them the social standing they’re looking for and reinforce for the potential apprentices that they are really going to be a huge service to others. You got two powerful values working for you as you try and fix these issues around recruitment and retention in that industry. 

Josh Raymer: I love that example, and what a brilliant twist to go after the spouses if there’s such an integral part of this decision making process, but I think that illustrates the overarching power and application here of what it is we’re talking about. If what we value determines what we do, we can pivot this to any kind of audience and any type of people group that we want to better understand. 

I think that is such a beautiful place to get to, a place of better understanding one another and I think this book is really going to help folks be able to do that in a way that has not been done up to now as we look to replace demographics which are woefully ill-equipped to help us understand each other. We now have a language and a way to do that, David. So very excited to get this book out there. 

Writing a book is such a feat, as we know, so writing now your fifth book is absolutely incredible, congratulations again, and on sort of like final takeaways here. If you wanted people to take away one to two things from this book David, what would it be? 

David Allison: Well, the first one is that we need to abandon these demographic ways of looking at each other. I hope this conversation today has helped people understand that it is not doing us any favors. It is not working. People within a demographic category don’t resemble each other, so it is not a targetable group that you can spend your money and your hours and your times focusing on. 

But there is a bigger issue, and it’s far more important than how we’re wasting so much of our time and money, and it’s this: By continuing to look at each other this way within our organizations and continuing to look at an audience and say, “Well, how old are they and are they male or female?” all the other demographic things that we talk about, what that’s doing is saying that these are valid ways of looking at people. 

If we say to ourselves and to everyone who listens to us and all of our staff and employees and vendors and the communities and everybody that we ever encounter that we think it’s fine to run around looking at people based on how old they are and what gender they are and what race they are but what we’re doing is saying it’s okay to use those lenses and those lenses, those ways of seeing that leads to ageism and sexism and racism and homophobia and you know the rest of the list, right? 

These are not positive forces in our world right now, and they are being fueled by our insistence on looking at each other based on what we can see on the outside instead of looking at what we can see on the inside. That’s the big shift we need to make. Yes, it will be better for our businesses. Yes, it will be better for our work. Yes, we’ll get better results if we use values as a way to look at people. 

But more importantly, if we can just change the way we look at ourselves to start and look at the people around us and we just make those simple changes around how we think about each other, well, we can slowly and incrementally change the world. We can make the world a better, less-divisive, more unified place, and that’s the world I want to be part of, and that’s the change I want to see happen, and I hope everybody listening does too. 

Josh Raymer: Beautifully said, my friend, and I applaud the work that you are doing to move us closer to that world. David, this has been a pleasure. The book is called, The Death of Demographics. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you? 

David Allison: Well, I live on LinkedIn, metaphorically. I don’t actually live on LinkedIn, but metaphorically, I’m on LinkedIn a lot. So you can find me just by typing in David Allison, or Valuegraphics is the name of the company. Many people think that’s two words, it’s not. It’s like demographics, it’s one word, Valuegraphics. Valuegraphics.com is the website for the company, and the website for me as a speaker and an author is davidallisoninc.com. 

Josh Raymer: There you go, check out David’s work, check out his LinkedIn and his other books. Thank you again for the time, my friend, and that is going to do it for this episode of Author Hour.