28 Jun WHAT IS THE SEVENTH ESTATE? – HOW THE 7TH ESTATE WILL DEFINE TOMORROW’S FUTURE
As talented and brilliant as we beautiful humans are, we’re effectively born blank slates, with the human mind a tabula rasa that’s free of preconceived goals, notions, and ideas. Over time, we absorb learning and information from our environment, from the information that we consume, and from others around us – teachers, parents, peers, etc. Noting that none of us operate in a vacuum, and that we are all actively shaped by our surroundings and those with whom we associate, from the books we read to the media we consume, it begs a pointed question. Specifically: If no man (or woman) is an island unto themselves, who educates the educators, helps leaders lead, and who influences the influencers? As it turns out, answers can be found in a new breed of subject matter expert and strategic adviser who comprises what we call the 7th Estate™ (or Seventh Estate™ if you’re so inclined).
But first, a brief history lesson: At the time of the French revolution, the country’s populace was represented by three estates – the clergy, the nobility, and everyday citizens. Under contemporary political frameworks, these three estates have been repurposed to represent the executive branch of government (first), legislative branch (second), and judicial (third). Over the course of history though, and in the context in modern political discourse, additional estates have also established themselves as part of the popular vernacular. For example, the global press and media (those working with traditional institutions sometimes referred to as ‘legacy’ media) have also come to be recognized as the fourth estate. Alongside the rise of the Internet, Web, and connected age likewise came the dawn of fifth estate, commonly reflected in the form of bloggers, social networkers, influencers, and those operating in non-traditional media roles. As users adopted these technologies and began to use them to communicate with one another en masse though, the arrival of a sixth estate (news and review aggregation platforms that hold organizations and content providers more visible and accountable) soon followed.
Given that expansion in the space is not uncommon, as times and trends shift, however, it’s no surprise that today, amid a time of growing uncertainty and upheaval, the advent of a seventh estate is now upon us. It presently takes the form of those management consultants, thought leaders, market researchers, analysts, and other business development, education, and training professionals who are quietly operating behind the scenes to influence the shape of corporate, communications, workforce, market, and operating strategies. Wielding their insight and skill via platforms such as keynote speeches, training and development workshops, data insights and analytics solutions, market research or consulting programs, and other solutions, it bears reminding. Although members of the seventh estate may engage in public-facing activities, such as the authoring of articles, whitepapers, videos, research reports, and other pieces of educational content, this cadre of individuals’ activities and efforts often tend to go quietly beneath the radar. However, noting that their sphere of influence generally includes working with public and private sector leaders, universities, and non-profits of all stripes at the highest level to help drive change, growth, and transformation at distribution and scale, its importance cannot be understated.
Sample activities of the 7th estate generally include, but are not limited to:
- Equipping C-suite executives or board members with the ideas and insights that they need to adapt to new trends, technologies, working models, or circumstances
- Setting the tone and topics for meetings, conferences, board meetings, tradeshows, and corporate events
- Steering the direction of new product design, marketing, and research or development activities
- Helping mold future of work, human resources (HR), diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) programs, environmental social and governance (ESG) projects, and various corporate culture-focused initiatives
- Guiding the direction of professional development, training, and upskilling efforts
- Impacting the design and delivery of internal and employee-facing communications programs
- Giving partners the tools that they need to more effectively adapt to change, lead through uncertainty, and communicate with various audiences
In effect, the 7th estate’s influence is, at odds with many common measures, not in fact most directly felt in the form of tweets, posts, or social network shares. Rather, its hand quietly rests on the tiller of organizational activities that are happening behind the scenes, helping influence the shape of large-scale business efforts and initiatives and lay the groundwork for where organizations, and organizational leaders, look to place their current and future focus. By way of illustration, in an age of growing change and disruption, the world’s top management consulting and market research firms have now begin given unprecedented latitude and authority to help C-suite leaders reinvent their business and define the future direction of corporate and HR strategy. Likewise, business analysts and design thinking pros are growingly being asked to help fundamentally reimagine the shape of organizational hierarchies, processes, and solutions, and rethink the shape of products, services, solutions, supply chains, and various customer touchpoints. Along similar lines, keynote speakers, industry thought leaders, and workshop presenters are also increasingly being turned to as a source of working knowledge and expertise who can help enterprises, universities, and non-profits more rapidly expand their proficiencies and insights, and get up to speed on topics ranging from diversity and inclusion to creativity, innovation, and business strategy more adroitly.
Keeping this in mind, we must ask ourselves a pointed question. Who wields the greater power to sway the shape of the future: An online influencer who speaks directly to shoppers and impacts where they spend their disposable income on popular goods and services, or the industry consultant who helps businesses monitor emerging trends, steer strategic direction, and defines the shape of organizational efforts towards delivering products or solutions that millions of consumers will consume in the decades hence? We make no conclusions here – rather, simply highlight the importance of looking at the traditional influencer landscape from another angle and raise the topic for future debate and discussion. After all, online postings, media appearances, and social media shares are just a few of many potential measures of weighing one’s ability to drive positive change or motivate and inspire action in others. To wit, an individual or organization doesn’t have to have a million fans or followers (or even 100 or 1000), or need to go viral, to have a major impact and influence on the world around them.
Noting the growing importance and impact of the 7th (or seventh, if you will) estate, we at FutureProof Strategies: The Futurist Consulting Company™ will be exploring the topic more in future work and initiatives. We invite you to join the discussion at www.The7thEstate.com as well.