Simplify!

You've seen bumper stickers with the breezy directive "Simplify!" (Thoreau's rolling over in his grave). You'll see more of them soon. Marketing professor John Quelch notes that the economy's continuing downward spiral will make one consumer segment grow faster than ever: "the middle-aged simplifier."

Quelch's analysis is detailed and startling. The middle-aged simplifier's personality is a wealthy person who's giving up on what they thought was important. "Their stuff embarrasses them; they're less confident than before."

How did they get to that point? Quelch's description of the consumption arms race that's sending many into profound lifestyle changes is one of the simplest, and best, you'll find. It's capped off by this startling statistic: "In 2006, 35% of new homes exceeded 2,400 square feet, compared with 18% in 1986."

Quelch sees this as a problem for consumer goods companies focused on growth. Increasingly, he says, they'll peddle their stuff in emerging markets, further evidence of the slow, tectonic  shift away from the U.S. as the center of the world's economy.

Also today, HarvardBusiness.org debuts Make Your Case, an interactive feature in which one of our subject matter experts presents a business scenario and you, the audience, get to say what you'd do about the situation.

The experts will join the conversation and you can vote on other people's responses to the scenario. Enjoy the first one, by innovation expert Scott Anthony, about the star manager that wants to abandon the business unit she built to play in the disruptive innovation world. 

Finally, today, if you can't get enough politics, enjoy the second in a series on presidential leadership. Today, historian Walter Borneman looks at a president who was both micromanager and big-picture thinker. Who dealt with a crippled economy. Who was run ragged by the job and fought an unpopular war. No, not him. James K. Polk.

By Scott Berinato  |  October 17, 2008; 11:45 AM ET  | Category:  Economy Watch
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