Back in the 5th Century BC, the philosopher Democritus was the first person to conceive of the idea of atoms. That the universe was made up of tiny, invisible particles and THAT’S IT. No Gods, no fairies, no Star Wars Force, and no magic.
Democritus’ most famous quote was, “Nothing exists but atoms and the void.”
Well, that’s the physical world. Funnily enough, that’s similar to how we see another world altogether. The world of culture.
If you think about it, culture is how we collectively organize what’s meaningful to us.
And of course, what’s meaningful to us has no single answer. Lots of things are meaningful. Our families, children, friends, political parties, professions, religions, musical tastes, hobbies, pets, art, experiences… it all depends on where we’re at in life.
When all these different cultural “meanings” come together, according to the cultural anthropologist, Grant McCracken, they coagulate to form what he calls a “Gravity Well.”
He also states as our national culture becomes more fragmented and divided, these Gravity Wells will become more important to us.
He gives the example of “Sneakerheads,” those people who avidly curate sneakers as collectors’ items. The Sneakerhead scene doesn’t just attract basketball players and other athletes, it attracts people from all sorts of different subcultures- artists, designers, rappers, DJs, filmmakers, hipsters, fashionistas, musicians, cool hunters, not to mention just normal kids trying to fit in.
The idea being that when enough different people come together, it creates a “Gravity Well” where lots of different cultures and mindsets can interact and create a new kind of culture. This is what Brian Eno, the great creativity guru called a “Scenius.” Same thing.
McCracken’s idea is that, now that our monolithic macroculture is crumbling (a lot due to the invention of the Internet), these Gravity Wells are what will emerge in its place.
What’s interesting is that a business is also a Gravity Well, very much so. It’s a convergence of people, talents, interests, agendas, passions, expertise, and yes, meanings.
What McCracken calls a Gravity Well, we call a “Meaning Bundle” or “Meaning Stack” because that’s what it is. That’s what a business is.
And that’s what culture is too.