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The Changing Face of Change

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As we fade to gray in 2012, it's due in no small part to the tearing down of traditions and an end of entitlement gone extreme.

Look for next year to lead to a new era and change in thought; it has been said that the Mayans did not mean the world was going to end in 2012 à la Hollywood movies and doomsday theorists, but result in an enlightened age, a change in thought and a new way of living. It's quite possible that that time is here, so don't start stockpiling those canned beans just yet.

Let's start with the U.S. Remember how lonely it used to be for America at the top? Now we have to get used to the feeling that we might not be No. 1 anymore. And that countries we used to refer to as emerging have, well, emerged.

Take Africa. Still a region of political unrest and poverty, it's having a real moment. Much of the continent is enjoying a newfound consumer culture due to its rapidly expanding middle class and interest from foreign investors. And politics are being served up with a dab of lipstick: South Africa's main opposition party, for instance, elected a young black woman as its Parliament leader, and in Rwanda 52 percent of Parliament is filled by women, the largest ratio in the world. Expect African influence to redefine not only the region next year but also Western culture; the spring runways in New York and London, for instance, were filled with tribal prints. (Surely interior designers will follow suit.)

And China is changing the game in everything from sustainable building (with interest from architects such as Frank Gehry wanting to do projects there) to luxury (American superbrands are clamoring to set up shop in the country, where consumerism is skyrocketing). For years, we've viewed China as a threat, but now, said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an opinion piece in Foreign Policy: "One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will ... be to lock in a substantially increased investment -- diplomatic, economic, strategic and otherwise -- in the Asia-Pacific region."

Back at home, our pre-Occupation is spreading. We're fed up, and our backlash against entitlement includes anger at everything from government breaks for big business to Ruth Madoff's trying to redeem her family name to Kim Kardashian and her multimillion-dollar mistake. It's no longer cool to want too much, be too much or ask for too much.

Kim K.'s mockery of wedlock, though, just might breathe some life (and respect) into a new version of "I do"; in 2012, we'll see more of a widespread acceptance of unconventional relationships. New York's watershed moment of legalizing gay marriage might also be a tipping point for other cities and nations to follow suit. And so too will millennials have a profound effect on marriage: A recent Pew survey found that 70 percent of U.S. millennials want to marry but say they're far more concerned with being a good parent than they are with having a successful marriage.

Coming out of this break with tradition (regardless of your thoughts on betrothal) as well as this end to entitlement is a new moment of power to the people. In it, we're seeing not only a mobilization of the masses but also a socialization that puts an end to the battle of Me versus We -- and We is out in front as an early favorite for 2012.

Look no further than our current pre-Occupied state and the Arab Spring -- perhaps not perfectly organized or focused, but strong in their ability to leverage social media, common discontent and a generalized feeling of "not going to take this anymore" (whatever "it" might be). Locally, look at the backlash against bullying. It's just another action that makes it clear that many of us want to make the world a better place. That's my transcendent takeaway from all the railing.

There's a new power in doing good that we'll see grow in 2012. In a dire economy, good consumption just might save the day -- and become mandatory on shopping lists from New York to Nice. If politics and religion leave you scratching your head, you're not alone; many of us are looking for brands to make the world a better place. In a recent global study, Euro RSCG Worldwide found that 70 percent of millennials believe that the most successful companies in the future will be those that practice sustainability. "Before the financial meltdown, the fastest-growing trend in business was the move toward social responsibility, and the economic crisis has only served to accelerate this," says Euro RSCG Worldwide Global CEO David Jones in his new book, Who Cares Wins. "The world saw all too clearly that the ruthless pursuit of profit at all costs almost led to the total collapse of the global financial and economic system. Today, many businesses that understand that the philosophy of 'profit for profit's sake' is no longer the key to sustainable success are actively seeking to change how they operate. Doing well and doing good are no longer seen to be mutually exclusive." In an earlier global survey by ERWW, more than 90 percent of young people said the world needs to be changed, and more than 80 percent said it is the responsibility of their generation to bring about that change.

With all this interest in CSR and doing good, look for a new generation of socialpreneurs to get inspired by what big business is doing and aim to be the next TOMS or Burt's Bees. Sites such as Ecopreneurist showcase offerings from all kinds of startups in this arena, but if you're not the go-it-alone type, there's probably room in many Fortune 500s to become a corporate social officer (CSO). Yep, that's an actual thing now. Green, it seems, is here to stay. And it's going to change the way we do business, look for work, wear our clothes and live in our homes.

But, most important, as transparency becomes yesterday's news (in that it's now a part of corporate life and no longer a trend), look for today's consumers and global citizens to demand something else of their products, their leaders and their own lives: the need to do good and carry on. It's really all about a paradigmatic shift in the very notion of what we deem valuable.