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Identity is the New Blue


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Blue is the world’s most popular color.

But this was not always the case. Originally, it was little used in art and clothing, and in turn, had little symbolic cultural value. In the course of a few key decades, however, blue overcame obstacles of sourcing and production, and its popularity exploded—rising to represent some of the highest values of society.  Subsequently, a wave of innovation democratized the color, placing it in the hands of “normal people” and cementing its cultural legacy.

Identity finds itself on a similar path. After a period of relative obscurity, identity has begun its rise over the past decade—but the journey is just beginning. Like blue, it faces challenges to its ascendancy—both practical and ethical. We’ll extract lessons from the trajectory of the world’s most popular hue and seek to apply them to the arc of identity.

The color of the world is changing once more.

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In the beginning, blue did not exist. The pallets of the ancient Western world was dominated by three colors, red, white, and black. That's what there was. And you can see this way back in cave paintings in France and Spain and elsewhere, right? It's dominated by red and black. And sometimes white. Now, as culture progressed, blue became slightly more available, right? The Egyptians used lapis Zuli to create glass Andd figurines that they buried with their dead. And the Greeks also use blue, but sparingly, yeah, sometimes as backgrounds for some of their frescos and their murals. But like I said, this was the exception, right? Not the rule, the process of getting the materials, the pigments and using those materials was so difficult. That blue was largely unheard of now to be clear, blue did exist, right? Just a level set, right? The sea was still blue.
The sky was still blue, just like we see it today. But like I said, the materials were so hard to procure and so hard to work with. You couldn't spread it over large surfaces. So if you wanted to portray a blue sky like this, while you would use white or gold or even red during Roman times, plenty actually said that the greatest artists only use red, white, and black. And he said that blue was the color to be avoided in painting. He even went so far as to say that if you have blue eyes, it's a sign of bad character.
So like I said, red, white, and black dominated ancient Western civilization. It is what they had the technology to produce. And since they had the technology to produce it and use it, these three colors were the only ones that had cultural impact. You can see it in the stories they told. Maybe you've heard one where a little girl in red takes a pot of white butter to her grandmother or someone pretending be her grandmother dressed and black, red, white, and black. You see it over and over and over again. And blue, as I said, did not exist. The pigment did not exist. And since the technology to use blue did not exist. Neither did the cultural impact, the cultural significance. If you wanted to communicate ideas, you never dressed your characters in blue. You never used a blue night. It couldn't hold the weight because it didn't exist.
And yet today blue is the world's most popular color, almost universally worldwide. If you ask adults what their favorite color is over 50% will almost always say blue. And last year you remember last year, pen tone even made it their color of the year, classic blue. And they said it evoked a feeling of calm of confidence and connection expressing a hope for the future. So it's fascinating. This rise from general obscurity into the world's most popular color, and it should fascinate us as well. And this evening I'm going to argue that identity has the chance to be the new blue following a similar arc. Now we described how it was already a rare color, right? But from a rare color, blue moved in a revolutionary manner about the 12th century. And it changed into being a privileged color. And this happened on two fronts. First stain glass churches in Northern France were being built and being reconstructed and a new technique for developing blue stain glass was arrived at, it was luminous blue that just lit up when the sun hit it.
And so it, it spread from project to project from church to church and became very popular. The other innovation that took place was the development of textile dying. Before this time, period, if you died clothing, you would almost always diet red. If it was a deep color with a substance called matter wo, which you see here on the left is a plant that they use to dye clothing blue, but it developed into a, a weaker color, but improvements in agriculture and planting on a, an industrial scale along with techniques of dying and processing this blue from load resulted in actually a rich stable blue fabric. And in turn what this did centers that specialized in this grew rich th in Germany, OC in France and se in Spain became massively wealthy on this pastel, this blue gold, but it wasn't the innovation that really made this change in blue status.
It was the cultural appropriation just before this time period painters and illustrators who'd been painting the Virgin. Mary had always painted her in dark somber colors of mourn, and they finally arrived on blue. And with this new blue stain glass, what better picture to put a central figure of religion in than this luminous religious blue. And from then on Mary was always in blue. You can see it in museums worldwide, and it wasn't just religion either. It was also monarchy the king of France and the 11 hundreds adopted blue as his official background. And it spread like wildfire, the Kings of Italy, Germany, England elsewhere in the 12th century. One out of 20 coat of arms had blue in it. By the end of the 15th, it was one in three blue became so popular that even legendary and historical figures got retrofitted into blue here, you see king Arthur, the legendary king author on the left, who from the 13th century was dressed in blue with those three gold crowns and Charla in standing beside him who never wore blue wasn't available, but retroactively, they decided it was his color.
So with the echelon of society and key religious figures wearing blue, it meant blue was a privileged color, right? If you dressed in blue, you were wealthy or you were healthy, or you had power. It was a privileged color. And we in identity know that we have privileged identity as well. We've already seen that exist. Take examples from last year, right? The world changed obviously in 2020, and many of us shifted to working from home. Well, it turns out working from home in order to do that, you need to have what a digital identity and broadband and other things the upshot is working from home is a autonomy for digital identity. If you were in a privileged country, your chances of doing that will run in three. If you weren't, it was way, way lower, as you can see. So that is an example of privileged identity existing already.
And it's not just systemic privileged identity. It's also when innovation takes place, it tends to benefit the few, the privileged first take the example of facial recognition, which is a powerful, good when it works in particular situations, joy Bula Wheatie discovered that as a black female facial recognition could not even detect her face until she literally took a white mask and pulled it up and bam, it found her face instantly. She did subsequent studies with the algorithm justice league that showed that if you were a white male facial rec facial recognition, that kind of a strong ath for identity works great. If you're a dark-skinned female, it doesn't. And so we've already seen that just like a privileged color identity has the potential to become privileged. Now, blue went from a privileged identity and as it spread through the culture, it became a normal color from rare to privileged to normal.
And the color of spectrum had expanded by this point wide enough to represent stratification within society. And you were told to dress or have ament in a particular color based off your profession or things you'd done in the past. So for example, if you were a perjurer, a thief or a blaster, you wore yellow. If you were diseased mentally or physically, you had to have some white. If you are a musician, a barred, whatever you want to call it, you wore a green and my personal favorite category, you were told to wear red. If you were a prostitute, an executioner or a surgeon or a doctor, but what's missing here, what's missing here is blue, right? Cuz blue wasn't overloaded with any of these things because it was relatively unknown until this point blue was usable. Blue was normal. So an artist like Vermer can layer colors in his painting, draw a painting of a woman reading her mail.
And it's an everyday scene, right? There's no overtones. There's no, no hidden messages. It's just an everyday picture. It's normal, it's a normal color. And just like we have privileged identity. We also have normal identity. Right? When I came here from the states, I was talking with several other people about what the requirements were and what those requirements are, were just proving that I was normal. This is the international air flight map, depending showing COVID restrictions worldwide. When we came in, I got a stamp that has some kind of shade of blue with it too, showing I'm normal, right? Blue is often used like that, and this should not shock us, right? This is what zero trust is doing it. It's taking an illustration of identities like this graph of identities from an existing organization. And it's showing pools of normalcy, right? These blue normalcy in the graph.
And then you see the dot points on the outside. These are outliers. These are not normal. And the goal of zero trust goal of identity governance of doing identity well is to eliminate those outliers because we know that outliers equals risk. So you've seen how identity originally was rare obviously, and then it became privileged. And now it's use is normal back to blue. Again, following the same progression, rare, privileged, normal blue finally made the leap to becoming the world's most popular color. And the easiest way to, to demonstrate this is to go back to art, actually pigments further advanced and became common Prussian blue invented in Berlin nearby allowed painters to not have to layer color anymore, but apply it directly to the canvas resulting in this, this rich, rich robing that you see on the left and then Eve Klein could invent his own color blue and use it to stage full on exhibitions where nothing was not blue.
You walk in and you're surrounded by color and it plays off what came before, right? The, the Virgin and monarchs wearing blue, the echelon society, making it full of privilege and then blue being normal. It means that it has cultural significance at this point. And so when you walk in and you see lots of blue paintings or a Rothko or something like that, blue fills you with a particular emotion and it starts to drift to that calm, collected confidence vibe. It has cultural significance because the technology has given that space to do that. And if you look around blue is in a ton of objects. When you start looking for it, it's everywhere, right? Because marketers realized people like this color it's in things that are explicitly made to come us like blankets. It's found in signs that give us information as we speed by on the motorway that don't want to alarm us, but they want to give us information to the ultimate extreme in my opinion, which believe it or not people are creating blue chickens.
Why do we need blue chickens? I don't know. Someone feels the need. The point is there are a ton of blue products out there, right? And no one says what you bought a blue car. That's not an extreme cuz it's a normal, it's a cultural value. And there's one product that I, I like to think about because it exemplifies all the things that blue has become. It's blue. James invented by a man who was born, not 200 kilometers from where we are today, immigrated to the states, his name, Levi Strauss and blue jeans are all the things that blue is in a way it's ubiquitous, it's accessible and it's normal, right? It's ubiquitous because pretty much everywhere in the world, you can acquire blue jeans. The patent ran out early on blue jeans originally from the states, admittedly, most popular in the states. But then it took over Europe in the sixties, the rest of the world.
After that, it's also accessible, right? Easy to acquire. There's not a high entry fee. And it's normal wearing blue jeans is like saying blue is your favorite color. You've kind of said, not a whole lot. And you can play with normals, right? There's a, a feeling of expression. You can buy straight blue jeans. You can rip them. You can spray paint them. You can heaven forbid, turn them into short pants, not a good option. You can wear them. You can get black versions, which aren't blue at all, but you're playing back to that original image. And the fact that it's ubiquitous, accessible and normal all combine to make them popular just like blue is. And so the question I want to explore here is not identity being privileged, not even identity being normal, but what does it look like for identity to be popular, to be something that people choose to buy into.
And I think it goes back to the, the blue Janes example, the product example, it has to be ubiquitous, accessible and normal. First off, it has to be ubiquitous. In other words, everything is becoming distributed as we all know. And so identity and identity context has to be really as close to possible as the decision point for an access decision. It also needs to be universal, right? It needs to be available to all also needs to be accessible. We talked about this in the privileged identity section, right? Identity needs to be fair, needs to be inclusive, and it has to have a low cost to entry. So it needs to be expensive. And then finally it needs to be normal, right? Which speaks to ease of use agency. Self-expression things you've heard about earlier today. It, it needs to be not thought about is what I would argue.
I was sitting with my wife a couple weeks ago at a cafe. And I looked around, she was drinking from a blue water bottle. We were sitting at a blue picnic table. She had on blue pants, a blue shirt sitting beside a blue backpack, drinking an espresso from a blue coffee cup. She didn't actually choose any of those options. She didn't think about it twice. Like I said, no one says what you bought a blue X response. Of course I did. Who wouldn't, that's the response we need to have for identity. And finally, I wanna talk a little bit about two different roles that we have to play in popularizing identity and making it popular. Our industry, I, I feel is made up of profits and popularizes now profits blaze a trail through the wilderness and they hack their way through. And they say it's over here. And they're the first to do something. We've had a lot of profits in our industry and we need them.
But the other side are popularizer people that aren't blazing a trail, but what they're doing is they're setting up signposts along the way. They're clearing out the stub. They're making it easy. They're making it the default. They're making it popular. I feel like we're entering an age where we need those popularizes. So we've seen how blue went from being unknown and rare to becoming privileged, to becoming normal and finally, to becoming popular and identity has the chance to make the same transition. Let me leave you with a, a finishing quote. What do you think the cultural significance right now of identity is, is it calm, connection, confidence? I would say no. So there's more work to do because identity, it's not a question of identity, maybe being the new blue for those of us in this room and the people we serve identity must be the new blue. Thank you.

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