At the same time that our economic engines are faltering, something else is happening. Like all revolutions, it happens in fits and starts, without perfection, but it's clearly happening.
The mass market is being replaced by multiple micro markets and the long tail of choice.
Google is connecting buyers and sellers over vaster distances, more efficiently and more cheaply than ever before.
Manufacturing is more of a conceptual hurdle than a practical one.
The exchange of information creates ever more value, while commodity products are ever cheaper. It takes fewer employees to generate more value, make more noise and impact more people.
Most of all is this: every individual, self-employed or with a boss, is now more in charge of her destiny than ever before. The notion of a company town or a stagnant industry with little choice is fading fast.
Right before your eyes, a fundamentally different economy, with different players and different ways to add value is being built. What used to be an essential asset (for a person or for a company) is worth far less, while new attributes are both scarce and valuable.
Are there dislocations? There's no doubt about it. Pain and uncertainty and risk, for sure.
The opportunity, though, is the biggest of our generation (or the last one, for that matter). The opportunity is there for anyone (with or without a job) smart enough to take it–to develop a best in class skill, to tell a story, to spread the word, to be in demand, to satisfy real needs, to run from the mediocre middle and to change everything.
¡Note! Like all revolutions, this is an opportunity, not a solution, not a guarantee. It's an opportunity to poke and experiment and fail and discover dead ends on the way to making a difference. The old economy offered a guarantee–time plus education plus obedience = stability. The new one, not so much. The new one offers a chance for you to take a chance and make an impact.
¡Note! If you're looking for 'how', if you're looking for a map, for a way to industrialize the new era, you've totally missed the point and you will end up disappointed. The nature of the last era was that repetition and management of results increased profits. The nature of this one is the opposite: if someone can tell you precisely what to do, it's too late. Art and novelty and innovation cannot be reliably and successfully industrialized.
In 1924, Walt Disney wrote a letter to Ub Iwerks. Walt was already in Hollywood and he wanted his old friend Ubbe to leave Kansas City and come join him to build an animation studio. The last line of the letter said "PS I wouldn't live in KC now if you gave me the place—yep—you bet—Hooray for Hollywood." And, just above, in larger letters, he scrawled, "Don't hesitate—Do it now."
It's not 1924, and this isn't Hollywood, but it is a revolution, and there's a spot for you (and your boss if you push) if you realize you're capable of making a difference. Or you could be frustrated. Up to you.