A dozen generations ago, there was no unemployment, largely
because there were no real jobs to speak of. Before the industrial revolution,
the thought that you’d leave your home and go to an office or a factory was, of
What happens now that the industrial age is ending? As the
final days of the industrial age roll around, we are seeing the core assets of
the economy replaced by something new. Actually, it’s something old, something
handmade, but this time, on a huge scale.
The industrial age was about scarcity. Everything that
built our culture, improved our productivity, and defined our lives involved
the chasing of scarce items.
On the other hand, the connection economy, our economy, the
economy of the foreseeable future, embraces abundance. No, we don’t have an
endless supply of the resources we used to trade and covet. No, we certainly
don’t have a surplus of time, either. But we do have an abundance of choice, an
abundance of connection, and an abundance of access to knowledge.
We know more people, have access to more resources, and can
leverage our skills more quickly and at a higher level than ever before.
This abundance leads to two races. The race to the bottom
is the Internet-fueled challenge to lower prices, find cheaper labor, and
deliver more for less.
The other race is the race to the top: the opportunity to
be the one they can’t live without, to be the linchpin we would miss if he
didn’t show up. The race to the top focuses on delivering
more for more.
It embraces the weird passions of those with the resources to make choices, and
it rewards originality, remarkability, and art.
The connection economy continues to gain traction because
connections scale, information begets more information, and influence accrues
to those who create this abundance. As connections scale, these connections
paradoxically make it easier for others to connect as well, because anyone with
talent or passion can leverage the networks created by connection to increase
her impact. The connection economy doesn’t create jobs where we get picked and
then get paid; the connection economy builds opportunities for us to connect,
and then demands that we pick ourselves.
Just as the phone network becomes more valuable when more
phones are connected (scarcity is the enemy of value in a network), the
connection economy becomes more valuable as we scale it.
Friends bring us more friends. A reputation brings us a
chance to build a better reputation. Access to information encourages us to
seek ever more information. The connections in our life multiply and increase
in value. Our stuff, on the other hand,
becomes less valuable over time.
… [this riff is inspired by my new book…]
Successful organizations have realized that they are no
longer in the business of coining slogans, running catchy ads, and optimizing
their supply chains to cut costs.
And freelancers and soloists have discovered that doing a
good job for a fair price is no longer sufficient to guarantee success. Good
work is easier to find than ever before.
What matters now:
- Stories that spread
- Humanity: connection, compassion, and humility
All six of these are the result of successful work by
humans who refuse to follow industrial-age
rules. These assets aren’t generated by external strategies and MBAs and
positioning memos. These are the results of internal struggle, of brave
decisions without a map and the willingness to allow others to live with
They are about standing out, not fitting in, about
inventing, not duplicating.
PERMISSION: In a marketplace that’s open to just about anyone, the only people
we hear are the people we choose to hear. Media is cheap, sure, but attention
is filtered, and it’s virtually impossible to be heard unless the consumer
gives us the ability to be heard. The more valuable someone’s attention is, the
harder it is to earn.
And who gets
someone listen to the prankster or the shyster or the huckster? No, we choose
to listen to those we trust. We do business with and donate to those who have
earned our attention. We seek out people who tell us stories that resonate, we
listen to those stories, and we engage with those people or businesses that
delight or reassure or surprise in a positive way.
And all of
those behaviors are the acts of people, not machines. We embrace the humanity
in those around us, particularly as the rest of the world appears to become
less human and more cold. Who will you miss? That is who you are listening to .
The same bias toward humanity and connection exists in the way we choose which
ideas we’ll share with our friends and colleagues. No one talks about the
boring, the predictable, or the safe. We don’t risk interactions in order to
spread the word about something obvious or trite.
is almost always new and untested, fresh and risky.
Management is almost diametrically opposed to leadership. Management is about
generating yesterday’s results, but a little faster or a little more cheaply.
We know how to manage the world—we relentlessly seek to cut costs and to limit
variation, while we exalt obedience.
though, is a whole other game. Leadership puts the leader on the line. No
manual, no rule book, no überleader to point the finger at when things go
wrong. If you ask someone for the rule
book on how to lead, you’re secretly wishing to be a manager.
vulnerable, not controlling, and they are racing to the top, taking us to a new
place, not to the place of cheap, fast, compliant safety.
STORIES THAT SPREAD:
The next asset that makes the new economy work is the story that spreads.
Before the revolution, in a world of limited choice, shelf space mattered a
great deal. You could buy your way onto the store shelf, or you could be the
only one on the ballot, or you could use a connection to get your résumé in
front of the hiring guy. In a world of abundant choice, though, none of these
tactics is effective. The chooser has too many alternatives, there’s too much
clutter, and the scarce resources are attention and trust, not shelf space.
This situation is tough for many, because attention and trust must be earned,
difficult still is the magic of the story that resonates. After trust is earned
and your work is seen, only a fraction of it is magical enough to be worth
spreading. Again, this magic is the work of the human artist, not the corporate
machine. We’re no longer interested in average stuff for average people.
don’t worship industrial the way we used to. We seek out human originality and
caring instead. When price and availability are no longer sufficient advantages
(because everything is available and the price is no longer news), then what we
are drawn to is the vulnerability and transparency that bring us together, that
turn the “other” into one of us.
For a long time to come the
masses will still clamor for cheap and obvious and reliable. But the people you
seek to lead, the people who are helping to define the next thing and the
interesting frontier, these people want your humanity, not your discounts.
All of these assets, rolled into one, provide the
foundation for the change maker of the future. And that individual (or the team
that person leads) has no choice but to build these assets with novelty, with a
fresh approach to an old problem, with a human touch that is worth talking
I can’t wait until we return to zero percent unemployment,
to a time when people with something to contribute (everyone) pick themselves instead of waiting for a
bureaucrat’s permission to do important work.