Welcome to the Connection Economy
The value we create is directly related to how much valuable information we can produce, how much trust we can earn, and how often we innovate.
In the industrial economy, the stuff we made (literally stuff—widgets, devices, and O-rings) comprised the best assets we could build. Fortunes belonged to men who built railroads, lightbulbs, and buildings. Today we’re seeking something a revolution apart from that sort of productivity.
The connection economy rewards the leader, the initiator, and the rebel.
The Internet wasn’t built to make it easy for you to watch Lady Gaga videos. The Internet is a connection machine, and anyone with a laptop or a smartphone is now connected to just about everyone else. And it turns out that those connections are changing the world.
If your factory burns down but you have loyal customers, you’ll be fine. On the other hand, if you lose your customers, even your factory isn’t going to help you—Detroit is filled with empty factories.
If your team is filled with people who work for the company, you’ll soon be defeated by tribes of people who work for a cause.
If you use your money to buy advertising to promote the average products you produce for average people, soon you’ll run out of money. But if you use your money to make exceptional products and services, you won’t need to spend it on advertising, because your customers will connect to one another and bring you more.
The connection economy has changed how you get a job and what you do when you get to that job. It has changed how we make and listen to music, write and read books, and discover where to eat, what to eat, and whom to eat with. It has destroyed the mediocre middle of average products for average people who have few choices, and it has enabled the weird edges, where people who care find others who care and they all end up caring about something even more than they did before they met.
The connection economy enables endless choice and endless shelf space and puts a premium on attention and on trust, neither of which is endless.
Most of all, the connection economy has made competence not particularly valuable and has replaced it with an insatiable desire for things that are new, real, and and important.
New, Real, and Important
Those are three elements that define art.
The connection economy functions on a steady diet of new, real, and important. The connection economy builds a new asset, one that we can measure and value now for the first time. Suddenly, it’s not the building or the rules or the packaging that matters; it’s the bridges between people that generate value, and those bridges are built by art.
The Assets That Matter
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
And here’s the thing: All six of these are the result of successful work by artists. These assets aren’t generated by external strategies and MBAs and positioning memos. These are the results of internal trauma, of brave decisions and the willingness to live with dignity.
They are about standing out, not fitting in, about inventing, not duplicating.
TRUST AND 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 heard?
Why would 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 who 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.
REMARKABILITY: The same bias toward art 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.
The remarkable is almost always new and untested, fresh and risky.
LEADERSHIP: 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.
Leadership, 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.
Leaders are vulnerable, not controlling, and they are 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, not acquired.
More 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.
HUMANITY: We 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 about.