Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Create value as if the world exists

Do business like you know you live here...
There is a final disruption charging at full speed through the old world. It promises to be more fundamental than the disruption to the business of content creation and distribution, more disruptive even than our ability to self-organise to shape what we care about.
It is that we can self-organise to pay for it.

It is this disruption to mass, centralised blocks of capital, the switch to widely-distributed ownership and leadership that this entails, that will have the greatest long term impact on how our society is organised – on how we live our lives.

The web has been like a Big Bang to business as usual – disrupting media, marketing, customer service, new product development, the business of elections, the business of who governs us, how we are educated, how we are cared for and so much more.

But disruption of this people-power kind alone has limits. Even though we can find other people who care about the same things as we do, and in so doing lower the cost of action to achieve the shared purposes we have, long lasting and valuable change is slowed by the huge inertia of big capital.

There are those who argue big capital is just too big to be undone from the edge. But who thought the arrival of the internet would one day herald the end of big media? Today more people read Twitter each morning in the UK than read all the national newspapers put together. The power shift is almost complete in media; The content and distribution monopolies gone.

And so for big capital?

Make no mistake, big capital is holding back real change. Take Facebook. First the VCs have to get paid. Haven’t developed a business model to meet the needs of the networked world? F**you! Pay me! And so we get traditional broadcast style ads interrupting your FB time.

Then the VCs are replaced by Big Capital. Who want dividends. Fast. No time to develop a new model. You’ve caught all those fish in a barrel – let’s go spear them...

Where is the interest in long term benefit to the users? To their communities? To their society?

Clay Shirky has a nice line about news websites which are (shock!) “designed as if the web exists”.

Member-led, peer-funded partnerships offer the opportunity to create value as if the world exists. By which I mean value creation which goes beyond the back slap in the boardroom and the bottom line on the balance sheet, value creation which acknowledges that resources are finite, that people, communities, societies and ecologies are connected and matter to each other.

As I described in a recent post about Mindful Consumption, this kind of approach isn’t for a happy clappy hippy utopia, it provides a genuine competitive advantage: In a connected world where to win is to work together with ever greater numbers of people who care about the same things you do, few are going to sign up to support businesses who are damaging the ecosystem in which they exist.

Exploitation which damages our connected well-being has never been welcome. The fact is that exploitation is visible now more than it ever has been before: The web has revealed our interconnectedness like nothing in history before.

And that is a genie which is not going back in its bottle.

Change will come, big capital inertia can only slow things. And where we are frustrated, where we care most, where we see the most significant damage to our future and to that of those we care about, we will vote with not only our connectedness, our collaboration, our action – but with our personal funds.

Sure, it’ll be slow. We’ll chip away at first – Kickstarter by kickstarter. But one day big capital will wake up to find itself in the place newspapers have.

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?