Copyright © 2000 Fredrick Levine, Christopher Locke, David Searls, and David Weinberger. All rights reserved.
you set my desire ... I trip through your wires
You will never hear those words spoken in a television ad. Yet this central factof human existence colors our world and how we perceive ourselves within it."Life is too short," we say, and it is. Too short for office politics, for busywork andpointless paper chases, for jumping through hoops and covering our asses, fortrying to please, to not offend, for constantly struggling to achieve some ever-recedingdefinition of success. Too short as well for worrying whether we boughtthe right suit, the right breakfast cereal, the right laptop computer, the rightbrand of underarm deodorant.
Life is too short because we die. Alone with ourselves, we sometimes stopto wonder what's important, really. Our kids, our friends, our lovers, our losses?Things change and change is often painful. People get "downsized," move away,the old neighborhood isn't what it used to be. Children get sick, get better, getbored, get on our nerves. They grow up hearing news of a world more frighteningthan anything in ancient fairy tales. The wicked witch won't really push youinto the oven, honey, but watch out for AK-47s at recess.
Amazingly, we learn to live with it. Human beings are incredibly resilient.We know it's all temporary, that we can't freeze the good times or hold backthe bad. We roll with the punches, regroup, rebuild, pick up the pieces, takeanother shot. We come to understand that life is just like that. And this seeminglysimple understanding is the seed of a profound wisdom.
It is also the source of a deep hunger that pervades modern lifea longingfor something entirely different from the reality reinforced by everyday experience.We long for more connection between what we do for a living and whatwe genuinely care about, for work that's more than clock-watching drudgery.We long for release from anonymity, to be seen as who we feel ourselves to berather than as the sum of abstract metrics and parameters. We long to be partof a world that makes sense rather than accept the accidental alienationimposed by market forces too large to grasp, to even contemplate.
And this longing is not mere wistful nostalgia, not just some unreconstructedadolescent dream. It is living evidence of heart, of what makes us most human.
But companies don't like us human. They leverage our longing for theirown ends. If we feel inadequate, there's a product that will fill the hole, abit of fetishistic magic that will make us complete. Perhaps a new car woulddo the trick. Maybe a trip to the Caribbean or that new CD or a nice shiny setof Ginsu steak knives. Anything, everything, just get more stuff. Our role is toconsume.
Of course, the new car alone is not enough. It must be made to representsomething larger. Much larger. The blonde draped over the hood looks so muchbetter than the old lady bitching about the dishes. Surely she'd understand oursecret needs. And if we showed up with her at the big golf game, wouldn't theguys be impressed! Yeah, gotta get one-a those babies. This isn't about sex, it'sabout powerthe greatest bait there ever was to seduce the powerless.
Or take it one slice closer to the bone. Leverage care. For the cost of a jarof peanut butter, you can be a Great Mom, the kind every kid would love tohave. You can look out on your happy kids playing in that perfect suburbanbackyard and breathe a little sigh of contentment that life's so good, with nota wicked witch in sight. Just like on television.
We die. And there's more than one way to get it over with. Advertising hassome serving suggestions for your premature burial.
Testing, Testing ...
BUT WHAT'S THIS GOT TO DO WITH THE INTERNET? A LOT.
The Net grew like a weed between the cracks in the monolithic steel-and-glassempire of traditional commerce. It was technically obscure, impenetrable,populated by geeks and wizards, loners, misfits. When I started using theInternet, nobody gave a damn about it outside of a few big universities andthe military-industrial complex they served. In fact, if you were outside thatfavored circle, you couldn't even log on. The idea that the Internet wouldsomeday constitute the world's largest marketplace would have been laughableif anyone was entertaining such delusions back then. I began entertaining thempublicly in 1992 and the laughter was long and loud.
The Net grew and prospered largely because it was ignored. It worked bydifferent rules than the rules of business. Market penetration wasn't interestingbecause there was no marketunless it was a market for new ideas. TheNet was built by people who said things like: What if we try this? Nope. What ifwe try that? Nope. What if we try this other thing? Well, hot damn! Look at that!
One of the hottest damns was the World Wide Web. It came out of effortsto create electronic footnotesreferences between academic papers onhigh-energy physics that maybe a few dozen people in the entire world couldactually understand. That's why now, when you turn on your TV, you seewww.haveanotherbeer.com.
Well, OK, a few things did happen in between. One of those things was thatthe Internet attracted millions. Many millions. The interesting question to askis why. In the early 1990s, there was nothing like the Internet we take forgranted today. Back then, the Net was primitive, daunting, uninviting. So whatdid we come for? And the answer is: each other.
The Internet became a place where people could talk to other people withoutconstraint. Without filters or censorship or official sanctionand perhapsmost significantly, without advertising. Another, noncommercial culture beganforming across this out-of-the-way collection of computer networks. Longbefore graphical user interfaces made the scene, the scene was populated byplain old boring ASCII: green phosphor text scrolling up screens at the glacialpace afforded by early modems. So where was the attraction in that?
The attraction was in speech, however mediated. In people talking, howeverslowly. And mostly, the attraction lay in the kinds of things they were saying.Never in history had so many had the chance to know what so many otherswere thinking on such a wide range of subjects. Slowly at first, a new kind ofconversation was beginning to emerge, but it would achieve global reach withastonishing speed.
In the early days, the Internet was used almost exclusively for government-fundedprojects and the sort of communication that went along with suchwork. Here's the new program. It needs some work. There's a bug in thefrimular module. Yawn.
But you know what they say about all work and no play. People began toplay. Left to themselves, they always do. And the people building the Internetwere pretty much left to themselves. They were creating the gameboard. Noone else knew how the hell this thing worked, so no one could tell them whatthey could and couldn't do. They did whatever they liked. And one of thethings they liked most was arguing.
Consider that these early denizens of the Net were, for the most part,young, brash, untrained in the intricate dance of corporate politics, and highlyknowledgeable of their craft. In the prized and noble older sense of the term,they were hackers, and proud of it. Many, in their own assessment if not thatof others, were net.godshigh priests of an arcane art very few even knewexisted. When disagreements arose over serious mattersthe correct useof quotation marks, saythey would join in battle like old Norse warriors:"Jim, you are a complete idiot. Your code is so brain-damaged it won't evencompile. Read a book, moron."
Today, we tend to think of "flaming" as a handful of people vociferouslyinsulting each other online. A certain sense of finesse has largely been lost.In the olden days, a good flame war could go on for weeks or months, with hotinvective flying around like rhetorical shrapnel. It was high art, high entertainment.Though tempers flared hot and professional bridges were sometimesirreparably burned, ultimately it was a gamea participatory sport in whichthe audience awarded points for felicitous disparagements, particularly well-wordedputdowns, inspired squelches.
It was not a game, however, for the meek of heart. These engagementscould be fierce. Even trying to separate the contestants could bring down a hailof sharp-tongued derision. Theories were floated and defended with extremeenergy and enthusiasm, if not always with logical rigor. Opinions tended to runhigh on any given topic. Say you'd posted about your dog. And, look, you got aresponse! "Jim, you are a complete idiot. Your dog is so brain-damaged it won'teven hunt ..."
If you'd happened to see the first version of the comment to Jim, you mightgrin at the second. If not, your mileage might vary. But the point is not to extolflame wars, as amusing as some could be. Instead, it is to suggest a particularset of values that began to emerge in what linguists might call a well-boundedspeech community. On the Net, you said what you meant and had better beready to explain your position and how you'd arrived at it. Mouthing platitudesguaranteed that you would be challenged. Nothing was accepted at face value,or taken for granted. Everything was subject to question, revision, re-implementation,parodywhether it was an algorithm, a political philosophy or, God helpyou, an advertisement.
While the outcome of these debates did not invariably constitute wisdomfor the ages, the process by which they took place was honing a razor-sharpsense of collective potential. The conversation was not only engaging, interesting,excitingit was effective. Tools and techniques emerged with a speed thatbroke all precedents. As would soon become obvious, the Net was a powerfulmultiplier for intellectual capital.
Waiting for Joe Six-Pack
A FEW YEARS AGO, YOU COULD MAKE AN INTERESTINGdistinction between people who thought there was something special about theInternet and those who saw it as no big deal. Now of course, everybody sees itas a big deal, mostly because of those weirdball IPOs and the overnight billionairesthey've spawned. But I think the distinction is still valid. Most companieswith Net-dot-dollar-signs in their eyes today are still missing the "somethingspecial" dimension.
Yahoo has already made it, financially speaking, but forms a good examplenonetheless. Despite the funky hacker roots of the initial directory Yang andFilo built, Yahoo now describes itself as a "global media company," thus claiminga closer spiritual kinship with Disney and Murdoch than with the culturethat originally put it on the map.
To this mindset, the Net is just an extension of preceding mass media,primarily television. The rhetoric it uses is freighted with the same crypto-religiousmarketing jargon that characterized broadcast: brand, market share,eyeballs, demographics. And guess what? It works. If nobody was getting richoff this stuff, you wouldn't hear about it.
It's the fast new companies that are reaping these monetary rewards. Butguess what again. They're reaping them from an even faster marketone that,for the most part, has only discovered the Internet in the last year or so. Thepeople who make up this new market naturally bring a lot of baggage from theirprevious experience of mass media. To someone who just got an AOL accountlast Christmas, I suppose a Web page looks like a v-e-r-y s-l-o-w TV show.
But this is where the something-special effect comes in. It is assumed insome quarters that if you missed the early days of Usenet and didn't use Lynxfrom a Unix command line, you missed the Magic of Internet Culture. I don'tthink so.
Sure those were very different days and there was a certain fervoralmosta feverthat was hard to mistake for sitcom random. But I think the Internetstill has a radicalizing effect today, despite all the banner ads and promotionalhype and you-may-already-be-a-winner sweepstakes.
The something special is what the Manifesto calls voice.
Imagine for a moment: millions of people sitting in their shuttered homesat night, bathed in that ghostly blue television aura. They're passive, yeah, butmore than that: they're isolated from each other.
Now imagine another magic wire strung from house to house, hooking allthese poor bastards up. They're still watching the same old crap. Then, duringthe touching love scene, some joker lobs an off-color asideand everybodyhears it. Whoa! What was that? People are rolling on the floor laughing. And itbegins to happen so often, it gets abbreviated: ROTFL. The audience is suddenlyconnected to itself.
What was once The Show, the hypnotic focus and tee-vee advertising carrierwave, becomes in the context of the Internet a sort of reverse new-mediaMcGuffinan excuse to get together rather than an excuse not to. Think ofJoel and the 'bots on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The point is notto watch the film, but to outdo each other making fun of it.
And for such radically realigned purposes, some bloated corporate Web sitecan serve as a target every bit as well as Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Asthe remake trailer put it: size does matter.
So here comes Joe Six-Pack onto AOL. What does he know about netliness?Nothing. Zilch. He has no cultural context whatsoever. But soon, very soon,what he hears is something he never heard in TV Land: people cracking up."That ain't no laugh track neither," Joe is thinking and goes looking for thesource of this strange, new, rather seductive sound.
So here's a little story problem for ya, class. If the Internet has 50 millionpeople on it, and they're not all as dumb as they look, but the corporations tryingto make a fast buck off their asses are as dumb as they look, how longbefore Joe is laughing as hard as everyone else?
The correct answer of course: not long at all. And as soon as he startslaughing, he's not Joe Six-Pack anymore. He's no longer part of some passivecouch-potato target demographic. Because the Net connects people to eachother, and impassions and empowers through those connections, the mediadream of the Web as another acquiescent mass-consumer market is a figmentand a fantasy.
The Internet is inherently seditious. It undermines unthinking respect forcentralized authority, whether that "authority" is the neatly homogenized voiceof broadcast advertising or the smarmy rhetoric of the corporate annual report.
And Internet technology has also threaded its way deep into the heart ofCorporate Empire, where once upon a time, lockstep loyalty to the chairman'slatest attempt at insight was no further away than the mimeograph machine.One memo from Mr. Big and everyone believed (or so Mr. Big liked to think).
No more. The same kind of seditious deconstruction that's being practicedon the Web today, just for the hell of it, is also seeping onto the companyintranet. How many satires are floating around there, one wonders: of thelatest hyperinflated restructuring plan, of the over-sincere cultural-sensitivitytraining sessions Human Resources made mandatory last week, of all thegibberish that passes for "management"or has passed up until now.
Step back a frame or two. Zoom out. Isn't that weird? Workers and marketsare speaking the same language! And they're both speaking it in the sameshoot-from-the-hip, unedited, devil-take-the-hindmost style.
This conversation may be irreverent of eternal verities, but it's not all jokes.Whether in the marketplace or at work, people do have genuine, serious concerns.And we have something else as well: knowledge. Not the sort of boring,abstract knowledge that "Knowledge Management" wants to manage. No. Thereal thing. We have knowledge of what we do and how we do itour craftandit drives our voices; it's what we most like to talk about.
But this whole gamut of conversation, from infinite jest to point-specificexpertise: who needs it?
Companies need it. Without it they can't innovate, build consensus, or goto market. Markets need it. Without it they don't know what works and whatdoesn't; don't know why they should give a damn. Cultures need it. Withoutplay and knowledge in equal measure, they begin to die. People get gloomy,anxious, and depressed. Eventually, the guns come out.
There are two new conversations going on today, both vibrant and exciting;both mediated by Internet technologies but having little to do with technologyotherwise. Unfortunately, there's also a metaphorical firewall separating theseconversations, and that wall is the traditional, conservative, fearful corporation.
So what is to be done? Easy: Burn down business-as-usual. Bulldoze it.Cordon off the area. Set up barricades. Cripple the tanks. Topple the statuesof heroes too long dead into the street.
Sound familiar? You bet it does. And the message has been the same allalong, from Paris in '68 to the Berlin Wall, from Warsaw to Tiananmen Square:Let the kids rock and roll!
So open the windows and turn up the volume. If the noise gets loudenough, maybe even CNN will cover.
From Ancient Markets to Global Networks
THIS MAY SEEM RABIDLY ANTIBUSINESS. IT'S NOT.Business is just a word for buying and selling things. In one way or another,we all rely on this commerce, both to get the things we want or need, and toafford them. We are alternately the workers who create products and services,and the customers who purchase them. There is nothing inherently wrong withthis setup. Except when it becomes all of life. Except when life becomes secondaryand subordinate. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, businessso dominates all other aspects of our existence that it's hard to imagine it wasever otherwise. But it was. Imagine it.
A few thousand years ago there was a marketplace. Never mind where.Traders returned from far seas with spices, silks, and precious, magical stones.Caravans arrived across burning deserts bringing dates and figs, snakes, parrots,monkeys, strange music, stranger tales. The marketplace was the heart of thecity, the kernel, the hub, the omphalos. Like past and future, it stood at thecrossroads. People woke early and went there for coffee and vegetables, eggsand wine, for pots and carpets, rings and necklaces, for toys and sweets, forlove, for rope, for soap, for wagons and carts, for bleating goats and evil-temperedcamels. They went there to look and listen and to marvel, to buy and beamused. But mostly they went to meet each other. And to talk.
In the market, language grew. Became bolder, more sophisticated. Leapedand sparked from mind to mind. Incited by curiosity and rapt attention, it tookastounding risks that none had ever dared to contemplate, built whole civilizationsfrom the ground up.
Markets are conversations. Trade routes pave the storylines. Across themillennia in between, the human voice is the music we have always listenedfor, and still best understand.
So what went wrong? From the perspective of corporations, many ofwhich by the twentieth century had become bigger and far more powerfulthan ancient city-states, nothing went wrong. But things did change.
Commerce is a natural part of human life, but it has become increasinglyunnatural over the intervening centuries, incrementally divorcing itself fromthe people on whom it most depends, whether workers or customers. Whilethis change is in many ways understandablehuge factories took the place ofvillage shops; the marketplace moved from the center of the town and came todepend on far-flung mercantile tradethe result has been to interpose a vastchasm between buyers and sellers.
By our own lifetimes, mass production and mass media had totally transformedthis relationship, which came to be characterized by alienation and mystery.Exactly what relationship did producers and markets have to each otheranymore? In attempting to answer this blind-man's-bluff question, marketresearch became a billion-dollar industry.
Once an intrinsic part of the local community, commerce has evolved tobecome the primary force shaping the community of nations on a global scale.But because of its increasing divorce from the day-to-day concerns of realpeople, commerce has come to ignore the natural conversation that definescommunities as human.
The slow pace of this historic change has made it seem unsurprisingto many that people are now valued primarily for their capacity to consume,as targets for product pitches, as demographic abstractions. Few living in theso-called civilized world today can envision commerce as ever having been anythingdifferent. But much of the change happened in the century just passed.
Economies of Scale: Mo' Bigga Mo' Betta
The Internet is often seen as a unique phenomenon that only recently burstinto the economic mainstream. But looking at the Net in strictly technologicalterms obscures its relationship to broader economic trends that were alreadywell underway.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the United States was poised tobecome the prototypical mass market. It had vast natural resources, a fast-growingpopulation, and a contiguous geography generally unbounded bytariff restrictions. Cheap iron coupled with a voracious appetite for industrialexpansion enabled a railway system capable of cost-effectively delivering goodsto nearly every part of a captive domestic market.
Given the high cost of entry into such enterprises, and without appreciableforeign competition, manufacturers cared little about product differentiation.Thus Henry Ford's attitude toward customer choice: "They can have any colorthey want as long as it's black." More than for his wit, Ford is remembered fordesigning the first high-volume automotive assembly lines. The more cars Fordcould make, the lower the unit cost and the greater the margin of profit. Theseeconomies of scale led to enormous profits because they enabled selling a farcheaper product to a far wider market.
Ford was strongly influenced by Frederick Taylor and his theory of "scientificmanagement." Taylor's time-and-motion metrics sought to bring regularityand predictability to bear on the increasingly detailed division of labor. Undersuch a regimen, previously holistic craft expertise rapidly degraded into themindless execution of single repetitive tasks, with each worker performing onlyone operation in the overall process. Because of its effect on workers' knowledge,de-skilling is a term strongly associated with mass production. And as skilldisappeared, so did the unique voice of the craftsman.
The organization was elegantly simple, if not terribly humane. Atop themanagement hierarchy resided near-omniscient knowledge of products andmanufacturing methods. In the case of Ford, product design, process design,marketing strategy, and other critical functions were chiefly the province of oneman, Henry. This knowledge was translated into work orders that were executedby an increasingly layered cadre of lieutenants who directed a large butlargely unskilled workforce. This style of command-and-control managementworked best for single product-lines with few parts and simple processes.
Economies of Scope: Would You Like Fries with That?
Mass production, mass marketing, and mass media have constituted theHoly Trinity of American business for at least a hundred years. The payoffswere so huge that the mindset became an addiction, a drug blinding its usersto changes that began to erode the old axioms attaching to economies of scale.
These changes were gradual at first. Even early on, "economies of scope"began to be perceived. General Motors broke Ford's run on the Model-Tanimpossibly long product cycle by today's standardsby offering cars thatwere not black, and even came in different styles to suit different tastes andpocketbooks. Heinz discovered it could make not just, say, mustard, but"57 Varieties" of condiments in the same factory. Consumers began to havea wider range of choice, and they warmed quickly to their new options.
But things got more complicated on the management side. As more productswere launched, organizations became increasingly bureaucratic and businessfunctions more isolated from each other. This was de-skilling of a higherorder: design, production, and marketing knowledge began to fractionate, andin some cases, to atrophy.
The real watershed came when offshore producers, finally recovered fromthe Second World War, began to penetrate U.S. markets. With the oil embargoof the early 1970s, small, fuel-efficient cars began looking highly attractive topeople stalled in long gas lines. Companies like Honda, Toyota, and Volkswagenexploded into the North American market like a tsunami. The challenge to U.S.manufacturers was not to offer just trivial feature alternatives, but whole newdesigns. In a classic reversal, what was suddenly good for America was anythingbut good for General Motors. The auto industry didn't see these changes coming,and as a result lost enormous market share to offshore competitors.
Overnight, global competition turned mass markets into thousands of micromarkets. Nike now makes hundreds of different styles of shoes. The WallStreet Journal coined the term sneakerization to describe a phenomenonaffecting nearly every industry.
Competition is healthy, we'd been told from birth, because it breeds greaterchoice. But now competition was out of control and old-guard notions of brandallegiance evaporated like mist in the rising-sun onslaught from Japan, SoutheastAsia, and Europe. Choice and quality ruled the day, and consumer enthusiasmfor the resulting array of new product options forever undermined the foundationsof yesterday's mass-market economy.
The relentless search for market niches drove a steep increase in newproduct introductions, which in turn required an exponential increase in designand process knowledge. There were just two problems. First, mass-production-orientedbusiness processes had been "stove-piped" into noncommunicatingbureaucratic business functions. Second, workers long told to "check yourbrain at the door," were ill-equipped for the dynamic changes about to wreakhavoc on the corporation.
In short, command-and-control management didn't work so well anymore.Necessary knowledge no longer resided at the top. It was as if the organizationalcore had melted down, and companies that couldn't adjust fast enoughorthat were culturally unwilling to shift gearswent belly up as a result.
This sudden need for more, better, and better distributed knowledge spawnedvarious attempts at a solution. Three are especially noteworthy.
1. Concurrent engineering: What if separate functionssay design and manufacturingtalked to each other from the outset of a product cycle? This astoundingly obvious idea hadn't yet occurred to anyone because market hegemony and mass production had made it appear unnecessary. If you made only one product, and it had a long life cycle, there was no problem. However, as products proliferated and life cycles accelerated, the need to manage widely distributed knowledge became intense. While concurrent engineering was a step in the right direction, it assumed there was sufficient knowledge in top-down control functions to specify detailed commands to thousands of workers producing hundreds of different products. Big mistake.
2. Artificial Intelligence: Announced with messianic fanfare in the 1980s, this new branch of computer science sought to automate expertise. If "scientific management" had ramped productivity through the division of physical labor, why not apply the same techniques to intellectual labor? However, if industrial automation is de-skilling, AI is akin to a frontal lobotomy. Instead of distributing knowledge, so-called expert systems made it dependent on complex and inflexible software. In most cases, these programs simply didn't work. Knowledge worthy of the name is highly dynamic. It requires deep understanding, not just rules and algorithms. While machines are lousy at this sort of thing, people are remarkably adaptive and intelligent. People learn. Real expertise is changing too fast today to lend itself to automation.
3. Total Quality Managements: TQM suggested the unthinkable to companies intent on automating knowledge: why not look to your employees? The basic idea was to empower the people who actually did the work. Knowledge resides within practicea truth that AI forgot, to its fatal detriment. In companies that adopted some form of TQM, business practices began to resemble older notions of craft instead of the brain-numbing repetition of preordained procedures. People were encouraged to share what they knew with each other, with other departments and divisions, and with the company as a whole. This exchange became a rapidly expanding conversationa conversation that would soon populate the corporate intranet.
Understanding, learning, exploration, curiosity, collaborationqualities thathad been bred out of workers by industrial managementwere now being desperatelyelicited by the All-New, Culturally Revolutionized Organization. Manyspouted the new religion, but secretly tried to hedge old bureaucratic bets.A handful walked the talk, but it was tough going. A central tenet of TQM wasW. Edwards Deming's dictum: "Drive Out Fear"a challenge that went to theheart of the corporation. Conversations among workers were finally seen ascritical to the spread of valuable knowledge"best practices" in the still-currentjargon. Conversations are where intellectual capital gets generated. Butbusiness environments based on command-and-control are usually characterizedby intimidation, coercion, and threats of reprisal. In contrast, genuine conversationflourishes only in an atmosphere of free and open exchange.
Enter the Internet
Our whirlwind historical tour has focused on manufacturing because thatsector was first to experience these changes. Later, the same forces began toreshape service and information industries. The Internet not only arrived intothe context of a newly globalized economy, it has been profoundly shaped byit. Companies installing intranets are seeking to capture and preserve criticalknowledge. Individuals coming onto the Internet are seeking the same rangeof choice that was first offered by imported cars and stereo equipment.
However, most "e-commerce" plays today look a lot like General Motorscirca 1969looking for that next lucrative mass market just when marketshave shattered into a million mirror-shard constituencies, many asking forsomething altogether different from the mindless razzle-dazzle of the tube.Marketeers still drool at the prospect of the Net replicating the top-downbroadcast model wherein glitzy "content" is developed at great cost in remotestudios and jammed down a one-way pipe into millions of living rooms.TV with a buy button! Wowee!
Today, many large companies offer flashy bread-and-circus entertainmentson the Web. These offerings have all the classic earmarks of the mass marketcome-on: lowest-common-denominator programming developed to package anddeliver market segments to mass merchandisers. This is not what most peoplewant, or they would have stuck with television, the Yellow Pages, and 800numbers. And they don't have to accept it since the Internet came up withthe concept of infinite channel-surfing.
The Net represents cheap natural resources (data), cheap transport (thepipe itself), and most important, cheap and efficient access to global know-how.The barriers to entry have fallen so low that a huge number of companies cannow compete for a nichean influx that echoes the entry of Asian and Europeancompetitors into U.S. markets. But this is more like an invasion from outerspace: ten thousand saucers just landed and they're merely the advance wave.
Just as GM mistook the Hondas and VWs for a passing fad, most corporationstoday are totally misreading this invasion from Webspace. Their brand willsave them. Right. Their advertising budget will save them. Uh-huh. More bandwidthwill save them. Sure. Well, ... something will save them. They're just nottoo sure what it is yet. But the clock is now ticking in Internet time. Maybethey should get a clue. And quick.
To most large traditional companies, the notion that workers might actuallyknow what they were doing was a huge insight. (Duh!) But it takes hard workto implement the changes required to elicit knowledge from employees. Inmost cases, that work is not only incomplete, it hasn't even begun. "Drive outfear"? Dream on.
Knowledge worth having comes from turned-on volitional attention, notfrom slavishly following someone else's orders. Innovation based on such knowledgeis exciting, inflammatory, even "dangerous," because it tends to challengefixed procedures and inflexible policies. While collaboration has been paidmuch lip service within corporations, few have attempted it beyond their ownboundaries. Ironically, companies that remain "secure" within those boundarieswill be cut off from the global marketplace with which they must engage inorder to survive and prosper.
And this engagement must be fearless and far-reaching. Workers mustbecome fully empowered and self-directed. Scary. Suppliers must become trustedallies in developing new products and business strategies. Scarier still. Marketsmust come to have faces and personalities in place of statistical profiles.Flat-out panic!
For many, the new landscape is barely recognizable, online or off. Wherebusiness is headed there are no roadmaps yet, and few comforting parallelswith the past. The landscape has little to do with mass production, massmerchandising, mass markets, mass media, or mass culture.
Instead, the future business of businesses that have a future will be aboutsubtle differences, not wholesale conformity; about diversity, not homogeneity;about breaking rules, not enforcing them; about pushing the envelope, notpunching the clock; about invitation, not protection; about doing it first, notdoing it "right"; about making it better, not making it perfect; about telling thetruth, not spinning bigger lies; about turning people on, not "packaging" them;and perhaps above all, about building convivial communities and knowledgeecologies, not leveraging demographic sectors.