Thriving in the connected economy
There is a revolution taking place. Like all revolutions, it is a purging of the old and an adoption of something new. It is transforming America and most of you reading this are at the heart of it.
Let me explain. The old economy – the one that built our nation – is disappearing. It was based upon manufacturing, consistency and conformity. The old economy promised a piece of the american dream in trade for 40 hours a week of repeating the same task over and over and over for a large corporation or organization.
Henry Ford and his assembly line spawned the Industrial Age. As a nation we turned it into those 40 hour work weeks, paid vacations, benefits, and retirement plans. The revolution we are living through is changing all of that. The economy that Henry Ford and others like him built has moved to China and India and other places around the globe. Some of us will still seek out this Industrial-Age path, but theirs is the more perilous journey. The safety they seek is but a mirage in the new economy. They don’t realize that they are disposable, throw-away cogs in an archaic and humongous machine. Those corporate positions, and the people in them, are simply commodities in the new economy. They can be filled by anyone with a minimum level of competence and education. Commodities lack value and worth other than their cost, which is always being driven lower and lower. And, as we are all aware, there is always someone willing to work for less.
Today, our connection economy is based upon the value we bring to others. Our uniqueness helps define that value. So, too, does our ability to connect with others and form our own group. The value you add to the lives of others – how you can benefit them – will determine your success.
Regardless of the product or service you produce you will have to answer two important questions. The first is why are you here? What is your reason for existing? What is unique about you? To create your group you have to be honest and authentic. People, like-minded people, are looking for you to lead them. And as their leader you can create your own economy. Your group may begin small but it can and will grow with time provided you build trust and stay true to your WHY.
The second question you must answer is how can you transform their lives? How will you – your group and products or services – benefit them? What you need to learn is this: if people can invest emotionally in your group then they will join and, more importantly, they will become an advocate and a recruiter. The connection economy is about referrals more than advertising. There are many examples of people and companies going their own way and creating value to successfully build a group or following – ignoring the masses and speaking directly to their people. Most of them we never know about. You don’t have to become huge to be successful. But some are.
One man created his own connection economy before any of us imagined it would exist. Jimmy Buffett is a musician, writer, businessman and the leader of the Parrotheads, a fiercely loyal group of fans. Buffett has never been at the heart of the music industry. He has always been on the outside looking in because the music industry couldn’t classify or categorize him. His music has been described as rock-n-roll, country, island reggae, blues and folk. Radio shunned him. Big labels stayed away. He wasn’t a cog that neatly fit into their machine. He was – and is – unique. In the old economy he didn’t have a place within the machinations of the powers that be.
And yet, there aren’t a lot of artists who can claim to approach his level of success. He has released more than two dozen albums, most of them gold or platinum sellers even though they received little or no radio air-time. Buffett’s albums have consistently ranked in the top 40 of the Hot 100, even though he has very few Top 40 hits. But radio air-time is the old economy, isn’t it. Buffett connected with those on the fringes of the masses and built his own empire, his own way. That’s the new way, the connection economy. An interesting fact about Buffett is this: since the advent of the internet (and the connection economy) he has had more Top 40 hits than at any time in his career. Others from the fringes have been able to find him and connect more easily.
Buffett has used his fun-loving island escapist perspective to amass a very large group that he has led for nearly forty years. He is authentic. His fans trust him. In truth, he has gone beyond a niche sort of enterprise to something much larger. Almost everyone knows who he is today, even if they aren’t a fan and don’t know much about his music. He built his Parrothead empire slowly, one show, one connection, and one record at a time.
There are many others who have done similar things. Apple has built a massive following creating products that are elegant, bring style to our lives, and are easy to use. They value style and simplicity. No one could accuse Apple of putting price first (and becoming a commodity). Think their iPad is too expensive? Okay, go buy something else. You aren’t right for their group. You don’t get it. Apple doesn’t sweat it when people say these things. Their concern is focussed on like-minded individuals, not the masses. Even with their massive success (they are the third highest valued company in the U.S.) they only control around 11 percent of the computer market.
Hank Green built his group on daily video posts on YouTube with his brother John. Their goal at the start was very simple: post a message every day that was no longer than 4 minutes. They did this because they were tired of connecting through texts and instant messaging. Eventually, fans began asking questions, which led to Question Tuesday, where they answered questions on any day but Tuesday. There was also Song Wednesday, where Hank launched his music career. Their videos have been watched more than 200 million times. Hank has led his groups in multiple directions over the last seven years, but he has always stayed true to who he is.
We all belong to groups. It’s how we self-identify. Our groups inform our perspectives. Gun club, democrat, progressive, conservative, christian, cyclist, and cancer survivors are groups many of us belong to. Some of them shape you. Some you help to shape. Some groups you start, like your business. The key to the connection economy is to cultivate your group and lead it well by staying authentic, trustworthy and adding value to the lives of those in your group.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
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