I spent the weekend in my hometown, a city of about fifty thousand people up in the woods of more or less northern Ontario. Over my lifetime the jobs have all left, and the city I knew, which I can still see when I look for it, is hurting. You can see the hurt on the faces of the people and the buildings.
The economy changed and the rules changed with it. It’s a similar story to small towns all over North America, where generations of the same families could count on a steady job to see them through.
We moved manufacturing offshore, which has benefited all of us, and technology eliminated a lot of jobs. This is a fact, but it isn’t the problem.
The problem is that we keep waiting for the jobs to come back, for the factory to re-open. This is a fantasy of course.
The economy has changed, but at the same time something else is happening. Like all change, it happens sporadically, here and there, in fits and starts, without perfection but it is clearly happening.
Niche markets and choice are replacing the mass market.
The Internet, Google and Amazon are connecting buyers and sellers over vast distances more efficiently and affordably than ever before.
Funding and manufacturing is more of a conceptual hurdle than a practical one. You can find anything at any time as well as the capital to fund it without leaving your office or favorite chair.
There is more available information than ever before, creating even more value and opportunity. Meanwhile, products and services are cheaper by the day. It takes far fewer employees to generate more value and to impact more people.
What’s most interesting (tantalizing, really) is that every single person, whether they are self-employed or work for someone else, is now more in charge of their destiny than ever before. The idea of a small company town dying because of a stagnant industry or industries should be fading fast. We all have choice and opportunity.
Right before our eyes, a new and fundamentally different economy, with different players and different ways to add value is thriving.
Is this revolution tidy? No, are they ever?
Are there people getting caught in this shift and crushed? Without a doubt.
Is there pain, uncertainty and risk? When isn’t there?
But the opportunity is seductive, isn’t it? It’s the biggest of our lifetime. The opportunity is here for anyone (with or without a job) wise enough to take it, to create something new, to tell a story, to spread the word, to be in demand, to satisfy real needs, to run from the status quo and change everything.
Like every other revolution, this is an opportunity, not a solution.
There isn’t a guarantee. There is an opportunity to poke and experiment and fail and find dead ends on the way to making a difference. The old economy offered a guaranteed formula: Time plus education plus obedience = stability.
This new one? Not so much. The new one offers you a chance to make an impact.
If you’re looking for ‘how’, if you’re looking for a rulebook, or a map or a manual, then you’re in trouble. The nature of the last economies (Industrial and Service) was that repetition and management of resources and results increased profits.
The nature of the Experience Economy is the opposite. If someone can tell you precisely what to do, it’s too late. You have already missed the bus. That kind of work has been commoditized; it’s necessary but almost worthless. Anyone, anywhere is willing to do it. Often for less.
Art, generosity and innovation cannot be pressed out on an assembly line, and will not come from assembly-line thinking.
The future for all of us is to be imagined and created, not recreated.
We have a choice, which is to win the revolution, read the writing on the wall and raise our fist in the air. Or we can be frustrated and fearful.
Once again, it’s a choice. Our choice.