The deep revelation of the revolution called the Internet, is that it continues to demonstrate that networks are the most valuable resource that an individual, a corporation, or a government possesses in order to leverage innovation, change, and advancement.
Of course, during the height of the Industrial Revolution last century, no one understood how to measure the revenue generated by any kind of network (personal or professional), but everyone knew somebody who had gotten hired via a referral, or who had made a purchase from strong word-of-mouth.
The Internet shows the power of such networks virtually (have you bought an online course lately?) even as it erodes the networks between people in the “real” world.
This is a particularly troubling realization for organizations built at scale, i.e. “real world” companies, from old line manufacturers (Ford) to healthcare companies (name your national hospital conglomerate of choice here).
The fact that a network matters more than physical size, monetary resources, access, etc., on the Internet is the main reason why corporate mergers (i.e. AT&T + Every Other Media Company You Can Name on the Planet) won’t do much to increase the overall market share of individual eyeballs and mass audience attention. The mass approach doesn’t work (because of the network impact of the Long Tail) and such mergers are the flailing attempts of declining industries to remain relevant in the face of the only thing that scales from individual to individual.
The web of the network.
Some sectors are provincially beginning to understand the impact of the presence of the network in the physical world, with the growing talk around the Internet-of-Things. But this is just the beginning.
The fact that the presence of the network matters more than the size of the network, is why Google will eventually get out of the search business altogether (probably around the middle of this century or so) and be the first Internet based company to burst from your computer or mobile phone application, out into the physical world.
Search matters less and less when the network matters more and more to accomplishing revenue, connection and growth goals at scale. Sure, Facebook may “win” the networking wars against search in their own little walled garden, but Google is planning on escaping to larger territories in the physical world where the presence of a network generates more revenues, because of the inability and myopia of Industrial Revolution based organizations to appreciate the impact of a network at scale.
These larger territories where networks aren’t as valued (yet) include the physical connectivity infrastructure of a city (Google Fiber), the physical place where individuals spend time commuting to work (Google Car) and the place where individuals spend the time connecting with others physically AND virtually (Google A.I. projects).
The fact that the network matters more than the technology facilitating the development of the network, is why virtual reality companies (Oculus Rift) and augmented reality games (Pokemon Go!) will be on the edges of individuals’ and companies’ radars for some time to come. The real “killer” app for both virtual reality and augmented reality technology will be the one that brings connectivity and an already established network into the new technology. And then pivots to connect that network to a larger, physical world.
For companies that can’t envision the leap to network based thinking (but who have executives and others on their cell phones texting, emailing, messaging, and otherwise building their virtual network constantly) here are a few suggestions:
Build the physical network between schools, industry, and government in your local town, or municipality. There is nothing less sexy or interesting than sitting at a table talking about how things were better economically in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, but that lament must be part of a larger discussion of expanding the web and the network using the same thinking and acting that individuals are doing virtually daily.
Realize that money is no object. Money is a story. Fear of change and resistance to the present reality and the future possibility are the objects. Recently the question came up in a workshop with an organization in transition “How do ‘crack’ the Resistance?” One way is to build trust. The other way is to change the thinking of the organization around what constitutes a “revenue generating” activity, and what does not.
Realize that there isn’t power in hoarding knowledge, access, or a carefully constructed network anymore. There isn’t power in hoarding money anymore (no matter how much cash on the balance sheets the Fortune 500 is hoarding). There isn’t even power in hoarding connections to politicians, power-brokers, or personalities anymore. The power is in sharing, reciprocity and building trust across boundaries, rather than busily building moats.
The full power of the Internet—in its ability to shape how humans build, how humans communicate, and how humans create network value—has yet to be fully explored.
We are at the beginning of a revolution.