John McCann

Archive for the ‘Early Predictions’ Category

Start a business; hire no-one

In Early Predictions, Entrepreneur on December 11, 2006 at 4:55 pm

An article in USA Today documents a trend that has been brewing for the past couple of decades: the demise of the job. Instead, we are seeing people start businesses that do not offer jobs because they have no employees.

“Fed up with rising labor costs, a new generation of entrepreneurs is launching millions of tiny companies differing from business in the past: They don’t want employees. The trend, building since the late 1990s, hit a milestone this year when the number of these microbusinesses reached 20 million — one for every six private-sector workers, a new analysis of government data shows. In place of paid employees, owners harness new technologies to outsource work, often linking up with other like-minded entrepreneurs to get jobs done in a virtual assembly line spanning the globe.”

Back in the mid-1990s, I collected many quotes that predicted this trend, such as this one from a Fortune article:

“What is disappearing is not just a certain number of jobs. … What is disappearing is the very thing itself: the job. That much sought after, much maligned social entity, a job, is vanishing like a species that has outlived its evolutionary time. A century from now Americans will look back and marvel that we couldn’t see more clearly what was happening. … The modern world is on the verge of another huge leap in creativity and productivity, but the job is not going to be part of tomorrow’s economic reality. There still is and will always be enormous amounts of work to do, but it is not going to be contained in the familiar envelopes we call jobs. In fact, many organizations are today well along the path toward being ‘de-jobbed.’ The job is a social artifact, though it is so deeply embedded in our consciousness that most of us have forgotten its artificiality or the fact that most societies since the beginning of time have done just fine without jobs. The job is an idea that emerged early in the 19th century to package the work that needed doing in the growing factories and bureaucracies of the industrializing nations. Before people had jobs, they worked just as hard but on shifting clusters of tasks, in a variety of locations, on a schedule set by the sun and the weather and the needs of the day. The modern job is a startling new idea — and to many, an unpleasant and perhaps socially dangerous one. … Now the world is changing again: The conditions that created jobs 200 years ago — mass production and the large organization — are disappearing. … Today’s organization is rapidly being transformed from a structure built out of jobs into a field of work needing to be done. Jobs are artificial units superimposed on this field. … Jobs are no longer socially adaptive. That is why they are going the way of the dinosaur.” (William Bridges, “The End of the Job,” Fortune, September 19, 1994, pp. 62-74)

I found the idea of a small company with no employees to be very appealing after I considered starting a traditional company that would apply my academic research. I lost interest in the venture when one of my potential employee asked : “What will be your travel policy? When can I fly first class?” I knew then that I was not interested in having people work for me, and I abandoned the idea of a business. It turns out that there are at least 20 million people like me.

Current transition

In Culture & society, Early Predictions on August 4, 2006 at 11:56 am

In cleaning my office at Duke, I ran across a book I had read several years ago: Nicholas Imparato and Oren Harari, Jumping the Curve: Innovation and Strategic Choice in an Age of Transition (Jossey-Bass Publications, 1994). I plan to re-read it again to see what I can learn about the transition to the Participation Age. I will relate one passage here that I had underlined during my first reading because it sets the stage for understanding the history of major transitions.

The authors consulted the work of historians and philosophers to identify major historical transitions.

“They traditionally maintain that these dramatic transitions have occurred only twice in the entire history of Western civilization, thereby breaking history into three periods. The first period is called the Classical Age, the second is called the Middle Age, and the third is called the Modern Age. … the first age goes from early civilization to the years 313-476, a time that marks the fall of the Roman Empire. The second age stretches from that point until medieval life declines and gives way to the rudiments of modern social structures. This process spans different years in different parts of Europe, but began in Italy during the 1300s and continued through the scientific revolution of the 1600s. The third period that began then continued until sometime in this century. None of these changes, therefore, was abrupt or sudden; each dovetailed with a wide array of human activities. Graham Greene once remarked that there is always a moment in time ‘when a door opens and lets the future in.’ Nietzsche, more directly, called these moments of epochal transformations ‘new dawns.’ Today we are in a period of similar transformation, a source of both turbulence and renewal.”

After this discussion of the past, the authors begin to address the present and future, warning us that our current transition is likely to be much faster than those in the past.

“We should be mindful that the current transformation will occur more quickly than did previous transitions. The Middle Ages lasted one thousand years and the Modern Age has endured half of that. Events today will compress into an even tighter time line. As historian Arthur Schlesinger has noted: ‘A boy who saw the Wright brothers fly for a few seconds at Kitty Hawk could have watched Apollo II land on the moon in 1969.'”

What, the authors’ opinion, is at the root of this current transition?

“The most dramatic driver, of course, is the revolution in communication and information technologies.”

I will continue to read this book as well as look through some of my own earlier work to see what they have to say about our current “new dawn.”

Don’t disparage the youth!

In Content business, Content workers, Early Predictions, Globalization on May 9, 2006 at 5:12 pm

In his keynote address at Telcom 95 in Geneva, Switzerland, Andy Grove, then the CEO of Intel, talked about one of his favorite topics: the Strategic Inflection Point (SIP). He said that all organizations, sooner or later, will face a Strategic Inflection Point because of technology, deregulation and competition. Here is my depiction of a chart that he used in his address:


The blue curve denotes the organization's growth, which is rapid at first, then slows and eventually plateau's at its SIP when it encounters the three forces of digital technologies, deregulation and competition. Depending upon its actions, it will either enter a new growth path or go into decline.

He talked about the "mother of all Strategic Inflection Points" that firms were facing in 1995:

"In the future, with a medium of hundreds of millions pushing onto a billion connected computers available for commerce as well as for other tasks. Transactions, business will be connected not face to face but stream to stream. And I think this will be the mother of all strategic inflection points because it's going to change the way those of us in the information technology industry do our business but even more importantly, it is going to change the way everybody in commerce does their daily business. As with strategic inflection points there are two paths. There's a path of ascent and a path to descent. And which path you are going to be ending up on depends on the decisions and the plans and the implementation of those plans that begin at the time of that inflection point which I submit to you is today."

A couple of years later, Lou Gerstner, then the IBM CEO, appeared on the PBS Nightly Business Report in a segment titled Net Effects. He had this to say about the nature of the coming business world.

“The network world is going to change the world the way man flight changed the world, the way the electric light changed the world. It is going to fundamentally alter every institution in our society and it will change the way we work, the way we communicate, and the way we relate to each other. It will have implications for the nation-state, for the way we organize around the world. It is a powerful force and it evolve over the next two decades into something that we will look back and say that was a quaint world in the 1980s. I’m talking about a revolution that I think will take several decades in terms of its impacts on all of society. But every single quarter some other industry will see its basic competitive landscape change because of this network.”

When I started this blog, I had been using these remarks (along with hundreds of others that I collected in the 1990s) to help me explain the nature of the networked world and why it was so important. Only in the last few weeks have I been able to recognize that one implication of the trends is that a large fraction of the workers in the developed world are content workers.

Each of us (if you are reading this blog post, you are surely a content worker) is in the content business. And as I explained in my piece on globalization, we operate in a world of real time relationships among dispersed individuals and organizations. We use and distribute content to all corners of the globe through our conversations, emails, web pages, blogs, etc.

Both content workers of the digital age and factory workers of the industrial age have faced or will face their Strategic Inflection Point as their livelihood is impacted by digital technologies, competition and deregulation. Those impacts are associated with many words and phrases that have come into vogue in the past two decades: lay-offs, downsizing, right sizing, out sourcing, home sourcing, etc.

These words represent the consequences of organizations responding to their SIPs. They find new ways to participate in their industries via new strategies and/or structures aimed at reducing their costs and/or expanding their revenue streams. More often than not, these changes involved new uses of digital technologies to improve individual, group and organizational productivity.

That is what organizations do. Too often, individuals in those organizations are the last to recognize that they are about to face their own SIPs. They may not be ready to operate in the new world, the one into which their organization is transitioning. They need to learn how to operate in a world of real time relationships among dispersed individuals and organizations.

But where do they turn for guidance? Where can they find a role model when most of their peers are in a similar situation? Just who does know how to operate in a world of real time relationships among dispersed individuals and organizations? Who are those people and where can they be found?

My answer: they are all around us. They may be in our own homes or next door at our neighbor's house. They may mow our grass, or drive around our neighborhood with music blasting from their cars. They may saunter around the mall in groups. They are today's youth.

What are they doing that is so important to us? They are playing multi-player online games, creating Facebook and MySpace profiles, blogging, sending short messages from their mobile phones, sharing digital pictures on Flickr & other photo services, walking around with their mobile phones glued to their ears, conversing in a half-dozen Instant Messaging (IM) windows on their computers at the same time, etc. They use those technologies and services to stay in continual contact with their friends, acquaintances, teachers, etc.

That is, they are managing real time relationships among dispersed individuals. They are global!! Being content workers is second nature to them.

We, the adults of the world, have to be careful when we advise them about their use of technologies. We may be too eager to focus on the articles about the negative consequences of the use of digital technologies. We need to recognize that they are global, and most of us are not. They grew up participating in real time relationships among dispersed individuals in ways that are far more advanced than our ways of relating to others.

We need to recognize that their work endeavors will be in an environment that is different from the ones in which we operate. We may be far more adept at operating in an organization that has not faced its SIP. They may be far more adept at operating in a post-SIP global organization because they were raised in the networked world.

Keep in mind what Gerstner said about that world: "It is going to fundamentally alter every institution in our society and it will change the way we work, the way we communicate, and the way we relate to each other." Perhaps we should each seek out a member of this generation and get him or her to mentor us on relating to other people through digital technologies.

But too many of us are not thinking this way. Too often we disparage their use of technology. We do not recognize that their behaviors are ones that we might want to emulate. We are very good at establishing and nurturing relationships with individuals we work along side. We have a lot to teach the youth about work ethics and social behaviors in our workplaces.

Those same youth are very good at establishing and nurturing relationships among dispersed individuals. I imagine they have a lot to teach us about how to operate in their world, which is much closer to the global business environment than most of our work environments.

Last winter, I taught a class titled "Technology and Life" at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Duke. During several of the class sessions, one person in the class would ask the same question: Aren't you worried about what the young people are doing? My answer was always "No, that does not worry me."

If I were asked that question today, I would say, "Yes, I do worry. But not about what the youth are doing with digital technologies. I worry about what adults are not doing with them."

Participation Age Perestroika

In Content workers, Early Predictions, Technology on April 18, 2006 at 4:16 pm

The Participation Age is a new age for the planet, in general, and the United States in particular. As is the case in any new age, we must have a restructuring of our economy so that we can move from old practices into new ones. Such a reconstruction has been called a perestroika in the context of the restructuring of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.

In the 1990 book Bionomics, Michael Rothschild provides an analysis and forecast of the perestroika associated with the emergence of the Participation Age.

"Most technical advances lead to only minor improvement in products and slight changes in the organization of work. A modified condenser might boost the power of a steam locomotive, but it wouldn't radically affect the work of the train's crew or fundamentally alter the economic role of railroads. But, in rare cases, an especially potent new technology will trigger a restructuring that ripples throughout the entire economy — from the lowliest work cells to the largest organizations. Today, as the twentieth century draws to a close, we are in the midst of precisely this kind of massive structural transformation. Because we lack the benefit of hindsight, we cannot fully appreciate the magnitude of the economic restructuring we are now experiencing. But our descendants will almost certainly judge the 'computer-on-a-chip' to be the most economically significant technical achievement of the previous 500 years. The microprocessor will rank at the very pinnacle of human invention because — like the printing press — it slashed the cost of encoding, copying, and communicating information. And, by doing so, it has brought vast areas of previously unattainable knowledge within human grasp and has made possible a staggering array of new products. Today these products are profoundly altering the capabilities of millions of work cells in every niche of the global economy. … By delivering on the promise of computer technology, the microprocessor thrust the world's capitalist economies into a new economic era — the Information Age. Robert Noyce, co-inventor of the integrated circuit and a founder of Intel Corporation, wrote: 'Just as the Industrial Revolution enabled man to apply and control greater physical power than his own muscle could provide, so electronics has extended his intellectual power. … As millions of microprocessors flooded into the economy, it was as if the information-processing power of each work cell's nucleus was abruptly and immensely multiplied. With their newly acquired personal computers, front-line managers began exercising a level of control that was previously unimaginable. Production cells that had always depended upon instructions from remote headquarters cells suddenly were empowered with enough information-processing capacity to make fast, rational decisions on their own. In short, microprocessor technology radically boosted the productive potential of every work cell in the economy. In a turbulent decade, with little conscious awareness of the fundamental forces at play, and without any plan, the economy spontaneously restructured itself in what amounted to an unsung American perestroika."

The key phrase: "microprocessor technology radically boosted the productive potential of every work cell in the economy." Every work cell, be it a person, group, department, remote location or team, could now use this new productive potential to participate independently. This is the very nature of the Participation Age.

Creating common experiences

In Culture & society, Early Predictions, Human nature on March 21, 2006 at 9:08 pm

Almost 10 years ago (October 22, 1996), Bill Machrone wrote an article for PC Week titled “The End of Common Experience”

“We don’t sit out on the front stoop any more. We don’t watch the first 15 minutes of Carson before we hit the sack so we can laugh together at work the next day. We don’t all watch the Ed Sullivan show on Sunday night. Our local newspaper is beleaguered by the pressures of steadily decreasing readership, higher costs, and less advertising. We don’t even work in the office any more. Between telecommuting, time on the road, and staying in hotels, the once-reliable office routine is a vanishing reality for more and more Americans. Dozens of other common experiences have disappeared from our lives, but I’ll focus on the changes driven by technology. The advent of 50 or more channels on cable has completely stratified our television viewing experience. Our community is defined as never before by our age and our interests, not by our physical location. The evening newspaper is extinct, and the televised evening news may be on the endangered list, supplanted by all-news channels. As people begin to turn to the Internet for news or to future sophisticated hybrids of television and the Internet, the advent of personal pages and customized views makes any commonality of experience even less likely.”

I find this situation to be worse today than it was in 1996 with the advent of new media, the continual decline in newspaper reading, the increasing number of cable TV channels, etc. I really like his statement that “Our community is defined as never before by our age and our interests, not by our physical location.” I pursue most of my interests on the web, rather than in conversation with my friends because I do not share their interests.

But on the other hand, I participate in groups that have been created to bring together people with common interests. I have a fishing group that goes to the beach in the Spring and Fall and has lunch every other week; a Sunday School class that reads and discusses the same book; a movie club that sees and discusses the same movie; another couple who we visit weekly to watch and discuss an HBO show; I teach a course on technology because it gives me an opportunity to discuss one of my main passions with other interested people; I play cards once a month with friends as a way to “shoot the breeze” about topics of common interest; I hike with a group that meets every Saturday and goes on weekend outings every couple of months.

What’s the point? You can have a common experience in today’s world but you have to create or find the structures. They no longer occur naturally because there are simply too many choices in our lives. This seems particularly true as we get beyond our youth, a period when such groups seem to occur more naturally.

Participate and sell

In Early Predictions, Television, Video, Vlogging on March 19, 2006 at 4:07 pm

The lead story in the Business section of Monday’s New York Times blasts an invitation to us to get off our butts and create something of value that the big media companies can buy:


The article seems to be driven by NBC Universal’s purchase, for $600 million, of iVillage, an Internet company that appeals to women. According to the author of the article, this interest by media companies is driven by their recognition of the need to reach niche audiences. His take is that this purchase illustrates

“the continuing interest by media companies in adding new Web sites to reach and connect with consumers, hobbyists, parents, investors, car buyers, Scrabble players and virtually every other niche audience.”

This reminds me of a lecture I delivered in the mid-1990s to a classroom full of MBA students. I suggested that they might be able to make more money traveling around the world with a video camera recording tennis matches, volleyball games and chess tournaments. I was not at all surprised that the students scoffed at the idea with statements such as “Who would want to watch THAT?” Perhaps recent events indicate that the large media companies think that at least some people might want to watch just about anything.

Well, there are now about 1 billion people on the Internet, and there will likely be 2 billion in a few years. And there are already 2 billion mobile phone users, headed towards 4 billion. An audience whose size is a very small fraction of those people can be very valuable if it is an audience that some advertiser finds valuable.

The Third Wave

In Early Predictions on February 7, 2006 at 8:10 pm

In the mid-1980s I wrote a book titled The Marketing Workbench that contained a case study about how the General Foods Corporation was handling the explosion of data being generated by the UPC scanners in the checkout lanes in supermarkets. That case was based upon an interview with Bob King, an executive in General Foods.

Bob is a widely read and very insightful man who wowed me with his thoughts about how our society was evolving. One of his favorite books was The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler and the following is Bob’s rendition of Toffler’s Wave Model:

“Wave 1: The consumer was the producer and the chief economic resource was land. This situation of consumer-as-producer was a wave of agriculturalization that began thousands of years ago.

Wave 2: The second wave was the recent industrial revolution, which relied on the availability of inexpensive energy. The consumer was separated from the producer and the producer was in control. The chief assets were capital and labor. People consumed the products and services that were produced by firms of ever-increasing size. They tended to accept the notion that the producer was in some way “responsible” for meeting their needs. The electric utilities were responsible for providing electricity and could make all necessary decisions. IBM was responsible for providing computers. The AMA was responsible for health care. The schools were responsible for education. In the US, the consumer’s view of success was obtained from other people and institutions, perhaps in part from Norman Rockwell and the Saturday Evening Post. This era was at its height during the Eisenhower years – around 1955.

Wave 3: Here the consumer is in control (and becomes a producer). Information technologies play the role that energy played during the industrial revolution. People take responsibility for their own lives, no longer allowing the responsibility for their lives and well-being to rest with other people or corporations. We will be in a period of demassification.”

Bob was using this model as a guide for a new IT design within the General Foods, a “demassification design” that called for a move from centralized to desktop computing. He said that the firm’s marketing managers had to be able to directly participate in the analysis of the data and that desktop computers were the best vehicle for such participation.

I have long used Toffler’s Wave Model to motivate students to understand and accept the differences between a Second Wave (“they” are in charge; you just consume) and a Third Wave (you are in charge; you participate in the production process) culture.

It also became a central part of my consulting for the past 20 years. It is a much easier to get today’s managers to recognize and accept the Wave Model than it was 20 years ago when The Marketing Workbench was published.

Negroponte: Anyone can be an unlicensed TV station

In Early Predictions on February 4, 2006 at 12:12 am

In Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte foresaw the coming explosion in Internet-based video that was being enabled by digital camcorders and broadband connections

“On the Net each person can be an unlicensed TV station. Three and a half million camcorders were sold in the United States during 1993. Every home movie won’t be a prime-time experience (thank God). But we can now think of mass media as a great deal more than high production value, professional TV. Telecommunications executives understand the need for broadband into the home. They cannot fathom the need for a channel of similar capacity in the reverse direction. … In the near future, individuals will be able to run electronic video services in the same way that fifty-seven thousand Americans run computer bulletin boards today. That’s a television landscape of the future that is starting to look like the Internet, populated by small information producers. In a few years yo can learn how to make couscous from Julia Child or a Moroccan housewife. You can discover wines with Robert Parker or a Burgundian vintner.”

It is interesting that a Moraccan housewife and/or a Burgundian vintner may beat the established personalities to the new video world. But isn’t that usually the case: the established players stick with the old while newcomers, with nothing to lose, venture into the new.

Cybertrends: My first quasi-blog

In Early Predictions on February 3, 2006 at 11:51 pm

In the mid-1990s, I had tentative plans to write a book about how digital technologies were changing the ways we live, work and use our media. I was already teaching an MBA course along those lines and thought it would be fun to extend the course into a book. So I started researching what people were saying about technology, work, life, media, education and other topics. To record my findings, I started writing quotes on 3×5 cards but that got too tedious.

To make it easier to record, save, search and access the quotes I was locating, I started a webpage into which I could type or paste quotes. This single page grew into a series of pages under the title Cybertrends. The following is the content of the “cover page” for the series; the original can be found here.

In our studies of the Internet and its impact on marketing, we need to be aware of, and understand, the visions being expressed by technologists, journalists, executives and other professionals who are in positions to understand how technologies are evolving and will impact various aspects of society. I read very widely on these topics and when I find a particularly cogent comment, I jot it down so that I can share it with you.

I have used these quotes to identify dozens of trends, termed CyberTrends, that I have classified into several broad classes (technologies, digital dawn, the way we live, the way we work, media, and marketing), and then into trends or topics within each class. The following logic was used to devise the broad classes. Technologies such as microprocessors and fiber optics are the primary change enablers. These technologies are leading to a digital dawn that is giving us the Internet and related products and services. This digital dawn is impacting the media, the way we live, and the way we work. Finally, marketing is changing to accommodate these technology, media, and societal developments.

This relationship is depicted in the following diagram:

The list below contains links to the specific trend documents discussed above.

Knowledge workers own means for participation

In Early Predictions on February 3, 2006 at 3:20 pm

A recent USA Today article “Visionary writer mined the minds” by Bruce Rosenstein opens with the following statement:

Peter Drucker, who died Friday, 11 days short of his 96th birthday, was his own best advertisement for the concept of the knowledge worker, which he identified more than 40 years ago: those who work with their minds, and thus own their means of production.

Peter Drucker was fond of saying that with the advent of the personal computer, employees can own their means of production.

Said another way, knowledge workers can own their own means of participation in the sense that they can use digital technologies such as personal computers to participate in any form of work or creation that is knowledge based. It’s not just about entertainment and the media. It’s about being able to participate in any type of work that involves knowledge without being an employee of an organization. With a few thousand dollars, individuals can work out of their homes or in their favorite coffee shop without incurring the overhead expenses associated with traditional industries.