The End of the World as We Know It (pt. 2)

Cough, cough…

Well, what started out as a minor illness a couple of weeks ago turned onto a bit more, then started knocking dominos in different directions. The blog, consequently, took a hit. So much for starting a revolution. C’est la vie.

But I’m back. Now, where were we? Ah, yes. Breaking down that infographic.

To begin, I want to discuss the concept of an economic philosophy. Let me define two things. First, let’s talk about “economic.” What I DON’T mean is simply the exchange of goods/services for money. What I DO mean is the entire system required to make economic exchanges possible. This includes things like labor, resources, trade, governance, and — perhaps most importantly – consumption. That last word is vitally important, because consumption is a major driver of economies. Whatever is being “consumed” becomes the basis of the economy, giving us examples like oil economies, tourism economies, and even war economies. Which explains why folks living in the farthest jungles could care less about money to buy things that they don’t need consume.

Second, let’s talk about “philosophy.” In my last post, Anthony Iannarino brought up the difference between philosophy and drivers. It’s an important distinction. Drivers are the elements that produce a shift. In terms of the three Ages (Agrarian, Industrial, and Information), the economic systems that were shifted in each age were driven by getting more out of nature, machines, and now information. But when I talk about philosophy, I am talking about the culmination of knowledge, values, beliefs, and lifestyles that are dedicated to a certain view of the world. And that’s what we have with an economic philosophy. People are dedicating whole chunks of their lives (or even more) to an economic worldview, driven primarily by what they consume (and the systems they build to support their consumption).

In (perhaps overly) simplistic terms: drivers create the philosophy.

This means that in the Agrarian Age, the wealthy (people who actually had more than they needed) transformed their lives around understanding — and even idolizing — Nature. Thomas Jefferson articulated this well when he said, “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.” This also means that every time I hear some old hippie talk about “it’s the earth, man,” I think to myself, “Ah, trying to get back to the 1700’s, are we?” But I digress…

In the Industrial Age, the shift went to understanding — and even idolizing — Machines. Nature got shoved into metal boxes as steam, coal, and oil were harnessed to change our lifestyles. Consequently, he (or she) who owned the machines built entire systems to both generate and protect wealth. And if you wanted to get wealthy, the best way was to attach yourself to the machine-based system.

But, now in the Information Age, the shift is going has gone to understanding — and even idolizing — Information. The reason Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and other nerds from high school tech gods became so wealthy isn’t because of their amazing machine-making skills. It was because of their great information-harnessing skills. And they have changed how we live as a result. Just consider how often you try to harness information to be successful at work/home/play/etc.

So what does all of this mean? A number of things.

First, we have moved as a society waaaaaay past meeting our basic needs (a la Maslow). The economy and our lifestyles that support it are now based on consuming Information. But to what end? Knowing the answer to that question, especially for your clients, will generate wealth for you.

Second, if you want to generate wealth in today’s age, you have to become a student of information. And that is not simply being able to spew facts (though there are many sales people who think this is the best way to sell). It’s about understanding how information is created, discovered, accessed, harnessed, leveraged, shared, and wasted. Being able to skillfully apply that understanding will give you (and your clients) a very bright future. Ignore it, and have fun drowning in the chaos.

Third, you likely work with someone who does not recognize this truth. This last point is the saddest one to me. Too many folks are stuck in the 1900’s. They push you into using machines to solve your problems (CRM, anyone?) without actually making sure that the information you need to be successful is available to you. Whole organizations (both buyers and sellers) try to hide information in siloes, never realizing the negative impact they are creating. Buyers struggle to follow your attempts to help them improve their use of information because that is not how they are defining their problem. It’s a sad topic, to be sure.

But there is hope.

Hope that more and more people are recognizing the problem needs to be redefined. That information is more than just a collection of data bits. That sharing information, collaborating with it, can create a whole new economy. This is the philosophy we are being steered toward. This is where the revolution is taking us.

I mua… Onward and upward.

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8 Responses to The End of the World as We Know It (pt. 2)

  1. Gary Hart says:

    And I’m wondering what the post information world is going to look like.

    • timohai says:

      Gary, do you think it will it be “post” information or more of an evolved definition of information as technology enables computers to think along with us?

      • Gary Hart says:

        Tim, may I be a little sarcastic? My hope for the future and reality are not the same thing and I’m an enthusiastic optimist. There’s a difference between information and knowledge. As our society has become more information dependent, students memorizing to executives metricizing without understanding, our knowledge and thinking skills have regressed. This is proven by our (America’s) eroded world position as education, technology, and thought leaders.

        David said “Do you know the questions to ask?” Not only do I agree, but I’ll go a step further. Our culture has become an information dispenser. Most sales and marketing people spew information: data, facts, options, testimonials, and value propositions. Who is helping their customer’s businesses create and build a better product or service? Very few.

        Your question, “do you think it will it be…more of an evolved definition of information as technology enables computers to think along with us?” leads me to hope that we get back to real thinking. Thinking way past the bottom line, the triple or quadruple bottom line and top line to real creation. From 1750 through the 1950s, we created. By the time the ratings for Apollo 13 were so low the broadcast from space was cut, we were already in a vehicle of complacency.

        So I’m sounding very negative, but I am really not. We as a nation set the bar high for quality in every department. We created value in every corner we could. I hope we get passed information collection and processing,passed commoditization, and return to creating. I hope the next age is called the “Creation Age.”

  2. Nancy Nardin says:

    Great post Tim! We have such a long way to go in the world of sales tools (don’t get me started). I believe a revolution IS taking place. But it is still a very quiet revolution. We don’t have an information problem per se’. We have an information FILTER problem – or rather an INSIGHT problem. We’re creating so much information structured and unstructured that the result is chaos (for all the reasons you mentioned). Again, great piece. Can’t wait to read the book.

    • timohai says:

      Thanks, Nancy. I agree that filtering through the information, looking for real insights, is a massive part of this discussion. It’s part of what Tamara Schenk and I have a side conversation going. Somehow, the concept of meaning is involved. Meaning is related to what the client wants to achieve. Information that is not relevant to the desired meaning is defined as meaning-less, no? And this taps directly into the problem I described in my third point.

      Thoughts?

  3. Steven Rosen says:

    Tim.. what I have seen is that companies and sales people have too much data but not enough information they can use to make decisions. Good luck on the blog!

  4. Dave Brock says:

    As always Tim, you provide some provocative ideas. While it seems like we’ve been emmeshed in the data and information economy for years, I would tend to relabel what you discuss as the “illumination” era. That being to put real meaning, insight, and to be able to act upon the information and data we are deluged in. The tools are making this easier for all–but there is a long way to go. Additionally, the tools, in whatever state they are in far outstrip the ability of mere mortals to make meaning out of their output.

    One of the companies I own provides very high end enterprise analytics. We solved the most complext analytic problems customers had. But we found great challenges. The quality of the answers and insight we could provide was dramatically impacted by the quality of data we were looking at. Even though we could deal with very broad ranges of structured and unstructured data, data with holes and all sorts of other problematic date–data quality became a fundamental issue. People were collecting bad data–bad data leads to bad insights.

    Another side is “Do you know the questions to ask?” We had the experience that people didn’t kow what they should be asking, how they should be looking at and thinking about the data. Again, the quality of the insight or illumination was directly impacted by the quality of the questions and problem development.

    The “illumination economy” is less driven by the availability of tools, but the human ability to exploit these tools, the information, and data to truly illuminate.

    I’m looking forward to Chapter 3!

  5. Pingback: Developing Your Credibility as a Problem-Solver (pt. 1) | Tim Ohai

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