During a gathering at Nijenrode University in 2009, C.K. Prahalad, an unequaled management thinker in my book, showed a YouTube advertisement video, which is still popular today. Not due to the company behind the video, but due to the story told: two people are riding an escalator. The escalator suddenly stops. The two stranded people do not know what to do, except call for help and reassure each other that help is on the way.
It is an excellent metaphor for our times: it goes without saying that the economy will grow. We believe we can hitch a ride on the road well-travelled and take credit for it. We think that everything will right itself, but not essentially contribute to a responsible economic and social addition to value. In the YouTube video, the main characters first complain about others. They complain about overdue maintenance on the escalator, and that there should have been a lot more escalators. They look at each other helplessly, but do not want to admit they are powerless or wonder, “what should we do now that the escalator is stuck?” The solution is, of course, painfully obvious. If the escalator is stuck, you start walking, you take matters into your own hands, and you mobilize yourself! Yes, change can be scary, especially if you have gotten hold of a comfortable, plush spot. Change can be painful; in particular, if you only focus on what you can lose, and don’t look at what you can gain. And, there is so much to gain.
I like to look forward, and focus on this view in this book. Can tomorrow be different from today? In fact, we have to do things differently tomorrow, because if we continue in this way, The Netherlands and Europe will globally fall behind even more. What can we do, or do we have to do, to change, and how can we do that? And why is it also fun and easy to make significant changes? I speak to audiences about this on stage on a regular basis, and I thought it was time to write it down. Our world is already changing significantly, and a lot of good things are already taking place. But, if we want these efforts to blossom in the future, we will have to do some serious pruning in other areas.
Which areas are growing? If you look around you, you can see a growing group of people who are living and working differently than usual. A new world has arisen parallel to our current conventional economic reality, which is creating sustainable value every day. This added value does not always go hand in hand with monetary reward. I’m talking about a world where people work together in coalitions of opportunity and temporary collaborations. And, these people share, share, and share. In this world, it is understood that sharing is equal to multiplying. A revolution in thinking has taken place in this world. One that seems to be very profitable: in value and especially in happiness. Where can you find this world? Everywhere. The easiest road is found on the Internet. I am talking about the world of (virtual) social networks. Many think it is a strange and especially fast-paced world that flies past like a bullet train, but this is not the case for the people who have already jumped onboard…
If you watch a train drive by, it’s traveling very fast, but if you are on board that train, it doesn’t feel like you are travelling that swiftly. The train even seems like a haven. It is a place to reflect. A place to meet other people, start up a conversation, and listen to other people’s stories.
Virtual and social networks are places on the Internet where like-minded people find each other. Outsiders often do not understand this, and thus underestimate the strength behind them. A new world literally opens up for members of these networks; there’s an abundance of ideas, knowledge, and lots of amazing people. Money is not necessarily the leading motive here. There are almost natural universal ethics, and an unwritten constructive code of conduct is upheld. Many discussions take place in and about this world while – a very important factor for me – a lot of responsibility is shown. Social networks are popping out of the woodwork. And, like any good network, their powers are growing exponentially. After they connect, they begin to share. They share knowledge and experiences about all kinds of products and services. Ultimately, people start making stuff themselves. Or, they “co-create” stuff with organizations they like. Publishing, access to knowledge, actually making or producing stuff, thanks to 3D printers, is not for the happy few anymore. Marx would be delighted!
Outsiders and established market players fail to notice this and are in danger of missing the boat. There are endless forms of collaboration. There are project groups and knowledge-based groups, but there are also groups with a commercial goal, who, as a group, buy or sell their (group) services. Informal social networks of connected people are our future powerhouses, or rather, power sources. Some already are! As a government, entrepreneur, service provider, or manufacturer, it is paramount to enter into this world. In principle, it’s never too late, but remember that developments in social networks move faster than you are used to.