When the mayhem in the financial world let loose in the fall of 2008, I was the COO of an international corporate finance company. It didn’t matter how long you had done business with a counterparty, how much money they had made with you in the past, or if they had introduced you as their best client just last month.
This was war. I saw some of the saddest displays of human behavior that I have witnessed in my entire career.
Relationships became meaningless, literally overnight, and trust was suddenly a word that no longer held any value. Corporations insisted their employees go for the jugular as a bloody grab for what cash remained in the system ensued. I actually heard one CEO claim that they would, “Rape and pillage their way back to profitability.”
That was my catalyst . . . realizing that spending the second half of my career stuffed behind a desk dealing with auditors, accountants, and deal guys with ocean sized egos just wasn’t going to work for me any longer. I picked up my head and began to observe and learn what was happening outside the world of finance and investing.
As a 40-something with 20 years of career behind me—more than half of it working around the globe for conservative Goldman Sachs Companies—the wild west of social media, online networks, web 2.0, friends, fans, and tweets seemed to come out of nowhere.
While learning more about these phenomena, I soon realized they were symptoms of a far larger shift in capitalism that was beginning to shape the 21st century. I spent the better part of a year, reading, thinking, writing, and formulating my own conclusions about where things were heading and how the global recession could in fact be a catalyst for capitalism to take a new turn.
Below are some new perspectives on how we can harness the power of connectivity to create growth and prosperity, how we can blow the lid off the box in which we’ve kept capitalism bound, and how the Conceptual Age will bring more meaning, and more joy to our personal and professional lives if we are simply willing to let go of our old ideas and seek out new ones.
If you and your firm are not willing to embrace these changes, you’re likely to miss what are shaping up to be some very large and exciting steps for business and humanity.
The Power of Connection
Hindsight is obviously very far away, and others who are much smarter than I will likely come up with better concepts to explain this massive shift. However, for me it’s all about changing the way we connect to people, organizations, ideas, and personal passions. It’s about learning how to connect the un-connectable dots.
Enhancing existing connections inside and outside of companies is the one thing that most old-school business leaders overlook. Who can blame them? We were taught in business school to focus on recurring revenues, leveraged buy-outs, IPO’s, and shareholder value. This accepted path to wealth and prosperity worked quite well in the 20th century, but said nothing about creating meaning, developing connections, unleashing human potential in the workplace, and heading into retirement feeling as though you had created something decent in the world.
News flash…seismic shift…game changer! Social media, email, cell-phones, blogging, reality TV, and interactive marketing, are all signals that people are craving stronger and more meaningful connections in their lives. And the younger generation is demanding it both at work as well as in their personal lives.
New companies and young leaders are gaining competitive traction, not just through adept financial practices or differentiated products, but simply because they posses a mindset pre-wired to embrace connections. Connections that allow them to more easily and effectively drive innovation, productivity, and success.
Connectivity is about a new perspective that can bring many great and wonderful changes, including dramatic increases in productivity, differentiated competitive advantages, continued long-term prosperity and happiness in the workplace. It’s about how business doesn’t really have to be boring and antagonistic. It’s about lightening up and bringing a bit of fun into the office.
It is also about taking a hard look at where capitalism and our economic system have come from and where they could be heading – if we have the courage to be more innovative with our underlying systems. It is about questioning some of the things we thought were true, but maybe weren’t, or aren’t any longer. It is about remembering how to push the envelope and seize the joy of creating something new and meaningful.
This is particularly true for America, which is at great risk of loosing its position as the great innovator. We’ve become complacent with mediocrity, and unless we are willing to make some serious changes, we will pay a high price (or at least our children will). We now fight wars without regard to borders, which in the cold war days was unconscionable. Likewise, economic systems are loosing borders as well and the very best entrepreneurs and innovators will move to the places where they can most easily create.
When we realize that not using known medical technology to vaccinate children in third world countries against life threatening diseases is actually a choice, and not a permanent side effect of capitalism, then we are free to make a different choice. When governments realize that their highest and best use in most cases is simply to promote alignment for growth and not be the growth, solutions will come with greater ease.
What will drive the next big movement in the world of capitalism? What seems awkward today but will be a no-brainer 20 years from now? What will make going to work an adventure instead of a chore? What will create the next wave of competitive advantage in the market place? What will the next Microsoft do better than everyone else? What will expand capitalism such that its benefits are more than we can currently contemplate? My answer is simply connectivity.
The capitalistic continuum has always adapted to society, and continues to become more esoteric and less concrete over time. The primary resource of modern capitalism has morphed over the centuries from capital to labor to knowledge and now to connectivity.
The next wave of capitalism will focus on alignment and the inherent values and desires of human beings not only to be economically successful, but also compassionately responsible. It is through such alignment that we will actually become better capitalists as we learn to exploit its full potential.
The Conceptual Age
The Conceptual Age is about asking smarter questions? Broadening horizons, embracing new perspectives, and establishing new mindsets always begins with new questions; never new answers to the same old questions.
What do we want? What kind of legacy do we want to leave the generations to come? What do we want our lives to be about? In what kind of world do we want to live? How can we better connect to the bottom of the pyramid? It’s also about realizing that we have the power to not only answer these questions, but also to bring those answers to life.
Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind) walks us through the ages from the 18th century Agricultural Age (farmers), to the Industrial Age (factory workers), to the Information Age (knowledge workers), and finally to the 21st century and the Conceptual Age (creators and empathizers) all transpiring as we increase affluence, technology, and globalization and the world becomes more connected. Pink describes success in the Conceptual Age as requiring high concepts (ability to detect patterns and opportunities and combine seemingly unrelated ideas) and high touch (ability to empathize, and understand human subtleties in the search for purpose and meaning).
The very best ideas generally reside in those overlapping slivers between disciplines and the Conceptual Age will show us more of those opportunities and more importantly how to better recognize them. It moves us from an era of scarcity, opposition, and secrets, to one of abundance, collaboration, and transparency. It allows us to remember that we are all on the same team and generally want the same things out of life.
Check back for future posts where we will explore each of these three areas in more detail.