A few years ago, Seth Godin famously introduced the “Connection Economy” into our lexicon to describe how connecting people, companies and resources was a source of increasing value creation in our world.
Since you’re reading this article, that means that you are part of this global technology revolution and probably interact with it frequently. Here are just a few of my own examples of engaging this Connection Economy from this past week:
- I collaborated via email with my client’s Malaysian country manager to reach her target leads using calls, emails and social media.
- I took a call from a company in New York looking for a Uruguayan business culture expert. They found my website through Google. I referred them to a Uruguayan contact whom I have never met face to face, but regularly network with in social media.
- I Skyped to mentor a Canadian rising star in the international marketing field, who is building a consulting practice.
On a personal level:
- I sent my teenage son, Nathan on a foreign exchange with AFS Intercultural Programs. That means that he will stay with a host family in Italy for 5 weeks whom we have never met before, but were vetted locally by AFS.
- My Brazilian exchange student, Matheus came home safely from a gathering with friends via a ride from an Uber driver.
- I took a few daydreaming moments and surfed AirBNB for a nice house rental near the beach in San Diego for Labor Day Weekend in September.
When Seth Godin originally described the Connection Economy, he said that it required four pillars:
- Coordination. This may be coordinating between people as in the case of Uber. It could coordinate the exchange of money as is the case of crowdfunding. And often it’s the coordination and exchange of information.
- Trust. The parties involved need to have a reason to trust each other. Trust is normally built on a foundation of consistent words and actions by people and companies. Now we are trusting partners and vendors whom we may have never actually met before in person.
- Permission. In the Connection Economy we voluntarily surrender our information, but only after trust is established.
- Exchange of Ideas. This blog (and everyone else’s blog) are part of that exchange of ideas. So is a review site that tells me what current and past employees think about working for a company I’m considering as a partner.
Without these pillars, companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and countless other Connection companies including my own would not exist. But let’s get out of the American-only point of view and expand to…
Bringing a Global Context into the Connection Economy
This may seem confusing to some. After all, isn’t the Connection Economy by its very nature borderless, allowing for seamless access to markets and resources from anywhere in the world? Ideally – yes, but in reality – no. Here’s some context:
Access to Connectivity is Far from Universal
As Mark Zuckerberg will tell you, there are 4 billion people in the world with no access to the Internet. 4 billion is roughly half of all people on the planet. There are some sizable barriers to improving access to conduits of information and opportunities that include education, disposable income to buy the necessary tools and services, and even interest.
Language and Culture Create Information Silos
The Connection Economy had the perfect solution to bridging language gaps and reaching new markets: Google Translate and other translation widgets that could quickly convert English content effortlessly into dozens of other languages. How clever! Those who tried it soon learned that language is much more nuanced and complex than first thought. Literal translations yield some major mistakes that have cost companies dearly.
Culture is even more complicated. It underpins what determines whether a company or person is worthy of Pillar #2: Trust. Cultural rules run deep and when someone unwittingly violates these rules, the business relationship might never resume. Think of it another way… for all of the interactions you have had over the years with international contacts where you thought the other side was being unreasonable and disagreeable – 90%+ of those negative reactions were probably cultural misunderstandings. The solution is to hire a culture coach to help navigate the norms in key markets and relationships.
Regulations Often Protect Entrenched and Local Interests
The Connection Economy has displaced more than a few cab drivers and telephone book printers. It has upended whole industries. In many places around the globe, those who profit from keep things as they are have invested in supporting laws that protect their interests. Before doing business in a new country, be sure to consult with country specialists who can advise you of any problematic restrictions.
Expect the Next Great Connecting Concepts to Come from Anywhere in the World
While we tend to see many Connection companies rise out of industry clusters like Silicon Valley, London, Boston, Santiago, Mumbai and Tel Aviv, ideas can come from anywhere. As part of the exchange of ideas, we need to encourage and support new startups with great concepts with our patronage and investment capital – regardless of location.
As the beneficiaries of the Connection Economy, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no global standard. We need to increase overall access to the Internet worldwide, providing new opportunities to billions of people. it’s important not to mistake your home market’s perspective, language and cultural rules as the world’s norm. Be prepared for reactions to change in various corners of the world. And watch for the next great advancements in our technology revolution.
Onward & upward
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