Dis-intermediated, dis-rupted, de-served

We've all heard about how Internet applications and networks are disruptive.  They're rewiring the longstanding patterns of business and commerce, often removing whole channels of players content in established value and supply chains.

This is naturally making a lot of people nervous, especially those with equally-longstanding power bases to protect.

But the rest of us are seeing the possibilities and embracing change — even when it's unclear what that change will actually mean. 

We've got one political candidate who is disrupting the political process of his party, and on Tuesday evening, we witnessed the resistance to his call to action.  There are voters with dependencies they don't want to break.  They went with the old-power candidate.

Candidates can run on platforms promising jobs in outmoded industries and more-than-temporary government aid.  But they can't hide.  We've already seen that.  And any victory, even a big one in November, would just be the last
grunt of a dying beast — not a wholesale resuscitation of Business As
Usual.

The same is true in industries slow to recognize what digital access means to their performance.  Here are just three examples of many that point to the end of a tired era.

  1. Book publishing.  Last week we had yet another story of a newly-published memoir, heralded by reviewers, rewarded with a large printing run, that was exposed by the author's sister as a complete fraud.
  2. The mortgage crisis.  We are not only seeing the housing market rocked by really stupid loan decisions, those accountable for such decisions are probably going to get away scot-free.  With platinum parachutes.  Who picks up the tab?  Look in the mirror, you folks who live within your means.
  3. The irrelevance of marketing.  Most people in marketing still don't see it, much less get it:  online interaction is changing every possible act of branding, positioning, competition and selling.  And who's paying for the ignorance?  The companies that think marketing is a done-deal, necessary-evil overhead function with no capacity to change.

The obstinate will tell you that these are random events which have nothing to do with digital democracy.  They think of the Internet as a toy best left to young people with time on their hands.  It's good for email and research and stalking old beaus and buying books or old china, but real commerce and communication?  No way.

I submit that the citizenry, in this country and around the world, is waking up to the fact that the old order is just not working very well. 

We're in a moment:  the integration of human need and human capability — an integration that happens at random moments in history around new inventions and innovations.  Using my three examples:

  • Publishing toolmakers such as blurb.com will enable anyone with a few dollars and a manuscript to publish — hard or soft cover.  Instead of a market flooded with dreck, which is what the publishers and agents and writing "consultants" want you to believe will happen, we'll have cream rising to the top, via market demand fueled by word of mouth voiced on the Internet.  Impact:  Who gets published will no longer be in the hands of a tight circle whose center rests in New York and whose pockets get lined just for making an introduction or starting a manuscript bidding war.  Further, we won't have to deal with the outcome of editors who refuse to spend any time checking their authors.  [I mean, come on.  Didn't we learn something from the James Frey episode?  What more do you editors need to see before you'll start doing some elementary fact checking?]
  • Micro loans and person-to-person investment will enable people to invest in other people.  Bankers who reap ridiculous "returns" based on manipulating the deposits of investors, making lousy loans that make them rich but rob the rest of us over the long term, will lose a large part of their franchise.  The new Internet banks that directly connect people who need money with those who have it will change the way decisions are made.  We'll see caution and appropriate risk because people will be using their own money — not playing with someone else's — and earn a reasonable rate of return, not one on par with loan sharks.
  • Marketing will become a function that requires an investment in energetic, strong, quick thinkers — not infrastructures of useless overhead, print waste and advertising campaigns.  Instead of people who spend most of their time networking for the next CMO position, we'll have professionals who actually know how to perform marketing tasks and use real skill to engage markets not preach to them, connecting their brands and brand promises to buyers.  CEOs, CFOs and COOs will be able to measure marketing performance.  Finally.

I've chosen three examples that are personal hot-button issues.  Just as we are seeing landmark change in the American political process, there are many more changes in other realms now and down the road.  Honest, creative, productive — and democratic.

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