“Technology engulfs our minds as well as our lives...steadily driving the gyrating cycles of cool technogadgets and gotta haves is an emerging new economic order…[that has] three distinguishing characteristics: It is global. It favors intangible things—ideas, information and relationships. And it is intensely interlinked.” - Kevin Kelly, New Rules for the New Economy
Kevin Kelly wrote these words in 1998, back when cell phones flipped, Yahoo was the predominant search engine and an AOL email address wasn’t something to laugh at.
It was the height of the dot-com boom, when all any start-up needed was a business plan that had something or other to do with the Internet to get venture capital funding and becoming profitable was dismissed as old-school thinking. Which is largely why, like all booms, it all soon went bust.
Kelly articulated a vision of a global, wired-in economy well before the era of smartphones, tablets and apps further accelerated what were then only emerging trends. Let’s take a look at some of Kelly’s key predictions and see what relevance they have to SMBs today.
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The Harvard Business Review calls small the new big. The global marketplace, underpinned by the Internet, is made up of smaller, but more profitable market niches easily addressed by social media and mobile payment processing platforms.
Big companies are decentralizing, or what HBR terms “unscaling,” to adequately address these new market niches. SMBs provide unscaled companies with the specialized technologies and services they need. You needn’t do everything to succeed, but you do need to do at least one thing extremely well.
Places to Spaces
The Internet enables what Kelley called the transition from places to spaces. With a laptop and a smartphone, you can run your business from any coffee shop. It doesn’t matter where you “go” to work, as long as wherever it is has a Wi-Fi hook-up. And you needn’t hide that’s where you’re working from.
As Kelly points out, a person in an electronic space can communicate with 10 million people at once and initiate interactions that otherwise wouldn’t be possible in a physical place.
A prime example of this is Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which threaten to disrupt the traditional college campus. As U.S. News and World Report notes, free and easily available classes could have a devastating effect on the American university system. In particular, MOOCs have the potential to make higher education available to the developing world. All you need is a mobile device and an Internet connection.
“Reach out and touch someone” used to the motto of AT&T back when there was only one telephone company. Today, one person can reach out and touch just about everyone.
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We’re All Interconnected
Kelly predicted that connections would “self-feed” and grow. This was before Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Today, social media is an essential tool for SMBs to connect with their target audiences.
Yet, as Pivot Point notes, many SMBs feel the effort to build a social networking presence is too time consuming. This is despite the fact that nearly three quarters of all adults who spend time online use social networking sites, according to Pew Research. Kelly had the foresight to see the Internet’s capacity to promote interconnectedness and build online communities; it’s well past time for SMBs to not only recognize this, but to take advantage of it.
Everything Is in Flux
According to Kelly, success is rapidly achievable in the new economy; so is failure. The Internet landscape is littered with companies that once dominated business, but are now yesterday’s news.
Remember Angry Birds? Back in 2009 it was international phenomenon. Last March, Angry Birds maker Rovio announced a 73% drop in operating profit: $10.7 million in 2014 compared to $39.1 million in in 2013 and $82.3 million in 2012, according to Business Insider. Rovio also cut 110 jobs last year, representing 14 percent of its total workforce.
The lesson here: one great idea does not make for long term success. In the Internet Age, resting on your laurels results in just resting. Your ideas alone are not good enough—the Internet will help you achieve your business goals, but you have to be smart about how you use it.