“If survival of the fittest were truly the basic theme of evolution, then today we should all be microbes.”
- Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Evolution moves in the direction of greater diversity.
Last year’s most influential business book was The Long Tail. In it, Chris Anderson makes the point that today’s internet retail has made it possible for companies like Netflix and Amazon to make a profit by offering titles that companies like Blockbuster and Borders couldn’t stock in the limited space of their stores. This new reality suggests greater and greater customization of products. The kid in Kansas who might have been able to find a CD by Bob Marley or Led Zeppelin in local stores can now find Dread Zeppelin at iTune. As the supply of ideas, music, books and movies becomes more diverse, it stimulates more diversity in demand for such things, fueling a cycle of greater and greater customization and diversity.
The Long Tail is the story of increasing customization for the consumer, a trend that has included the general store, the Sears catalog, and the mall.
I predict that the trend Anderson explicates for consumption will be echoed by a similar trend on the production side, a trend towards greater and greater diversity in our role as employees or entrepreneurs. Increasingly, roles will be conformed to the individual rather than individuals to pre-defined employee roles.
800 years ago, the church defined what it meant to be a saint. 300 years ago the nation-state defined patriotism. Today, the corporation defines what it means to be a productive employee. As often mentioned in this blog, one key to progress has been the freedom of the individual to instead define the meaning of spiritual or patriotic. Progress means that the institution becomes a tool for the individual. We've already seen this with church, state, and bank. The corporation is next.
Already, the corporation has given the individual power as consumer to define his experience. Next, the corporation will give the individual power as producer to define her experience. Your kids and grandkids won’t just be working jobs that didn’t exist when you left college but will be working jobs that perhaps only 500 other people worldwide are working.