My bones rattled. My ears rang. The old tractor, as big as a house, plowed over the dry uneven ground. I bounced so high in the seat I would almost hit the ceiling of the cab.
One time I needed a break. I killed the engine, climbed down, and walked through the tall grass, ahead of the blade.
Alone, under a big sky, I saw the open prairie, the ground dry and packed, tied together by new roots from the growing season.
Distant rains canvased the blue and white sky, slowly changing shape to the naked eye, framed by the horizon.
Grassy tunnels traversed the undergrowth. It was home for rabbits, possum, armadillo and hungry coyotes.
It made me both gloomy and happy.
The Gathering Storm
I’d wonder what my friends were doing, who the girls I liked were with. I could never find out.
Now that mystery is gone and Facebook killed it. Now we know what’s going on all the time. But experts say loneliness is increasing and that social media is the cause. I’m not so sure.
Its more likely the erosion of the job community. A century ago it replaced the traditional communities built around large families. Now the job community is dwindling too. And nature hates a vacuum.
Facebook is both replacing and creating new space in modern life. It’s changing how we communicate societally–the same way the car didn’t create transportation, but revolutionized it.
Cars became about much more than mere transportation. Cars and the car industry became a whole new thing, an economy unto itself, a way to spread wealth evenly, incrementally, and efficiently. It formed a new industry, hobby, asset, thrill, and means of production, a new business input even.
And so now, Facebook. It’s integral to everyday life, personal and business. How else to explain the sheer numbers?
It’s one of the four most valuable companies in America. They are:
Amazon with 340,000 employees,
Apple with 116,000 employees,
Google with 57,000 employees, and
Facebook with 17,000 employees.
Each of these companies is now worth over $500 billion a piece. They’re calling it the race to a $trillion.
The Meaning of Value
All of Facebook’s employees could fit into the student section of an average major college football stadium. Facebook’s market valuation equals $294 million per employee. Amazon’s is less than $2 million per employee.
That means Facebook creates roughly 196 times more value per employee than Amazon.
I want to know what that means for individual businesses and entrepreneurs, not from a “how do we leverage Facebook point of view?”, but from a “what is the future of value itself point of view?”
Facebook is worth $500 billion dollars. Yet, they package no product and you can use their platform for free.
Seventeen years ago, Facebook as a concept didn’t exist. Even when US Steel was number one it was yet another company supplying building materials.
Same as any other company for hundreds of years, only bigger and more efficient. Somebody probably supplied the stone for the pyramids.
A friend of mine points out that because of Facebook, when you meet up with friends or distant acquaintances there is less to talk about, initially at least.
Maybe Facebook is the destroyer of small talk. And maybe for some people that’s worth $500 billion all by itself.
High school reunions lost their popularity. I guess you already know what everyone’s been up to. You saw it on Facebook. That’s powerful. That’s a bellwether.
Facebook, then, creates and eliminates value. But you can’t really eliminate value. You can only make things irrelevant, moving the locus of the value somewhere else.
An All In One Experience
I can hold all four of these companies’ products and services in the palm of my hand—and all on one device. And they’re not even in business together. Not directly at least.
For 70 years, business has tended towards the bloated corporate structure. This mirrored the military from WWII. Now technology is right-sizing these entities. Excess is being cut away.
Perfect synchronization will soon be upon us–is upon us. The bloated bureaus and corporations are going to be a thing of the past.
Value will be measured by what I can upload onto that portal in my hand. Even if you’re selling shoes you need to create a story that can fit inside that device. Else, why should I care? Aren’t there hundreds of shoe companies?
Patagonia makes me feel a certain way. It’s not the fabric. It’s the story. The definition of value is changing. Facebook has given us a platform to tell stories. Through words, pictures, other people’s post, our own posts, our politics. This is value. Everything beyond shelter and food is story.
At What Cost?
When cars were invented, some people complained that they could no longer get home when they were drunk. A good horse knew the way home to it’s owner’s house.
Cars can’t do that. Yet.
Henry Ford said that if he’d listened to what his customers wanted he’d have made a better horse.
Nothing is perfect. Neither is Facebook. But it is an improved form of communication; the same way cars were just an improved form of transportation (at least according to some).
Notice, however, that neither invention has necessarily been in response to any particular demand. Just because something provides overwhelming value doesn’t mean we wanted it before we had it. It just means it was inevitable.
Faced with this reality, the question becomes how do individual businesses organize around these new capabilities? What is the meaning of Facebook’s new capability in the future?
There will be others, of course. Just like we don’t all drive Fords today. But one thing is certain. We’ll never need horses again. Or maybe never say never.
Rather than responding to demand, these companies create it. This is what we should do too. Facebook is nothing without you, me, and all the free content we give it.
We Don’t Get What We Need Anymore
US Steel built America after it was clear we would be the sole superpower after all other contenders were decimated in two consecutive world wars. This is something the world needed at that time.
Somebody had to take the lead. So, we built American capacity to do it. Even 19th and early 20th century agriculture and industry were responses to a growing population of immigrant mouths to feed.
But Facebook is different; its a matter of convenience. It came from nowhere. It was simply a product of “now we can so now we will.” It’s the natural progression of wanting better things in our lives. We get what we want now. What we need comes afterwards. We need to evolve to respond to this new technology.
The Sustainable Solution
Are we merely creating virtual experiences in a world where resources are increasingly scarce? We create the content. It won’t be long before the courts wrestle with this. How to account for the value provided by the users of Facebook. Are they owed something back?
Wages for millennials are decreasing relative to previous generations.
I argue wages aren’t necessarily going down–though they appear to be.
What’s happening is that purchasable inventory is rising in price. More people means greater demand for finite resources.
In the ‘50s America had half its current population. By way of analogy if I have a household of 5, it takes half as much food than if I had a household of 10.
If I add 5, someone has to pay for the needs of the additional 5. In America, as in many first world countries, all 10 pitch in. Not only the most recently added 5. “We’re all in this together”, could be the logo on our currency.
The burden gets spread somewhat evenly. More is purchased but not quite as much as would be needed to equal the same portion per member as when there were only 5. The law of diminishing returns.
So, resources are stretched, they become relatively more scarce, and prices rise. But as usual, human nature is slow to catch up. We want what we want.
Facebook is the most direct response to this. Its pure value. Almost no overhead.
It provides experience even when the means for having them are increasingly pricey. We retreat into the mind, and into the virtual world. Facebook is a picture of the actual world; not the same as the actual world.
The same should be said of your company or your idea. How will it add to the sum of human experience? What deep seated fulfillment can it provide you and by extension, your tribe of customers? How can it “reach” people before they even buy it?
Look to the sustainable solution. That is where the value is being found now.
The Big Four Lead
Facebook provided the platform. Apple provided the tools. Google provided the material, and Amazon is our after-hours indulgence. Amazon fills the space in between these connections. Its pure entertainment.
Ask yourself this question. What is value today? Where do I fit into this formula? Do I connect people? Do I dig up information for them? Do I make connections possible? Do I provide content? Do I provide a platform?
In today’s economy, its historically easy to do what humans spent nearly all of their time doing for 99.99% of natural history; locating food and defending oneself.
Only 0.4% of Americans are in active military service in defense of the homeland.
Only 2% of Americans are directly engaged in farming to feed the homeland. So, 2.4% of Americans sustain all the rest? To some degree. So, what’s left? Where does the economy come from?
This makes it difficult to be “indispensable” as Seth Godin talks about in his essential read “Lynchpin.” The big four have shown us the way.
Don’t Wait to Be Chosen
James Altucher did something interesting about a year ago. People kept asking him how he conquered fear–not once and for all–but every day, again and again.
His answer? A book called “Choose yourself.” His book is approaching 1,000,000 in sales. He talks about how now, more than ever, you have the tools at your disposal to go around the traditional gatekeepers of success.
Not one of the Big Four is brick and mortar. It’s all ethereal. Ghost businesses. In a way they chose themselves; they chose their ideas about value.
It’s like finance but with an actual value underlying it. Finance just exploits the spread between the haves and the have-nots. They have capital and so we need them.
We don’t need the big four. We want them. But now that they have us, we sort of need to join them; with our content; meaning; inspiration; art; in all its infinite capacities.
If I want to become indispensable today I must ask what is my contribution to this world of streamed online-content?
How do I create story around my brand, my product, my service?
A friend of mine always says—give love, get love. The rest he just does. He’s a natural. I’m not. Some of us have to work for a living.
It’s giving and expecting nothing in return. If that is hard, then I need to trick myself. Trick myself into believing I expect nothing in return.
If art is given with the anticipation of a return then it ceases to be art. Seth Godin taught me that. He’s a mentor of mine and I’ve never met him. I did read his book “Linchpin” though. Find your business mentors.
Art is an end in itself. Google did this. Facebook did this. Amazon did this. Microsoft did this initially with their software.
I can do this. I’m not on a tractor anymore. But I can still see the horizon from my window. I know its there, its in the mind, and I can share it as a gift.