Bring on the Entrepreneurs!

I just saw this article and it did not surprise me:

Boomers Driving New Entrepreneurship Boom

Everyone from Wall Street to the White House has been crying for the entrepreneurs to come forth – to revive the economy, create new jobs and bring America back to the forefront of ideas and progress again. Many of us remember  Reagan and the 1980’s. That was a golden age of entrepreneur-ism and the revival of cottage industry – hundreds of thousands of people getting creative and figuring out how to do create new small businesses at home.  Who were some of those people? A Michael Dell making computer boxes in his dorm room; other guys creating small “personal” computers in their garages (IBM did not feel a threat); coffee roasters in rented warehouses who seemed to pose no threat to Maxwell House, part-time insurance salesmen working a second job under Art Williams’ tutelage – on and on it went. That generation created revolution after revolution. Many – perhaps most – of the real lights in those years were Baby Boomers unleashing their unfettered ideas about business and work itself.

Is it a surprising thing that many of that generation are still at it? It IS time, of course, to take succeeding generations under the wing and teach them how to do it.  But the best way to teach in this arena is to DO.

Godspeed! – jobs will follow, just like the 80’s and 90’s followed what happened in that previous revolution.



Elitism – in business – in life

If you have been reading these posts so far, you probably have figured out that I am anti-elitist. That does not mean I don’t believe in leadership – to the contrary – I do.

That is what entrepreneurship is all about. The real leaders rise to the top. In business, in politics, and in life. What I am ‘anti-‘ is the idea of presuming that a certain class – or a certain ‘club’ – has a lock on leadership because it is privileged.

In politics, I am actually a federalist. That is because, while I do agree with the premise of James Surowieci’s The Wisdom of Crowds – the idea that the mass of society, taken as a whole and on a level playing field, is smarter than the experts (or the elites) – I do believe that those who arise to actually do the work of leading are a smaller group – hence federalism. However, I believe that those leaders should come out ‘wherever’ – not out of the pre-established circles that tradition has vetted.

More about politics in another post.

Let’s talk about business. Let’s also talk about the media (of which I am one). Let’s talk about life in general.

There is a curious crowd dynamic in societies which viewed from a distance looks hilarious. I think it is a dynamic best observed in an American High School. I call it the “Reindeer Games.” Remember poor Rudolf? They used to laugh and call him names. They wouldn’t let him join in their ‘reindeer games.’ It didn’t matter that they would someday desperately need him to guide the sleigh. It didn’t matter that he was more open than they, more receptive to new ideas, and more innovative. What mattered was that he was not like them.

That is the dynamic. There is a huge tendency in groups towards conformity and towards the development of an establishment ‘elite’ which protects that conformity. What is worse is that this attitude is not openly discussed much – it is assumed. If you do not join with the group in the (group) assumptions, well, you were either not cool, stupid, a throw-back, or something else unwanted by the group.

Come on – you remember high school?

What then develops is a certain power in the hands of the elites – who work with the group and convince the group of two things: 1) That the group really needs them (the elites) – and “…if you play it right, someday you too may be cool!” 2) That the elite really deserve to be the elite.

Let’s apply this to business. Have you run into any conformist clubs in the business world? Do you have any problems bringing your ideas to market sitting around a table of the super-cool ‘elite?’

Let’s apply it to media. Have any in the media gotten the idea that by some curious twist of fate, they can interpret better, understand better, explain better or frame an issue better than someone not in the media? Even more – do you ever have the feeling that the media tries to preserve a certain may of looking at things and a conformity to a worldview that may not be the worldview of many of the people they are speaking with?

Let’s talk about life. Do you have the urge to be a leader yourself? Do you feel you have things to say but are afraid to say them, thinking they either will not be heard or will be ridiculed? Do you feel trapped in a way of life that you would really rather change, but feel the tide is against you?

That is what I am talking about. I do not blame it on any group – elitism happens naturally – it is a tenant of human nature. But true leaders always have to strive against it, and seek out true and the real values in life in an environment of rabid conformity.

Surowieci begins his book with the story of the British scientist Francis Galton. Galton was an elitist. He believed “…that only a very few people had the characteristics necessary to keep societies healthy” (from the book’s introduction). He was also a famous geneticist. He believed these vital leadership traits were genetically coded and passed down through generations. Hence – he supported the British aristocracy – an ‘elite’ if there ever was one. He set about to prove his assumptions – with statistics – and measuring the inaccuracies in the knowledge set of a crowd of people.

He found out something, statistically.

He was dead wrong.

I’ll post a lot more on this book in the next post – semi-daily now 🙂

Conversational marketplaces

“Markets are conversations” is one of the rallying cries of the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto.  I posted a bit on that here.  I have been thinking more about that – especially as a number of readers have commented about privacy issues, getting more transparent, open, public in our lives (online) and so on.

It seems that what is happening is that the extended, revealing and potentially powerful ‘conversations’ the Internet has allowed people to have are becoming less ‘virtual’ and more real.  If that is true, it impacts the marketplace from all sides. Not only do businesses have the responsibility (and opportunity) to be more transparent, but we regular people have the same. A true marketplace is much more than a sterile environment where information, money and goods change hands. It is a place where people meet to be people.

I remember once I was in the crowded open-air market in Zagreb in Croatia. I really did not want to buy any souvenirs or carved plates (beautiful as they are there) that morning. But a very persistent woman kept putting them in my hands, lowering the price, adding more value – by putting more there – and still lowering the prices. I was not haggling, I just had not planned to buy. But she wanted to sell them to me – actually – at the price she got down to – she was practically giving them to me.

I ended up buying – it was a whale of a deal and she wanted to deal so badly. I tried to pay her more than the final price and she would not accept it. I said to her “you cannot have made any profit at that price.”  She answered that it was not profit she was after. She wanted to make business – and I helped her do that. She was happy. I was ecstatic – had all my holiday shopping done in one armload. I walked away feeling good, lucky, and very warmly human. The marketplace in Zagreb taught me that.

I have often thought of that when shopping in the US. I often feel our marketplaces  lack the humanity of that one in Croatia that cool morning.

I welcome the marketplace filled with conversations. I am glad the Internet, or whatever, has brought back all the talk that many cultures never lost.

It may be between amateurs. Good.

It may be ‘virtual’ or real, or a strange mixture of both.  It may be scary because we have to reveal more of our own humanity than we often do in our semi-autonomous-shopping-cattle-chutes here.

But it is good.

Search – find

Everyone these days talks about search. It used to be an Internet term and back in the day we just called it search engine stuff. Later on it got to be known as ‘Googling’ something or someone (not to be confused with ‘goggling‘ someone – though there are some commonalities).

Now they are talking about it a lot in all marketing schools, social and political institutions, and everywhere else. Almost every small business-person I have talked to for the last 2 years has mentioned ‘search.” Even newspapers are trying to get into the search marketing field.

 Personally, I think the word should be “find.” That is the real key. What is turning things over, in business as well as in culture and life, is the phenomenal power to find things you could never find before.

Find what? Just about everything. That is its mystic power over us every time we go online, and its seduction as well.  At times it seems like Pandora’s box might have been opened. At other times it feels a lot like a deep reading of Goethe’s Faust. Knowledge exploding all around us – a lot of it way over our heads or too much to stomach – but there anyway. Yet power – power to get those very unique things we could never find in a store, or to snoop on friends or relatives or neighbors we were always curious about, or  simply find instructions on how to program the VCR we lost the book for 5 years ago (with the exact make and model). As we all know by now, the list goes on and on and on…

Let me respond to the book The Search, How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture,  by John Battelle.  Perhaps the most powerful  statement in the book to me is this: “…in the near future, search will metastasize from its origins on the PC-centric web and be let loose on all manner of devices.” (p. 253). 

It is an understated bombshell that amplifies many of the other far-reaching, and potentially revolutionary, statements in his book. I’ll say more in a minute.

First let’s do a quick overview. Ostensibly the book is about Google – the icon of search engines at this time – and about the rise and growth of the company as well as the industry and the technology that powers search engines in general.

The book is also about the new and growing economies that are powered by search – especially the long-tail businesses and interests I wrote about conceptually in reviewing Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail .  Good examples are the millions of ‘long tail’ small businesses, tradespeople, craftsmen, enterprises and ideas that are found through routine searches on Google or some other search engine. Add to that the sellers, ‘stores,’ distributors and cyber-flea-marketers that are found on the sophisticated search engines on  of EBay, Amazon, or hundreds of other small-marketplace networks. Top it off with the vast networks of yet-to-be-found economies, families, communities, subcultures, public records, niche cyber-societies and who-knows-what-else which will be accessible very shortly as the search phenomenon takes on even more power and momentum.

But let’s go on beyond business-oriented sections of The Search (which I am fascinated with) and get past all the Google-hype and into the chapters about privacy issues. There  you start to get to a matter of much more seismic importance:   the effect of a search company’s stated goal of indexing all recorded human knowledge. Even if they only pull off half of it, or a tenth for that matter, the effect is incredible.

As I read these chapters  (and in the intervening days performed hundreds of searches on dozens of quests) it appeared more evident than ever that our whole sense of  identity and community in this life is going through a dramatic change. We are becoming transparent, whether we like it or not. Very, very transparent.

Battelle talks about this in his chapters about how our ‘digital private lives’ can collide with the public sector’s need for security (Such as with The Patriot Act) – databasing everything it can get hold of from services such as ISP’s and other communications services.  While I agree that there should be  limits to uncovering personal information that is protected in contractual agreements with communications companies, that is not the issue that got my attention. The real kicker is much more subtle than that.

It dawned on me that there is a ton of information about me (and about you) out there already, not protected by any contracts. Go to Google or any other search engine. Type in your name. If you have a not-too-common first-last-name combination like mine, and if you have been yapping on the Internet as long as I have – there will be all kinds of information – right there in front of everyone’s eyes.  If you find out my address, you can also go to Google earth and get a satellite view of my house. You can take that same address and go to and see how much it is estimated to be worth. If I bought or sold it in the recent past, you can easily find out what was paid.

Not all of this is new. Much of that is a matter of public record. We have always had public records. (Daily newspapers, such as the one I work for, have been known as ‘newspapers of record‘ ). Much has always been out there. It just took an appraiser to trudge back and forth to the courthouse or a lawyer or private eye to dig through files and pull it all up. It was too cost-prohibitive for the average person to do.

We are now approaching an age where it is very easy for anyone to access it all – just by typing in your name and a few other details if needed – and single you out. Add to the public records the things you have written, blogged, posted, networked or whatever on web sites of any kind. Add also records on newspapers or magazines that went online. Throw in your business web sites (even businesses you used to work for that may have a page 5 years old still indexed in a search engine). Throw in things people might have said about you online or forums you might have participated in (assuming your real name appeared).  Feeling transparent yet?

Now go back to Battelle’s statement “…in the near future, search will metastasize from its origins on the PC-centric web and be let loose on all manner of devices.”   Think about it. At the present it still takes sitting down to a PC for someone to get at that info. As easy as that is, it is still a little bit difficult.

Now think about when it is all in people’s cars. As they drive down the street, guided by GPS, not only do addresses pop up on the screen or are read by a voice in the machine, but names of the homeowners (public record). If the driver is interested, they speak back to the onboard computer and are told more about that person, gleaned from the vast riches of the online indexes (search engines) that have been storing stuff on you or me for years.  By the time the house hunters get to the end of the street they might know more about us and other prospective future neighbors than our best friends do.

Another scenario – one that is already going on in earnest (I use it myself). You are going to a business appointment with someone – to pitch them a chance to participate in a program. You set aside a little time and start searching online. Within 15 -30 minutes you know, from a number of web sites, a lot about their education,  their job, their hobbies (if they have won local running events for instance), their networks, and perhaps much more. You may read speeches they made or articles they have written. You come across a cranky letter they wrote to an editor of a paper. You find their family in a genealogical summary. You then walk into that office feeling that you know them well enough to talk like an old acquaintance.

That might be scary – or it might be invigorating. It depends on how you look at it.

I believe this is all leading us to a form of  what a previous anthropology professor of mine called “an open-face society.”  According to him, these are societies, usually more primitive, where people are much more transparent. They live together in buildings without much privacy, seeing each other in many situations which we more ‘advanced’ cultures consider embarrassing and off-limits. The amazing thing is that they stop noticing the more private aspects of each other’s lives, at least consciously, even though they are right before their eyes. They are accustomed to being more transparent and their cultures and manners prevent them from indulging what we would consider invasive staring or impolite commenting.

Think about it. It is not that much different in a really small town. Think  Andy of Mayberry – a small town where people know quite a lot about you, where you came from and what you do each day. It is pretty hard to hide. (Such towns still exist in some parts of the country and yes, you are pretty well known).

One result in such societies is that there is a sort of innocence preserved.  People have to somewhat suspend their ‘games’ because most things are open to view by the community. People know most everything about everyone.

Perhaps being known to a much greater degree is not so bad, if you are an honest person. If you do not have to worry about ‘keeping your story straight’ is it so bad for people to be able to find out a lot about you at will?

Many of us are experiencing some that on the Internet. We get found. Our businesses get found. Our life histories get examined. There may not be a lot of people all that interested in us, but that small group who are – find us out. If we are entrepreneurs, business people, or people with a dream, others find out not only about our business, but about us. They see what makes us tick. They glimpse the soul behind the  dream.

It gets harder to separate our ‘business’ from our ‘life.’

We are found.

We turn to them with open faces.

It may not be all that bad.  It might be really good.