In 1954 Paul Rand, the great American artist and typographer, placed a full page advertisement in the New York Times using Morse code. His thinking was that while a million eyes might see the paper that morning, the only eyes that mattered were those of General Sarnoff, President of the RCA Corporation, whose early career had begun as a wireless operator for Marconi and who had revealed that his proudest moment had been as one of the first operators to pick up the distress call from the Titanic. Rand’s objective was to win the RCA Corporation’s lucrative advertising contract for his agency. Later that morning the agency received a call from General Sarnoff’s office asking for a meeting.
Intelligent, targeted one-off solutions, can create as much economic impact as mass produced, widely disseminated products. The important thing is to assess each case scenario on its own terms and remember that one is sometimes the biggest number. The widespread distribution of the New York Times meant it was the ideal platform for Paul Rand’s innovative piece of communication design. In terms of modern economy, distribution platforms are a priority for enabling businesses targeting equally one or many stakeholders.
In one of the most rapidly changing sectors of the creative industries – the music industry – digitisation has given us the concept of the Long Tail. 10 years ago it became apparent that digital platforms made audio file storage and distribution cheap, and that for a digital platform selling 1M copies of a famous artist’s track was equally as lucrative as 1M artists selling a single download only. If 1M artists convinced their mothers to buy their record too, their joint sales instantly doubled to 2M. No wonder social networking recommendations became the main target for media publishers.
For the EU economy, 1M micro-companies creating enough wealth to make a decent living are equally important as one global brand generating millions in revenue. As well as creating impact by targeting just one stakeholder, individual producers can create global impact, at any scale, providing all their products are accessible via a common platform.
Different scales matter also when devising innovative solutions. It is equally as important to provide solutions for the basic level functionality (“if I press here, x will happen”), as it is for the working level (“if I streamline this service, my workflow will improve”), and high level challenges (“if we adopt a different approach, we will create a new market and benefit a new sector of society”). A Sharing Economy platform enables crowdmaking participants who may have ideas for grand societal changes, but not the tools to execute them, to join up with those good at small scale solutions, able to work from the ground up.
Innovative ideas are not there to attract private funding and create a number of temporary startup employment positions in view of “scaling fast”. Often such methods create merely a stop-gap for unemployment, but no real long-term sustainable business solution. “Fail fast and fail often” may be the motto for the “winner takes all” culture of American Capitalism, but models based on the principles of Sharing Economy allow for many small businesses to make a good living by staying small and sustainable, as well as businesses to grow organically, at the right time and for the right reasons.
Many EU regions pride themselves on small family businesses, which in modern terms create the Long Tail of the EU economy. We should not therefore encourage these to scale too rapidly and fail fast, but instead create enabling sharing technology platforms which facilitate business operations at any scale, and where even bespoke, customised one-offs can benefit from the common market place.
Real, sustainable innovation exists at the grass roots. As Dubber keeps telling me, our job is not to predict the future, but to jointly invent it.