First funded with a two-million dollar grant by the government through DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and then used by universities to share research, the internet exploded in the late 90s thanks to companies like Netscape, AOL, and Yahoo.
But it took another decade to see what was at stake with this new found use of networks. I’m referring to the Global Financial Crisis in the late 2000s. Our institutions had become so interconnected that weakness in the U.S. subprime lending market caused a domino effect of bankruptcies, bailouts, and recessions across the globe.
Prior to this, the main worldwide events were war-related. They were fought with atoms, not bits.
It would take one more decade to even begin to understand what the internet was truly capable of. In 2020, with the onset of the first pandemic in 100 years, social media, e-commerce and broad internet coverage converged to allow half the economy to continue humming along as if nothing was happening at all.
For knowledge workers, it was surreal. For front-line workers, it was hell.
But necessity is the mother of invention. We pulled forward a decade of growth in the digital sector with virtual apps and services, in the medical sector with new vaccine technologies and in the financial sector with the gamification of fee-free investing.
I believe that in the coming decade, we will harness the true power of the internet. On the Gartner Hype Cycle, we are just now coming out of the Trough of Disillusionment for the internet.
But with interconnectedness comes complexity. What used to be little changes become big changes and happen more frequently. We are becoming increasingly fragile as a society due to the dependencies we’ve built into the system. Dependencies ranging from supply chains requiring the flow of goods to networks requiring the flow of data.
When a single DDOS attack can take an entire company offline for a day, and a ransomware attack can shutdown a hospital, it has never been more imperative to lock down our systems, create redundancies, and have contingency plans. Just-in-time manufacturing is now just-in-case.
For whatever challenges networks bring, we should still like them. They are powerful. Networks allow a failing brick and mortar video game company to become the top news headline for months. Networks allow us to see every angle and casualty of a new war minute-by-minute. Networks allow us to ban bad actors by using our best algorithms and firewalls, while keeping everyone else online.
New networks are even changing the infrastructure of our utilities just beneath the surface of most people’s awareness.
Behold, the power of networks:
There are millions of (IoT) devices, big and small, that need access to reliable, wireless internet. But it’s difficult to get reliable internet to them. They are often in motion, located outdoors, or too many in number to utilize something like a typical home WiFi network. Enter Helium hotspots. (6 min read)
So, in a volatile and connected world, with more frequent disruptions and dependencies, who wins?
The best storytellers.
As an example, look no further than Tesla. How is it possible that the least interesting part about Tesla is their cars?
Their owner pumps crypto, sells flamethrowers as a side-hustle, builds tunnels in LA, launches rockets, gets into twitter fights with regulators and smokes weed on Joe Rogan’s podcast. The company is captained by one of the best storytellers of our age. He is challenging the status-quo and cutting out the middlemen to deliver his narrative on his terms.
When is the last time you saw an advertisement for Tesla?
Truly, the least interesting thing about Tesla is the fact they have one of the best-designed and efficient EVs on the market.
As Scott Galloway says, “Want to get laid and prove you’re environmentally conscious at the same time? Buy a Tesla.”
Seriously, tell a good story and help solve your clients real problems and you’ll have a customer for life. Fail to ask your clients the right questions up front, or misinterpret their needs and you won’t stand a chance because you have no idea what their motivation is for speaking with you.
No longer can you pitch your service or product in the hopes that it’s good enough for a potential buyer. The act of sales has been turned upside down and now must focus on consulting and storytelling over solutions. Turning chaos into order. Turning anxiety into confidence.
The same is true of managing projects. Without spending the requisite time up front to figure out the true goals of the project, and what problems are in need of solving, you’ll never succeed. Ask a lot of questions in order to gain insights. But being unable to deliver those insights via meaningful data-driven narratives is like having all the oil in the world and not being able to turn it into gasoline.
Once you’ve figured out the problem and the goal, you need to be able to use data to sell the idea. Everyone from the C-suite to the receptionist should see a good reason to back your project, or it will fail before it starts.
So many people were taught to begin with the end in mind. That’s great if you’re building a house. But if you’re building an app, you need to shorten your delivery cycles, ship more features faster and get quicker feedback. Smaller projects and more projects. Get more buy-in for your ideas across as well as up and down the organization.
If you want to be successful in the coming decades, watch for trends, learn to ask big questions, tell compelling stories, and separate the signal from the noise for your audience.
The world has changed. Use it to your advantage.