Dateline Davos: The Shifting Power Equation
Dealing with shifts in power is the theme of this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, and it makes a very good platform to discuss a wide range of issues, including the following power shift vectors, all bubbled up in from a 750-person multi-track opening plenary:
· From developed economies to emerging markets
· From public markets to private equity
· From established states to rogue states
· From energy exploiters to energy resource owners
· From enterprises to consumers
· From certified authorities to collective intelligence
· From the middle aged to the young and the old
· From social to virtual relationships
The shift that has caught my attention, however, is that from computing systems that communicate to communication systems that compute. The implications for technology vendors are straightforward but dramatic.
For communications vendors—including companies like Cisco, Motorola, AT&T, and Akamai—the opportunity is to smarten their pipes. This entails a migration of value creation into the network, achieved by computing more and more on the data it carries while it is carrying it. All forms of behavioral targeting, real-time transaction resolutions, and the like call out for this shift.
For computing vendors—including IBM, HP, Dell, EMC, Oracle, and SAP—the opportunity is in the opposite direction: to reframe their offers to accentuate their role in a communications system. This means redesigning the PC, its peripherals, the database, the applications, the storage architecture, the middleware stack, and a portion of the server base to shift from automating transactions to feed systems of record (people in service to computers) to enabling interactions to drive relationships of value (computers in service to people). Think of the PC as a much better cell phone, the application as an adjunct to a real-time interaction, the googlization of data access, and the like.
The shift from computing to communications also has profound implications for the redistribution of power. As the Internet continues to work its transformation of the globe, the single most powerful force it is unleashing is memes, that class of ideas that are uniquely able to capture people’s imaginations and shape their behavior. Some of these memes are inspiring and uplifting (think spirtuality and altruism), some are crass and banal (advertizing and, yes, much blogging), and others are dark and pernicious (sexual exploitation and suicide bombing). All are vying for a commitment from each of us, and when we give that commitment, we give it for free and put all our life energy behind it. That is what makes memes so powerful.
The ability both to create and promulgate such memes and to recognize when a meme is acting upon you or one of your constituents is core to being effective in this new reality. A connected world places an enormous premium on people who are fluent in communications: expressing ideas, positioning offers, inferring power relationships, decoding nuances, deflecting the manipulations of others. We are witnessing the rise of the articulate and the marginalization of the inarticulate, whether in our political and business leaders or in our leading brands and most favored Internet sites.
In sume, if the past few decades were heralded as the revenge of the nerds, the next few will be the revenge of the liberal arts graduates.