The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.

Arthur NelsonLast week I had the opportunity to speak at the MarketingProfs B2B Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. As a New England native, I rarely turn down an opportunity to visit home to see family and friends–including one of whom I’d like to introduce to you.

Arthur Nelson is one of the most influential people in my life. I’ve actually mentioned him in previous posts such as The Fog of Social Media or 50+ Years Later: Buglabs Arrives. He’s a very successful entrepreneur who has played the great game of business for over 60 years. During his career, he’s started more than 20 companies–some are businesses and others are nonprofits.

As someone forty years my senior, Arthur has forgotten the solutions to more business problems than I’ve ever learned. Therefore, no matter how difficult the business problem, there is nothing that I struggle with today that he hasn’t dealt with at least twice yesterday.

Arthur doesn’t use Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. He doesn’t read blogs, participate in user forums, and wouldn’t know the difference between a feed reader and a bird feeder.  But whenever I feel overwhelmed at the breakneck speeds of today’s business, whenever I start to believe my own press and think that I know it all, I call Arthur, who always does one of two things:

  1. Gives me a different perspective
  2. or smacks me upside the head.

Who is your Arthur Nelson?

Jan 13, 2010

We can talk about the value of social media forever, but sometimes, the best lessons come from just using it.

I was in a foul mood last Thursday morning. I had just read a series of blog posts from a former client who was using the ideas I taught his company to build its social media business. Normally, I’d be ecstatic about such an event, but the fact that the company owes me a considerable sum of money tempered my enthusiasm. I felt as if someone had stolen from me.

My first testosterone-fueled-caveman-impulse was to write about it, to expose the company’s business practices to the online world. But that’s when a more sane idea emerged. What would my social network say about the situation? So, I posted the following question to Twitter:

“If a former client was using your work to expand their business, yet they’ve owed you money for six months, when would you blog about it?”

Within 11 minutes, five people who I really respect (and their collective 35,000 followers respect them too) offered their advice.

My mood changed instantly upon reading these rapid responses. I loved how each person cared about one of two things: 1) me and my reputation and 2) the poor soul who may fall prey to the company in the future.

In eleven minutes, I had a totally different perspective on the problem. Had I taken the caveman route, I may have done something stupid that limited my options. Instead, subsequent conversations have yielded plenty of them to choose from. Presently, I’m weighing those options.

I am so grateful to my social network board of advisors who care enough about me to offer such good and timely advice. Thank you Kirsten, Shel, Eric, C.C., and Adrianne.

So, who’s on your board of advisors?

Filed under: Miscellaneous

In 1985, my college economics professor taught that wealth is created through the strategic allocation of scarce resources. The theory being that if you controlled a scarce resource, you were on your way to building wealth.

A few years later, I read a book by Paul Zane Pilzer that not only disagreed with my college professor, but its concepts helped shape every career decision that I’ve made since.  The book, Unlimited Wealth: The Theory and Practice of Economic Alchemy, helped me understand that the pursuit of controlling scarce resources was futile because the technology-of-the-day defines what a resource is.

For example, oil was an annoyance until someone figured out that it was a rich source of energy. In an agrarian society, land was considered a scarce resource, until we developed new methods for significantly increasing the harvest per square acre. And if the laws of supply and demand proved correctly, sand, the most plentiful material on earth, should have no value at all–that is until someone discoverd its semiconductive properties and built an entire valley in Northern California based on the discovery.

The concept that yesterday’s scarce resources can become abundant today creates huge challenges to those who’ve built their businesses on the obsoleted resource. If technology determines what a resource is, and the rate of technological change is accelerating, then anyone in the business of controlling resources faces real-time financial ruin the moment someone invents a technology that transforms that scarce resource into an abundant one.

Fast forward to 2009, with a book that picks up where Unlimited Wealth left off: Chris Anderson‘s Free: The Future of a Radical Price.  Twenty years ago, there was no Google, WordPress, iTunes, Youtube, Facebook or Twitter–all technologies that transformed publishing from a scarce resource (printing presses and transmission towers) into an abundant one. Anderson takes a look at the ramifications that online technologies have had on driving the marginal cost of information delivery so low as to make it too small to measure.

While many businesses morn what has been lost through the cost marginalization of information delivery, Free focuses precicely on the abundance of opportunities that businesses have to choose from. The question (which I have posted in this blog on many occasions) is:  do business leaders have the intestinal fortitude required to reap the benefits of those opportunities? Anderson sums up the sentiment on page 233:

Free is not a magic bullet. Giving away what you do will not make you rich by itself. You have to think creatively about how to convert the reputation and attention you can get from Free into cash. Every person and every project will require a different answer to that challenge, and sometimes it won’t work at all. This is just like everything else in life–the only mystery is why people blame Free for their own poverty of imagination and intolerance for possible failure.

Every now and then, a book comes along that needs to be read multiple times to completely absorb its concepts. Not only have I’ve read Unlimited Wealth at least a half-dozen times, but I’ve purchased it at least that many times, as my copy always seems to be on someone else’s bookshelf.  More than likely I’ll be dong the same thing with Free.

During the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing specific things that companies must do (or avoid!) to benefit form the disruptive power of abundance vs. scarcity-based business thinking. Stay tuned.


Filed under: Miscellaneous