Networks, not Empires

I’ve had a great couple of days visiting with some prospective projects, and I’ve been pondering the sheer number of institutions in the world.  I think we, the entreprenueral creative class need to be about the business of creating networks; not empires.

Part of the millenial/genx/boomer conflict centers on this very principle.  I just had a marvelous evening hearing Erick Goss of Creative Trust Media speak at an event hosted by Digital Nashville.

His firm has 5 employees.  As a startup, they outsource EVERYTHING. But yet, they foundation is secure, because by outsourcing they keep their production costs low, and their model stays nimble.

I also just finished ReWork; 37signals (the author) is another firm with, uh, 20 employees?

I don’t think institutions and empires are inherently evil, but I do think that anyone building something today needs to change their vision.  The market is so flooded with every possible niche brand now; dominating like an empire seems out of reach.  Furthermore, empires require bureaucracy, and bureaucracy is SLOW.  Erick gave some great insights about building e-commerce sites on the internet: don’t think of the site as a product, think of it as a process. Your site will never be done, and your ideas will always be wrong.  by the time you get them right, it will be time for a new design again.

This lead me to think of the idiocy of trying to write international policy for an empire.  By the time the ink is dry and it gets through committee, the market may well have antiquated the entire circumstance.  Think about GE trying to write a Facebook policy for it’s employees.  By the time GE conceives, approves, implements and communicates a change, Facebook may well have re-named, re-purposed, or retired the aspect of Facebook the policy was written for!  Meanwhile, up in Chicago, Jason Fried (who runs 37signals) will just text his 20 employees on 3 continents and say “don’t do that.”

We should try to build our mini-firms and then create symbiotic relationships with the rest of the planet.  That way, as culture and technology affect our market we can roll with the punches.  Oh, Flash is out, HTML5 is in?  Great!  Good thing I didn’t move my development team in house.  Oh, so 1960’s style is in because of Madmen?  Let’s get a hip designer to keep us in step!

Give up dominating your market for the time being, go share some limelight with someone in another industry.  Partner with a non-profit that shares your constituency, or a brand that’s already got a following with your target audience.  Eric kept saying that the internet is just a high school popularity contest in virtual reality.  To use his metaphor, don’t host a party at your parent’s house, figure out how to co-host homecoming.  Go serve on the prom committee and get the cool kids to buy into you.  Nail your niche so they come to you and bring their friends.