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One Thing's for Sure - the World's a Blur

Especially if you're working in the new world of business. Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer bring the future into focus.

Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer have seen the future - and it's a blur.

Products are services. Buyers are sellers. Homes are offices. Workers are capitalists. The line between structure and process, owning and using, knowing and learning is dissolving. The pace is so furious, the meltdown so severe, the erasing of borders so complete that, the whole picture is going out of focus.

Indeed, so radical is the redefinition of categories that Davis and Meyer open their new book, BLUR: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy (Addison-Wesley, 1998), with an unusual caveat: "This is not a 'book.'" Rather, they say, it's a window into a conversation that the authors eagerly invite readers to join. And because a book is such an imperfect forum in which to conduct that dialogue, Davis and Meyer have created a Web site for the exchange of ideas.

This is no idle gimmick. Futurist Davis, best-selling author of Future Perfect (Addison-Wesley, 1997), and Meyer, director of Ernst & Young's Center for Business Innovation, are in the business of producing intellectual capital. And like all smart producers, they are willing to pay for customer input. The authors ask readers to submit their own observational blurs, promising to post them on the Web site and to award a $100 prize to the best idea submitted during each month of 1998.

Davis and Meyer are not only savvy marketers - they're also great party hosts. If you've arrived late, they bring you up to speed and tug you into the mix. If you've been at the party awhile, they introduce you to new people and new ideas. For a nonbook, BLUR isn't a bad read. For a business book, it's unusually good. The writing is brisk, the arguments are cogent, and the examples are compelling.

BLUR's hosts lay out a nice spread to introduce readers to the kaleidoscopic effect of the new economy. They argue that the real-time pricing of financial markets will expand into supermarkets: Consumers will follow the price of Cheerios the way brokers track the share price of General Mills.

They say that things you can't see or touch (customer service, reputation) are now more valuable in the marketplace than tangible assets (buildings, machines). So companies are trying to attract customers with emotional appeals. What else explains the impact of Nike's ads? Or the fact that special-interest credit cards are the latest trend in financial services? It's the blur of consumer desires: You make donations to your favorite cause while you spend - your bank still makes a profit.

They also predict that the financial community will concoct new instruments to evaluate an individual's value in the market. (Brother, can you spare some Bowie Bonds?) People will securitize their future income, and mutual funds will invest in them - it's the blur of resources.

A central refrain of the book is that we're all free agents now. Even if we work for someone else, we're each responsible for managing ourselves like a business. BLUR has plenty of strategies to do that. Its list of "50 ways to blur your business . . . and 10 ways to blur yourself" dices nearly every big-picture theme into a bite-sized take-away. All the nutrients are here - it's up to the reader to make a meal out of them. To spice up the party, Fast Company offers five blurs inspired by the book

Loyalty isn't dead. It's just different. As Davis and Meyer note, "Programmers in Silicon Valley identify much more strongly with what they do than with their employers, just as doctors and lawyers make their chief allegiance to their profession." Loyalty is alive and well - but it's loyalty to a team, a project, or a profession.

Independence breeds interdependence. Free agents know that working solo does not mean working alone. Davis and Meyer understand the circular logic of free agency: "Connectivity enables you to seize more independence while independence motivates you to get ever more connected." There's a corollary: Knowledge is value - but only if you share it. The more you give, and the faster you give, the more successful you become.

Shed the mask. People used to put on their "game face" when they went to work. They became their real selves only when they returned home. These days, who you are - your experience, your attitude - overrides where you work as an index of your value.

Forget disintermediation. It's become every guru's favorite seven-syllable word. It means the elimination of the middleman in all economic transactions. But it just doesn't explain what's going on out there. Intermediaries are gaining power, say Davis and Meyer. It's a six-syllable phenomenon: Hollywoodization. As more industries come to resemble the movie industry, we'll see an explosion of talent agents and scouts who broker the careers of free agents.

Seller, beware. Davis and Meyer foresee the emergence of what they call the "Value 500": organizations of consumers intent on "pooling demand, not supply, and on delivering the greatest value to consumers." That's already happening in lots of places: Working Today, an organization based in New York City, is negotiating group discounts on health insurance, office supplies, and computer software for its 35,000 free-agent members.

In a blurry world, here's one distinction worth making: Other pundits point out the disappearance of the old boundaries. Davis and Meyer do an uncommonly good job of bringing that hazy future into focus.

Daniel H. Pink is a Fast Company contributing editor. His last article, "Free Agent Nation" was the December:January 1998 cover story.

A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.