The Future of American Business in a Postmodern World

We no longer live in a modern world. That time has passed, especially for business in America.

We now live in a postmodern world, and the sooner we understand what that means, the sooner we can use it to succeed in our own personal business ventures.

According to postmodern scholar Frederick Mark Gedicks, one of the chief characteristics of postmodernism is the power of digital information to customize our personal choices.

Customizing Our Personal Choices

Information put into a digital format is incredibly flexible. For example, while on business in Europe and the Middle East my wife took close to 400 photos with her Sony digital camera. As many of you already know you can do almost anything you want to with this kind of camera. You want to take dozens of shots of one thing in two or three seconds, it’s done. You take a shot and you wish it would have been closer up, no problem, just zoom it in after the fact.

Obviously, in this area Sony has become very consumer oriented. We recognize, however, that this particular consumer friendly product would not have even come close to being realized without imbedding digital software into the camera’s functions. This kind of digitally driven product customization will not stop improving anytime soon. For example the next logical step in the digital process will be for the consumer of a product and the creator of that product to become interchangeable. In other words individualized consumer input will be factored into the product before the product is even made.

At first blush this sounds impractical. For example how will manufactured products like cars that depend on an assembly line precision be made, if each car has to be customized to the individual purchaser’s input before the purchaser even knows they are going to buy the car? Simple, the car won’t be made until their input is received. And as for customization on an assembly line, special software will make customization possible by continuously upgrading the instructions that are imbedded into every machine that makes the car. The result will be that instead of making 1,000 cars exactly the same way with minimal customization, they will make 1,000 different cars that have customized inputs from 1,000 different purchasers. This I think is what Stanford University’s Paul Romer meant when he said that the new economy will not be based on how many pancakes you can make, but on how many new pancake recipes you can create.

This creates questions, like,

Will efficiency be sacrificed? No, we’re dealing with digital software that keeps getting smarter and smarter. There are no limits in the digital world–in other words, information does not run out. As a result, machines keep getting more intelligent. So, if you want maximum efficiency with maximum customization, that’s what the machine will give you.

Will big companies like automobile manufacturers go out of business because they can’t wait for buyer input before they make the car? No, the future lies not with how many cars they can produce, but with how close they can get to each customer in order to give him or her give exactly what he or she wants.

Implications for Budding Business People

For someone wanting to start a business this has important implications. For example, if the creator and consumer become interchangeable, then by definition the consumer is in business. For instance, what if the purchaser of a customized car likes what she has created so much that she thinks she can sell 500 of her customized cars in a secondary market. No problem. She puts in her order for 500 of her customized cars, but each car will not be produced until she sells it and an order is placed. This way she doesn’t put herself or the manufacturer at risk. But, she benefits from her personal value added creativity, both as a consumer of her customized car and as a distributor of cars that bear her mark. She becomes both the consumer and the creator of the product.

In addition her productivity as a business owner is dictated solely by her schedule and individual talents. After all, the software with her personal imprint does not go away.

Entrepreneurial activity in this kind of postmodern digital world explodes. The barriers of entry into any kind of business are torn down. So much flexibility exists in the digital world that the definitions which distinguish us from one another in business begin to thin out. Distinctions between small business and large business, service sector and manufacturing sector, white collar and blue collar, professional and laborer, stay at home and go to work deconstruct.

There is no greater proof of this than the lead story in the February 12 edition of the “Economist”. The front cover states, “Print me a Stradivarius”. We find that a Stradivarius violin was made using an EOS laser-sintering 3D printer. The comment was, “and it plays beautifully”. Now the point is obvious isn’t it? If I want a Stradivarius, I don’t need any qualifications other than the ability to buy a digital program that guides the 3D printer. It doesn’t matter what education I have, or training, or status, or corporate affiliation. I do it merely because I can.

Life in a Customized World

The near impossible becomes the nearly possible in the postmodern world of digital information where customization reigns. This is the whole idea behind Wikipedia, as suggested by its founder, Jimmy Wales. Everything exists on the basis of one. One person, one request, one product, created one at a time. This way everyone can be involved in a way each chooses. Again, for one who desires to start a business, this is a breakthrough in ease of entry.

More questions arise

Won’t this be just a “hodgepodge” of different stuff floating around if everyone gets involved in their own way? We can only hope so. In a postmodern world there will be a lot of clutter. This is evidence of its existence. Too much order, determined by too few people is evidence that the modern world stills dominates.

Won’t this lead to “consumerism” gone wild? That’s a value judgment best left to each consumer/creator. For those who do not like to engage in consumer product activity, it may seem like there is too much consumerism. But, for the person who has not had the luxury of buying consumer products, because of poverty, lack of education, etc., there may not be enough. Who is right? Who is wrong? It solely depends on your relative position.

What happens to the big corporation in this customized world? They thrive if they learn to customize. Continuing with our car example, corporations like Mercedes, Chevrolet, and Toyota won’t go away unless they stop improving by continually implementing innovation through digitally oriented enhancements, and most importantly, understanding that the consumer of their product will continually have a larger input into how they want that product to impact them personally. Welcome to the Gedicks postmodern world of one.