It is innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that has driven this positive change. Great entrepreneurs like Richard Arkwright, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and Eiji Toyoda transformed the world by finding revolutionary ways to produce goods in much greater quantities, to a far higher quality and with a wider diversity. In effect, they helped humanity get much, much better at generating value for itself.
Now a whole new way of doing business is emerging once again. The power to generate value, which was always the preserve of the entrepreneur and their business, is shifting to the consumer. Millions can now download products when, where and how they want them. Consumers now make their own content and share it online. Marketing is increasingly led by consumer run networks. A new era is emerging in which value is self-generated.
But far from the entrepreneur becoming obsolete, this self-generated value (SGV) transformation has unleashed a new wave of entrepreneurial-ism particularly amongst the younger generation who are most engaged with the web and its possibilities.
The reason is simple: if you can use the web to create things of value for yourself, you can also use it to create things of value for others. The very websites and networks that have given the consumer power are also empowering entrepreneurs. As a result, product development, distribution, marketing and even financing have become much easier and cheaper.
This SGV era and the associated entrepreneurial ethos will be highly disruptive. The 'creative destruction' wrought in publishing and the music business, for example, are a taste of what is to come. Ultimately this will generate a new leap forward in living standards and quality of life but there will be casualties along the way in the form of bankruptcies, unemployment and insecurity. There is also the risk that a very strong emphasis on entrepreneurialism could lead to an unreflective and destructive individualism.
The response is not to resist self-generated value or the new entrepreneurial spirit but to embrace it while also keeping a critical eye on its negative implications. Those implications must be addressed with just the same innovative and entrepreneurial spirit as is being applied in the commercial world.
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