Welcome to the Connection Economy

By Seth Godin
February 27th, 2013


In his latest book, The Icarus Deception, marketing guru Seth Godin makes the case for approaching work as art. In this excerpt, he explains how we’re living in an economy that rewards achievement and connection instead of compliance.

Author, marketer and entrepreneur, Seth Godin.

Author, marketer and entrepreneur, Seth Godin.

The value we create is directly related to how much valuable information we can produce, how much trust we can earn, and how often we innovate.

In the industrial economy, the stuff we made (literally stuff — widgets, devices, and O-rings) comprised the best assets we could build. Fortunes belonged to men who built railroads, lightbulbs, and buildings. Today we’re seeking something a revolution apart from that sort of productivity.

The connection economy rewards the leader, the initiator, and the rebel. The internet wasn’t built to make it easy for you to watch Lady Gaga videos. The internet is a connection machine, and anyone with a laptop or a smartphone is now connected to just about everyone else.

And it turns out that those connections are changing the world. If your factory burns down but you have loyal customers, you’ll be fine. On the other hand, if you lose your customers, even your factory isn’t going to help you – Detroit is filled with empty factories.

If your team is filled with people who work for the company, you’ll soon be defeated by tribes of people who work for a cause.

If you use your money to buy advertising to promote the average products you produce for average people, soon you’ll run out of money. But if you use your money to make exceptional products and services, you won’t need to spend it on advertising, because your customers will connect to one another and bring you more.

The connection economy has changed how you get a job and what you do when you get to that job. It has changed how we make and listen to music, write and read books, and discover where to eat, what to eat, and whom to eat with.

It has destroyed the mediocre middle of average products for average people who have few choices, and it has enabled the weird edges, where people who care find others who care and they all end up caring about something even more than they did before they met.

The connection economy enables endless choice and endless shelf space and puts a premium on attention and on trust, neither of which is endless.

Most of all, the connection economy has made competence not particularly valuable and has replaced it with an insatiable desire for things that are new, real, and important.

The achieving society

In 1959, psychologist and sociologist David McClelland published a breakthrough treatise on why some moments in history are filled with rapid growth while others are not. He studied why some cultures miss out on advancement while others succeed.

It turns out that it’s not race or climate or even the power of charismatic leadership that leads to boom times. The Renaissance, Silicon Valley, or the explosion of culture in France in the late 1800s are all cultural and technical breakthroughs that we’d like to repeat.

icarus-deception-coverWhile technology might be a contributing factor, more than anything else, achievement comes from a culture that celebrates the achievement motive.

In countries and regions and moments of time when there is a cultural imperative to make art and to move forward, things change for the better. It seems obvious as I write this, but the correlated element of success always seems to be that there are many individuals who care enough to want to succeed.

Using a series of clever tests, McClelland and his colleagues tested thousands of subjects, asking them to describe their daydreams and to tell stories about what they hoped to do in the future.

What they found was that the n achievement score (a simple count of how often these stories indicated a need for achievement) gave extraordinary insight into a host of decisions that people made in their work lives.

A high n Achievement score, for example, meant that you were far more likely to have “better memory,” be “more apt to volunteer as subjects for psychological experiments,” and even be “more resistant to social pressure.” It also meant that you’d do better at scrambled word puzzles.

The question, as we move from an industrial economy that cherishes compliance to a connected economy that prizes achievement, is this: Are we supporting this shift with a culture that encourages us to dream important dreams?

What do we challenge our achievers to do? When do we encourage or demand that they move from standardized tests and Dummies guides to work that actually matters?

This excerpt, adapted for Sparksheet, is from THE ICARUS DECEPTION: HOW HIGH WILL YOU FLY?. Published by Portfolio/Penguin. Copyright (c) Do You Zoom, Inc., 2012. Used by permission.

About the Author

  • Seth Godin has written fourteen best-selling books that have been translated into more than thirty languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything. American Way Magazine calls him, "America's Greatest Marketer," and his blog is perhaps the most popular in the world written by a single individual.