We’re out of the Information Age and well into the Participation Age. It’s your time – are you participating?
In 2006 two of us were flown out to Silicon Valley to accept an award by Sun Microsystems for branding, messaging and design work. At this conference some Sun leaders and outside consultants were talking about the new “Age”, called the Participation Age. Quite a few other leaders and publications have used it as well, and I found it to be a compelling description for the new Age in which we find ourselves. The hallmark of the Participation Age is “sharing.”
You First. No, I Insist, You First.
The Participation Age has seen the organic and viral growth of a dizzying array of sharing systems; from weekend software projects tackled by people all over the world who don’t know each other, to co-creation of products and services by companies interacting directly with their customers, to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a myriad of other sharing platforms.
Linux, an open-source software operating system, owned by no one, runs the fastest computers in the world and tens of millions of cell phones. The development of Web 2.0 was based on sharing of information, services, products, knowledge and opinions to the point that companies don’t own their brand anymore; those who participate in sharing about it on the internet are the owners.
Small Is Now Big
United Airlines discovered this painfully when Dave Carroll wrote a song called “United Breaks Guitars” (they broke his) and posted it on the internet. Within a four days of the posting, it had received millions of hits and United’s stock value plunged $180 million. Before the Participation Age, companies like United regularly wrote off one badly treated customer at a time, knowing they had a limited reach. But now, one person’s shared view of the world has a power that it never had before. The Participation Age has made your small voice more powerful than any time in history.
We’ve also seen sharing create massed responses to a single person’s plight from all over the world, and the proliferation of crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding companies that help people in ways they could have never imagined.
Participating Through Work
The Participation Age has changed the way people relate to each other, but most importantly it is changing the way we relate to work, allowing us to go back to a more natural relationship to work that was dominant for thousands of years before the strange and interruptive blip in history we call the Industrial Age.
Past generations that grew up in the intimidating shadow of the Industrial Age were taught to react, respond and at times even to contribute, but not to participate and share. Participation demands that we be proactive and creative, which is our basic human nature. The Industrial Age did not want us being proactive and creative; it wanted us to be extensions of machines and loyal and almost indentured servants to the company (via the golden handcuffs of in-house retirement plans).
I Double-Dog Dare You
At our core, we are not made to be extensions of machines. We are made to Make Meaning, not just money, and the Participation Age, more than any time in human history is daring each and everyone of us to find our voice, be uniquely you or me, and encourage the world to participate in what each of us is building. Get after it; create, innovate, bring something unique to the world around you; share it and let others participate in making you and it better. How much fun is the Participation Age? It kicks the Industrial Age’s ass, for sure.
My next book will share a lot about our move to the Participation Age, and how too many companies are still stuck in the Industrial Age.
Share with us – what are you building?