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New Economy? What’s Changed?

Every decade or so, conventional wisdom proclaims that The Game Has Changed Forever! But has it really?

I fondly remember the first time we changed the world. To a soundtrack of Beatles, Stones, Cream, Airplane, Janis, and Jimi, we ended war, shuttered fraternities, obsoleted political parties and suburbs, made Hollywood and TV irrelevant, and ensured that anyone could tell who was trustworthy and who was not by the length of their hair.

OK, so a few of those changes didn’t stick. But then in 1972, Nixon’s re-election confirmed the true revolution, a realignment of parties that ensured Democrats would never again win the White House. Stock markets died and would never again attract a broad base of investors. Gold re-established itself as the investment of choice.

Oops.

The 80′s saw the game really change forever. Japan conquered the world, America’s manufacturing base rusted, and economists fretted that a service-based economy would doom us to permanent decline. “You can’t sustain an economy where we just sell financial instruments to each other.” Everyone knew it. But instead, we boomed and Japan fizzled.

The 90′s saw the permanent changes of the dot-com economy. Never again would revenues or assets impact a company’s values. It was all about eyeballs.

And now we have folks like 37signals declaring that the rules of business and careers have permanently changed, and social media gurus propounding the dogma that buzz and number of followers trumps, well, revenues and assets. What do you think?

But here’s what’s interesting. Each of these revolutions had elements that stuck. The world and the economy truly did evolve via each of these failed revolutions. It’s just that the magnitude and direction of change was different from the conventional wisdom.

Here’s my point. Whenever someone evangelizes about the revolution-du-jour, nod politely and step aside to avoid being trampled by the mob. Then watch carefully and start hypothesizing about what really has changed, and how you can use it to your advantage. Evolve continuously to gain traction in a continuously evolving world. Just don’t drink the revolutionary kool-aid.

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