The Snapchat Economy

We inhabit a world of emergence, uncertainty and unforeseeable change. The greatest opportunities for advantage lie in the combination of fast-changing markets and emerging technologies. Because of this complex landscape, instead of preparing ourselves for a knowable future, we need to explore and probe for openings. We need to build on successful ventures and shift flexibly among opportunities as circumstances change.

The strategic logic is temporal rather than spatial. When following a spatial, foresight metaphor, there is a territory that can be mapped and understood, but here the territory is seen as being under continuous development and in formation by the exploration itself. It is impossible to map an area that changes with every step the explorer takes.”

The significant point is that no one can predict how long an advantage will last. It is a Snapchat economy. The responsible and resilient way to think is that it could all end tomorrow. The key insight is then that we should be where the flow of opportunities is the fastest and most promising.

Biologists explain the way social insects do this. If two ants would leave the nest at the same time and follow different routes to a new food source, they mark their exploration trail with pheromone. The ant that found the shorter route will return first. What happens is that this route will now be marked with twice as much pheromone as the other path taken by the second ant, who hasn’t yet returned.

The other ants will now be attracted to the shorter, more efficient path because of its concentration of pheromone. Individually, these ants have little intelligence. They don’t have managers or any supervision. Yet, collectively they create a thriving community.

For social insects, teamwork is organized and coordinated through the interactions of the members of the colony. Their collective intelligence emerges from the encounters, not from the insects. The success of the colony is a result of the collective activity of the individuals following very basic protocols: (1) make successful behavior visible to others, and (2) follow successful behavior.

The principle is basically the same, even if instead of ants and pheromone, we were to talk about human beings and blockchains. Today, the most valuable assets can be open. When success leaves tracks that others can follow, it can be beneficial not only to the follower, but also financially to the one who is followed with the help of post-blockchain smart contracts. Successful organizations always scale up learning. Now there is a financial model for it. Work itself is learning, meaning observing and simulating desirable practices. On the other hand, work is teaching, meaning doing one’s work in an openly reflective and transparent way, just the way the ants do it.

Every company and every individual is a particular combination of opportunities and (enabling) constraints. The biggest constraint, however, is that we are not used to thinking that we may have thousands of opportunities available every day. Thousands of potential trails to study and possibly follow. We just don’t know yet where to look for inspiration, but AI is going to change that.

The dominant business organization of the future may not be a permanent corporation but rather a dynamic network. Network knowledge can merge into temporary bundles whenever and wherever necessary to solve problems. The network makes it possible to pool the knowledge residing in millions of nodes into an ad hoc front end with massive problem-solving capacity. There is very little or no centralized control. The role of the manager changes dramatically and often disappears completely. There does not need to be any single point of oversight.

The Internet follows this same philosophy and logic. The things you have to obey are the communication protocols. Protocols make connecting possible. They are really the backbone of cooperation. Similarly, post-blockchain based protocols and smart contracts make the new, temporary economic spaces possible.

Protocols don’t need to take the form of technical specifications. They can also make human interaction possible, as we can see taking place in operating theaters. When surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and supporting staff gather to perform an emergency surgery they all know the protocols they follow and learn very fast how they’ll interact with one another, even if they never worked together before. A work role for many individuals in the future will be to take part in networks that neither they nor anyone else controls. The key metric is how long it takes for people to cooperate efficiently.

Modern science explains the theory behind this.

Quantum theory says that each quantum entity has both a wavelike and a particle like aspect. The particle like characteristic is fixed but the wavelike one is a set of potentialities that cannot be reduced to the existing (parts of the) entity. If two or more of these entities are brought together, their potentialities become entangled. Their wave aspects are interwoven to the extent that a change in the potentiality in one brings about a corresponding change in the potentiality of the other.

A new shared reality emerges that could not have been predicted by studying the properties or the actions of the two entities. The interconnected patterns in human interaction are the results of self-organizing processes across the particular network forming the temporal organization. Local interaction generates emergent outcomes that cannot be traced back to any specific action or actor.

Ilya Prigogine wrote in his book “The End of Certainty” that the future is not given, but under perpetual construction: “Life is about unpredictable novelty where the possible is always richer than the real.”


Credits Chris Meyer and Stephen Downes