If Van Gogh were alive now and aware of his global fame, would he still cut off his ear?
Moving to the Lab and marinating in the creative atmosphere in and out of World has already opened up some channels in my brain that have been deliberately dammed up while I chose to develop my analytic and data analysis skill sets and make my way in the world of the balance sheet and cash flow statement. But I feel a flood of ideas and insights flowing now, a flash flood after a few years of drought. Green shoots are coming up and I couldn’t be more excited to see the spring again inside my mind and heart. I was recently interviewing a candidate for the Lab and we discussed the future of Second Life and some of its potential. Flashback: 1999. I wrote a business school application essay to Cornell to answer the question, “What will be the impact of technology on your chosen field?” My field at the time was the entertainment industry. I thought I’d mention some of the ideas here not only because I think they have come to pass, but also because I think they are relevant to my current profession in ecommerce.
Here’s the logic:
1. Throughout history, artists and creative people have generally been paid poorly and have not been recognized by society, especially when alive. Not only was that because their work at its best threatened the status quo; it is also because artists were totally dependent on distributors and promoters (galleries, theatres, studio executives, the record industry, the Catholic Church) to sell their product.
2. In the last century, as leisure time increased, and offered higher rewards to artists in the form of monetary compensation, global fame, influence, and of course the ability to attract an equally powerful and attractive mate, there are more people entering creative fields. However the demand did not scale as fast as the supply due to control by those gatekeepers listed above. Thus, the competition is fierce in music, acting, and writing, which meant in the past, supply was high and prices/wages are low, except for those at the highest levels. It took a Madonna, U2, or Stephen King to become mass market and command their price.
3. The internet has altered that power dynamic forever. There are hundreds of cable channels, infinite internet opportunities, online bookstores, blogs, twitter feeds, movie theatres, etc. Which means distribution is essentially free, which means…
4. Of course, that content proliferates.
5. Lacking editorial or control of distribution, mediocre content will be lost in the new global cacophony. If you’re not good, you won’t have an audience.
6. Bad content will rarely see the light of day. Expect shorter shelf lives of tv shows, albums and software tools that don’t find an audience fast. (Thankfully 30 Rock somehow survived that--and remember that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip didn't)
7. Instead of just those mass market artists(which may not have been the most talented but rather the most marketable) making good money, now those who create good content for audiences large AND small should and will eventually name their price in the marketplace. You don’t have to be big to make good money, you just have to be GOOD. Think “Mad Men.” Think “Will it Blend?” Think “Dooce.”
8. Instead of having perpetually low wage costs for creative talent, companies like Disney should expect to see wages rise exponentially for their creative stars.
9. If you’re an artist, you better know if you’re good, and if you are, start demanding you be paid—don’t give it away for free.
10. Companies who employ these high value creatives should also plan to build knowledge management and retention/motivation systems to retain these people.
11. Thus the workplace should change: less structure for those people, more latitude for individual expression, ongoing training, less command and control and more rewards for creativity.
It turns out that without even having stepped foot in a technology company in 1999, what I wrote ended up applying directly to the top engineering talent in software development, for exactly the same reasons. With the proliferation of start ups and technology companies, no longer were the only buyers of engineering limited to the government, the military, and IBM. Thus wages rose and will continue to rise for the top knowledge workers. This is why companies like Microsoft are pushing so hard for H1-B visas. They are trying to keep supply costs low by hiring foreign labor that is willing to work for less than American labor.
Is that right? Does my logic make sense? What am I missing? Let me know in the comments.