Tuesdays with a farmer - The Emerging Power of Incremental Action in a Networked World

If you look at the Old era, you had the idea of pre-requisites: necessary and sufficient factors. If you had those, you can be successful. Work happened around them. Pre-requisites of power which ensured power.  If you had the money, knew the right connections, belonged to the right family, you could get to power Why did this happen? You needed access to capital/information so that you could get means of production or broadcast. 
There was no unsuccessful highly capitalized business. You had to be really stupid to do that.
This picture is a good symbol of the power of pre-requisites.  Unfortunately, there was no place to write: We just screw around your health. Actually, McDonalds has a pamphlet which tells why  it is healthy to eat their food. I mean, humour is good.But...

I don’t know if you have read Fast Food Nation. There is an inscription of your standard strawberry milk-shake in the book. The lovable, lovely milk-shake. It contains 59 laboratory made synthetic ingredients. When you read out the names of all those, you are wrecked. There is nothing fruit-like in it because it is completely dominated by the flavoring industry which is one of the most riotous and profitable industries. One of the ways you know if this is really your food is your taste buds. They have put in chemicals which make it seem like your food. They can make it taste like anything. You can eat it thinking it is amazing, healthy food. It has only the synthetic part of that particular taste. Rest of it is completely junk.  They’ve unbundled the taste from the food. 

What happened in the previous era was: You had to fully conceptualize, structure and completely make the product ready before you can make profit out of it. Nobody but a rich man could do that. You always had entrepreneurs who had great ideas, but couldn’t do anything because it had to be capitalized before it could be marketized or productized. All of that had to happen first. It ensured that the competitive barrier is up forever. The more the capital was required, lesser the chance that any entrepreneur could  ever do it.  Those who ran these big companies were far from being entrepreneurs. They were very well established businessmen who had no sense of entrepreneurship. They worked to ensure that no body got it. 

If you ever get into investment banking, you would notice that it's akin to an internal conspiracy. It's no big deal. But they will keep the barrier so high that normal people are palled by the idea. Within three or four months of working, you would know what’s going on. They would have amazingly plush offices with Armani suits, so forbidable that you actually feel very little worth the 3 or 4 % that you take, each time you make the transaction. Those who get in know that they will never get a good deal.  So they work their ass off. Those who are out are always salivating. This ensures that no body gets in. There are no new investment bankers. There are only big, old investment bankers. 
 The good thing that started happening in the recent times is that they had to give away part of their worth as it wasn’t getting funded anymore. Until recently, they gave the mechanical operations. And now, for the past two years, some of the big guys are actually giving away those which they would never outsource. 

The glamor out of  investment banking would wean away in few years. Maybe, these are the last few years where you would see big investment bankers hogging the limelight. The crux of it, which was really secret, how do you do the valuations,  is now found. There are hundreds of bankers in India, Korea doing the valuations. Once it comes out, it is no big deal.
You had to do it upfront, which made it difficult. Thus, business was in concept. It doesnt  have amazing ppts which would make it look impressive than it actually is. The small guy,  who doesn't have money to buy broadcast, is kicked out of the market. In the old era, evolution happened in steps, which meant that for long time nothing great really happened. It was never continuous. As a result, products had long life-cycle and they lasted forever.  We are at a time today when there is a shift occurring over what happened over the last five decades and what is likely to happen over the next twenty-thirty years. 

What is emerging??
This picture, where everything is everywhere, gives us a glimpse of what's emerging. 

The curious case of incremental action 

If you observe nature , every action is incremental.  There are no massive changes, except at very small places. The most fabulous evolution happened because of small changes happening over a period of time.

Those changes are not the result of an individual's decision. The environment necessitates them at a specific point of time. It is tuned to the requirement of the environment. It makes stability distant. You may have seen how the size of animal often keeps changing over a long period of time.  Take the example of a rat. 

If you put pesticide on a rat, with its mutation rate of 25 generations( almost equals to five years) , it would be able to digest it.  In about five years, the rat has been able to completely digest the pesticide. It is no more inhibited to it. Over the twenty five generations,  it has been able to change itself slowly, responding to the circumstances. The way our environment is now polluted with that poison, rat will change quickly We humans will take much longer. We will take thousands of years to shift into a small change. We will take in really slowly. Which is really bad because the changes outside are really fast.  We are in bad shape because our bodies are not used to so much change. So that’s bad for us. But rest of the nature quickly mutates.

Student: When we read about people getting stranded in wild places like Amazon Forests, we hear about how their bodies get used to eating wild foods which they wouldn’t normally eat. So, aren’t we seeing changes happening within the human body in short period of time?

Farmer:  There is a range of change you can body can tolerate. It is very small. Humans can survive in small rates of change. If temperature goes up two to three degrees continuously, you will die like a fly. Basic changes cannot happen. You may have survival changes. Just now, if I need to eat an animal, I would probably eat it. But if it means changing the way my lungs breathe , it would take ages.  We want to change fast enough.  But the likelihood is very low.

The fundamental nature of action in a networked world is incremental.It works on living feedback cycles.  What is happening now decides what I should do now, as supposed to where I decide everything upfront and make sure that it is pushed through the system whether the system is happy or not. This is the true difference.

Here is really the mechanics.   
 1) Start with what you have: What's intrinsic?
 2) Develop relationships in your arena
 3) Add to what you have
 4) Become more...Offer more...
Start with what you have. You really can’t start with what you don’t have. If you don’t have,  forget about it. What’s really intrinsic. You create relationships around that.  You can appreciate it in the context of career design.

Career Design
 One of the problems of the Old era was, we had upfront investment in education.  Your product was created based on it. Depending on which school you came from, say, if you are from Harvard Business School  or IIMs, you had  sufficient capital. People will fund you. They have the expectation that you will go up the ladder. The problem is, if you don’t have that capital, you are struggling. Whatever you have is not sufficient.

Upfront was invested in the capital of your education, which continued to reap its benefits.  The problem was, if it wasn’t there, you could be screwed for life for long time.  Thus there was pressure to make sure that you got that capital right. You made sure you got your tenth standard marks, twelfth standard marks, engineering marks, MBA grades  right. It made sure you’ve invested your capital upfront, as you are never going to invest in that capital again.

The truth now, however,seems like,more importantly, what do you have to offer. I don’t care whether you have degree or not. What is that you have to offer? I don’t really care whether you are qualified from the best business school or not.

I would be really afraid to take if you are from the best business school, as you would have the bad habits of being in a business school. You would keep collecting the capital and keep getting dividend from it over and over again. 

Once you know what your area is, create good relationships around that. 

Let me share a personal experience. A very close friend of mine was keen to work in the area of exhibitions. He ran an exhibition company. Close to his school was the world’s biggest exhibition company which organized tech exhibitions in the US. During his first semester, he wrote to them asking them, if he could, in anyway, help them in their business. The president of the company got to read the letter. He wasn’t asking for any job.  He was just asking if there is any work they would like to give to him.

Over the period of time, they started sending some work. At the end of term, he decided to do his internship there. He created a network of relationships in his area of interest. At the end of internship, he was offered a job. The idea is to continue to work with what you have.  If you have interest in this field, go deep into that field. 

It doesn’t make sense to take yourself out of that,  do a bad job and then start looking for job somewhere else. The  idea is to create a whole sense of relationship. This is what small companies have been able to do. They have something good with them. What do they need to complete for this product/service to be?  Rather than having all by yourself, it is better to partner with somebody.

I really can’t see why some of you couldn’t get together and create a product or a great company. It doesn’t need to be like an official company that has a new York stock exchange quotation. It just needs to be somebody who is putting together something useful to somebody in the world and gets paid. Lot of people do this from campus.

As you become more, you offer more. 
As I narrated in the story, as he grew up with the company, he had much more to offer. It is just a small incremental action.  It makes getting a job, not an event but a process. Don’t ever look for job. Start looking for work which you like. Discovering that may be a process.
You don’t even know what you like to do. As you do more stuff, you can figure out whether it interests you.  You can go deeper into it later. 

This is really  how nature works. 
It connects little, it absorbs  what is required, and then it is able to change the response. It causes the connection to go deeper. It's straightforward. Its how any feedback loop works. 
That’s how lot of businesses are creating new products.

Infinite starting points arise out of it. There is no particular way. Among such points, company looks like this just now. How will it look to be in the future? We have no clue. Because there are hundreds of ways to get to that state. 

 Linkages based on value exchange
Somebody else has what you don't have. Meeting and tying up with him makes sense. There are hundreds of companies who want energetic people who can come up with solutions which they have not thought of. Those aren't the ones who are going to come on campus.  Such firms are against the idea of going to a campus for recruitment. But you will be awed with the work they do, if only you took the trouble to find them. The real linkage will enable both of you to get really amazing kind of relationships.  Value accrued should be close to the effort. What is  really happening now is, you tend to put in so much of effort. But nothing comes out of it. This is because it has no value for them. Most of the internships are in companies where they really don’t give a shit. They simply want cheap labour. It suffices the need to write a report that they have picked up interns and all did amazing jobs. This is no good for anyone.  You simply wasted two months. At the end of it, all you have to write is just one line, and some lies about what you did there. 

Continuous evolution 
You don’t stay on one plane. You keep moving. And everyone’s welcome. There is no end to what kind of size you can grow up. While this is true of individuals, this is exactly true of companies too. Small and big companies are growing up the same way. There is no  exception because you don’t need to do more than incremental action. 

 If you look at what Google has done over the years, you would realize what they have actually done. They created infinite starting points.  Where they are right now is their current starting point.  Hundreds of different ways where they have extended who they are. They have grown by real linkages to all the people who have been part of Google.

Whenever value has accrued, they ensured they put effort. When they put the effort, they make sure their search engine works further better. They make sure their Adwords work better and better.  Which makes sure everybody makes money.This is one of the first time in man’s history that what applies to the biggest entity, applies to the single unit.   There is no difference. You don’t really need to be a big guy to begin with. Even if you are a big guy, you can still follow the same rules and remain as flexible.