Welcome to the Age of Many-to-Many
We are living in the age of many-to-many.
New, emerging, and ever-improving many-to-many capabilities are challenging and, in many cases, shattering established models and norms in education, media, health, entertainment, business, politics, relationships, lifestyles, values, and…
By “many-to-many” I simply mean the direct connectivity, in all senses of the word, of many things to many things: many-people-to-many-people, many-organizations-to-many-organizations, many-computers-to-many-computers, etc. It may not feel new or revolutionary, but in fact it’s a completely new characteristic of the human experience. The ability to rigorously, optimally, and directly connect many things to many things just arrived. The many-to-many revolution is happening now.
Networking between computers is still only a few decades new. The internet is still very new. Communication technologies that instantaneously and remotely connect many individuals to many other individuals are still very new. And by very new, I mean so new that the rest of society hasn’t had sufficient time to understand or adapt to what’s been happening.
Laws are out of date when it comes to ensuring the safety and security of people engaging in many-to-many activities and all that has been unleashed as a result. Education curricula, teaching models, and philosophies are out of date. Parenting best-practices are out of date. How we run election campaigns is out of date. IP laws and protections are out of date. How we get information and make decisions is out of date. How we run businesses, sell products, innovate, develop strategy—it’s all out of date. None of these things have caught up to the seismic shift of many-to-many.
The way things used to be, those glorious days of one-to-many or many-to-one, that’s history:
- The days when kids got all their learning through a single source, or a few, with it carefully doled out in a measured and carefully calculated way…those days are gone.
- The days when the media controlled the flow of news…those days are gone.
- The days when a handful of publishing houses controlled what we read…those days are gone.
- The days when everybody watched the same television shows and movies at the same time because they were delivered through a tightly controlled, regulated, and protected one-to-many entertainment stream…those days are gone.
- The days when what we could buy and at what price was controlled by a very small number of retailers…those days are gone.
- The days when everything we knew and everything we did in relation to our health was discussed with a single expert health practitioner…those days are gone.
- And the days when a scarce few smart people had to be relied on to inform us and help us make smart decisions for our businesses…those days will soon be gone too.
None of that is implicitly bad, or even bad at all in some cases. It’s just different and new now. It brings both threat and opportunity. But it does demand change from us, not resistance and regret that the good old days are gone and the world is passing us by.
Like dinosaurs glancing up at a meteor fast approaching the earth 66 million years ago, we can recognize that it’s all changing or about to change or we can go on nibbling vegetation and other dinosaurs while we wait to see what happens next.
Like Kodak did. Like Blockbuster did. Like taxi companies did and are doing.
Many-to-many technologies connect people to other people, on-demand. Nobody stands in the middle directing traffic and controlling who is saying what to whom. That’s fundamentally different from the human experience of the 1980s, and earlier.
The internet has made authors and journalists and musicians and comedians and health experts and Dr. Spocks and political analysts of the many for the many:
When my cat does something cute I can instantly share it with the world and simultaneously look at all the cute things everyone else’s cats have done in the last 24 hours.
When I need a drive somewhere, Uber has given me the opportunity to reach out to the many in the vicinity who have space in their car, each one of whom is concurrently reaching out to those in their vicinity who need a lift.
Do I need something now? Do I want to get rid of something this minute? I can simply enter my many-to-many marketplace and get it done without rising from my chair.
Imagine the possibilities and the implications.
So how is it that amidst all this change, we still haven’t managed to effectively tap into the power and promise of many-to-many when it comes to thinking about things, to planning, to developing strategy, and to making decisions about our businesses?
Why do we still outsource our biggest, most mission-critical thinking to the few? Why do we believe that we’ll get a better outcome using a tired and obsolete one-to-many (hub-and-spoke, for example) approach to business and organizational thinking, when the people inside and around us probably know a lot more about what’s going on than some outsider who is just as confounded as we are?
Why? Because many-to-many is so new when it comes to effectively tapping into nearby but latent talent for thinking about and deciding on things, that the business world still hasn’t made the switch. Most people don’t know you can do that. Most people don’t know that nut’s been cracked.
Communication technology, the internet, connected computers have brought us “collaboration platforms” that amount to file sharing, chats, and voting in and amongst distributed groups—but not thinking and deciding. Some people rushed to bring these capabilities to market, and many rushed to try them out, but in the rush, they fell far short. Tools were disappointing; people were disappointed and so they moved on.
Many-to-many, as applied to thinking and deciding, is very hard to do. It requires careful orchestration, technology, learnable but not widely available skills, behavioral protocols, etc. As with the internet, connected computing, and advanced communication technologies, many-to-many capabilities haven’t just been sitting around waiting to be used. Only after the hard work of designing and developing architectures, approaches, protocols, algorithms, technologies, and platforms is done, then many-to-many in its various forms can seem easy and can fall into common practice.
Only now is many-to-many entering the mainstream beliefs and writings of business leaders and influencers. The discourse is still at the “what?” and “why?” phase, but “how?” will be next.
For us, the evidence is in: Many-to-many is inevitable and it will and has broken many incumbent players and approaches. Orchestrating many-to-many interactions optimally, with discipline and focus, in smart ways and with elegant design—works. It unleashes the latent know-how, experience, influence, creativity, drive, and talent of the many in and around any ecosystem.
The many mobilized, the many committed, the many activated, the many with clarity, the many genuinely collaborating to find and execute on the right way forward—that will break the traditional consulting model. That will break-open the potential of your organization and break-down the walls you’ve been running into.
How will you seize the opportunity of many-to-many in transforming how you face and overcome the myriad of complex moving parts in and around your business?