That’s Cognitive Capitalism, baby.

That Genius of Karl Marx.

I must admit that a reductionist approach to complexity is definitely not the best starting point — and could lead us to wrong conclusions — but, however, a reasonable degree of simplification is necessary to understand the changes we live today in the world of products and services.

We often call it #sharingeconomy, on-demand economy; sometimes we use other definitions but, in reality, all these trends are co-generated by an endless series of collisions between socio-technological trend that we can try to classify in two different macro-groups.

Accelerating (technology) returns

The first among the key forces shaping our socio-economic times is the powerful technological acceleration well described by Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns. We live a society in which an exponentially growing number of interconnected devices connects all of our life situations, the era of “cloud computing”, that just plainly revolutionized the way we create services (making it substantially more affordable) and alongside of it new tools emerge that will help us understanding of the enormous amounts of data we generate. Just a few days ago, Google released its machinelearning engine Tensor Flow in opensource, enriching the, very large already, set of free tools that any company can use to build its innovations.

In addition to technology, our expectations are also changing

If technology redefines the world of “possible”, new ways of socialization and rising global discourses change the scenario of the “desirable”.

We are at the end of the generation that shaped the 20th century: baby boomers and the upcoming generation — or perhaps a new state of mind — is growing rapidly, with entirely new expectations, that of Millennials.

These new customers have new habits: they live in the city — or rather in cities, as they often are nomads in head and feet — are critical to consumption and realize that the world has made ​​its breakthrough in the age of complexity. These no-longer-just-consumers grew up in a socially and environmentally sensitive market , that is as well hyper connected and digitized: they are narcissistic and hedonistic and, at the same time, dramatically more interested in others than their parents. Millennials also relate to work, or maybe I should say income, in a different way.

As Stelio Verzera says, for them “work is not a place”.

In a beautiful recent piece Stephan Kasriel explained how these — increasingly independent — workers are motivated by many different reasons when confronted with the new economy of work:

“60 percent of freelancers said they started doing independent work more by choice than necessity, and 50 percent say that you couldn’t pay them any amount of money to take a traditional job. Why? Because they have far greater flexibility, enjoy being their own boss and many of them actually make more money than they would working for an employer.

If it’s true that many are choosing independent work and independence from corporate narratives (with corporate recruiting failing to motivate and find talent); others — or in many cases in parallel — look for other ways to monetize time and resources through the many digital, collaborative platforms for connecting, producing, sharing, reusing and renting.

But when they come back to play the “customer” role — or better that of the user — what do they expect? Quite simply, the highest level of experience and products and services that interact with them in a natural, modern, effective way.

Expectations towards products, services, and platforms…

In particular, as a starting point, I identified four key attributes that this new kind of “users” expect from products and services:

  • Personal: enabling the user, through her direct intervention, information or preferences, to create a custom solution, perfect for her needs
  • Relevant: fulfilling her needs in the moment and context they occur, in a relevant and precise manner, without her direct intervention
  • Human: relating with her in a friendly interpretable, understandable, accessible, sensible manner, considering her as a human being and not a “target”
  • Fast: quickly identifiable and accessible, possibly instantly
The Product Fitness Canvas has been presented at The Rethink Remix Experience in Milan and Barcelona in Nov. 2015

(You can download the product Fitness Canvas, available under Creative Commons from this link https://goo.gl/CSv0OI)

The customer experience becomes so critical that — as brilliantly summarized by Joseph Pine — it is a key dimension of how a company competes: or like Helge Tenno says in another effective reflection nowadays “the customer IS the strategy”

But above all, it is critical to understand that — on the background — the same definition of “customer” is changing. More and more companies win markets by seeing beyond the mere “consumer” role for the user and embrace “post-industrial” models moving from “organizing production” to “organizing interactions”.

These platform companies:

  • Adopt production models involving users (with both consumer and producer role) and other small entities in the ecosystem (businesses) and represent an alternative to the industrially organized and managed production (Taylorist)
  • Craft visions that are able to motivate all these entities to participate in the new co-production system (a “shaping strategy” as per John Hagel) and protect it
  • Build a technology platform and use it as a tool to access the potential of the ecosystem and generate an impact that it would be impossible to achieve with a traditional industrial strategy
Firms build platforms to access the potential of ecosystems and reach results beyond the firm’s limited potential.

These companies operate in the middle between a free competitive market and an industrial organization and they do it by organizing part of the production (through enabling services) and generating competition for higher quality and reputation in the rest of the system (through shared marketplaces).

This new breed of companies sits in the middle of two economic models

An identity crisis?

While bringing great fruits to many firms (or few, depending on your point of view) the evolution of the the firm towards a complex systems of collaborative production puts the firm itself at the core of an identity crisis.

If we look to the classification I made in the newly released Platform Design Toolkit 2.0 (www.platformdesigntoolkit.com, here’s the presentation post), when mapping “entities” involved in the “platform enabled” production model I identified no less than three different production entities:

  • The platform owners: those who own the platform and ensure its existence and evolution, in most cases directly employing staff and resources.
  • Producing peers: individuals and small entities that are interested in producing value through the platform, in exchange for money or other “currencies”
  • Partners: advanced value producers, individuals and entities that pursue greater professionalization and specialization and a closer relationship with the platform and its owners

While in some cases industrial services are also provided by the platform (owners) most of the time the bulk of the value produced on a platform is related to enabling services targeted to (potentially professionalizing) peers to help them improve their ability to create value, and make up their own economic prosperity.

With the gradual penetration of the platform model in niche and smaller professional markets, therefore, distinguish between providing products and services (outright) and enabling the creation of products and services will be increasingly difficult.

In many situations platforms will enable the realization of peer to peer transactions (exchanges) and complement it by industrialized, organized services: opportunities for learning and improvement for producers will exist in parallel with more traditional ways to confront with a brand (as a customer) and, at times, can be the same person interfacing with the platform with different roles over time.

Is then “customer experience” the right term to use? Shouldn’t we finally let go he “customer” narrative once and for all? To what extent we can really still make a difference between the human dimension of the user as a customer and the user as a participant, producer, collaborator and even, in some cases as an employee?

Isn’t it time to think of something more encompassing, like a whole “brand interaction experience”?

A revolution in human management

If customer/producer-is-king and we go from product-as-experiences to work-as-experience and eventually brand as experiences; existing organizations need to radically rethink their basic operating models.

With an effective point of view the aforementioned Verzera described days ago on the Huffington Post the different levels of change that a modern organization should pursue. Even if sometimes we focus on tools, processes and technologies (the fastest to change), it is much deeper that we need to look if we want to act on the important little things that, as John Hagel says, “put great things in motion”.

Rethinking the relationship between the brand as an organization and the human person which is at the heart of the production process (be it a customer, producer or employee), focusing on how to involve the whole person — in Laloux’s terms — including her creativity and passion, is today essential.

Empowered individuals can drive change and adaptation.

That’s Cognitive Capitalism, baby.

With incredible foresight, in the fragment on machines in the Grundrisse (of which I suggest this excellent reading from Carlo Vercellone) Marx laid down many of the phenomena we live today. Marx — that at the time could not do more than imagine the post-industrial economy, unlike us that live in it — hypothesized that the economy could be radically transformed by the a radical decrease in importance of (fixed capital) investments: more or less what we’re witnessing thanks to the effects of automation, algorithmization and the huge availability of an open and accessible Open Source knowledge base; an abundance of knowledge commons.

In this “general intellect” Marx saw a real new productive force that could undermine — or at least transform — the power structure between capital and labor, shifting focus from fixed capital investment to mobile capital residing in the (whole) person.

In the context of this crisis already Marx could see the need for capitalism to no longer consider the “worker” as a resource to be specialized, and restricted in a bureaucratic, linear and organized production process (see the concept of “human resources”) but to consider the human being as a whole — including its private sphere, relational and social — as an economic actor to extract value from. That is essentially what we are seeing when we look at how these production models overcome the boundaries of the organization to leverage on the outside, on the ecosystem, on the person as an productive entity “in society” and not separated from it.

It’s time to overcome the logic of conflict between cognitive capital and labor and begin to deal with — for example — redesigning our institutions of any kind to cope with current times. Perhaps this is the next big thing, exploring this dark matter: writing the future of an ecosystemic and socially enabled capitalism could be the business opportunity you’ve been looking for.

This is an english adaptation of an original article appeared on CheFuturo.