Will a new generation of Founders get it just right?
In 1999, as we headed towards New Year’s Eve to ring in the new millennium, I was as intrigued as anyone about Y2K. Would the clocks stop? Would the ball stop dropping? Were the Doomsday predictions right? We all had this expectation that everything could collapse in on itself. The technology we had created might fail us, turn on us …
But as the ball dropped and champagne glasses clinked, we began to realize that, perhaps, the Apocalypse wasn’t coming for us right then and there — it was as if we were given a free pass.
We could go wild.
Create, challenge conventionality, break things, build anew.
Redistribute, democratize, capitalize!
Connect, work, commute — all digitally.
Speed everything up.
Hide our insecurities, expose our vulnerabilities, and, with nothing more than a pointed finger, like, swipe and scroll through this new world…
Every action became lighter, simpler, faster and more convenient.
We saw technology as the promise we could take control, and we did.
I can’t imagine going back to life without an iPhone, asking Google everything, shopping on Amazon instead of doing just about any errand or being able to hop on the Peloton before my son wakes up in the morning. We can just app our way through the mundane bits and pieces of life and fast-forward to the “good stuff”.
But as I stop to take stock of just how far we’ve come in the first 20 years of the 21st century, I find myself wondering if all of this innovation has really changed us as humans for the better.
With all of this innovation, have we really created something new or have we just solved for new methods of distribution with Amazon, Spotify, and Netflix?
Have we really created connection or have we simply created new forms of distraction with Facebook or Instagram?
Have we understood that we’ve crowned new monarchies while forgetting we wanted democracies?
Have we even begun to realize the unintended consequences of it all or the price we are paying with our data?
Are we really getting to the “good stuff” in life, in business, and for the world, or have we just created a new set of systems that we are all in service of?
We’ve seen technology power a wave of innovation that has created new businesses and entire new industries, with progress unrivaled by any other time in history. But with it, we’ve become obsessed with the scale, and our sole metric has become growth. We’ve lost sight of the fundamentals of good business and created systems designed to maximize shareholder value at the expense of human impact. We’ve crowned new leaders because they could code, not because they had a higher order human ethics or ideals.
With it, we’ve given up so much power to the leaders of the companies who drive so much of our lives, but we don’t understand their intentions or motivations, and they certainly aren’t accountable to us, the consumers.
I’d propose that the focus of innovation needs to shift and that innovation as we’ve known it, is not the true opportunity of the future. To put it simply, technology has been outpacing the human condition and we need to create a new balance. We need to focus on innovation that not only creates value, but captures value for businesses, shareholders and, most critically, for the people participating in them.
Luckily, the shift has already started, and we’re seeing it come to life working with some of the Founders creating this next wave. These Founders are not the same — they are not pure technologists, but they understand the human condition — they have multidimensional human experiences and are focused on designing for empathy, connection and trust. They are building right-sized businesses that are equally as good for the business as the people who will use them. They have a clear human intention and are driven to live up to it.
At FNDR, we’ve identified three fundamental shifts the Founders of the next wave are creating:
1) A shift from Disruption to Adaptation. Rather than breaking down and reclaiming existing solutions, they are creating new innovation around the way we want to live. If the ethos of the last wave was “move fast and break things”, the ethos of the new wave is “move forward and make things.”
2) A shift from Distribution to Contribution. The first wave created never before seen access and methods of distribution. We have better, easier ways to get to the things we want, but did things fundamentally change? The next wave will succeed by solving for the content itself, not just for the way to get it.
3) And, finally, a shift from Distraction to Interaction. The first wave created platforms to capture our attention and capitalize on us. The next wave needs to live up to its original intent of creating real human connections and interactions — those that bring true value to the end user.
So as we wake up to a fresh decade, with renewed spirits and hope for a future filled with new opportunities, we need a new set of Founders to take up and lead the new wave. Maybe it won’t be as fast, or as big or as the last wave, but maybe that’s a good thing. I think we’ll all be better off for it.