I was sitting outside a wine bar with some friends a few weeks ago and we were going around the circle answering the question – “what are you most excited about right now?”
“Online publishing!” I blurted out.
Peter Thiel poses the question in his new book Zero to One– “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”
While I think the secret about online and self-publishing is out, I believe the scope and impact of it are still dramatically underestimated. What feels like a revolution today will in 20 years time be seen as the first baby steps towards something much larger.
From Simple-Industrial to Complex-Entrepreneurial
Causal opacity: it is hard to see the arrow from cause to consequence, making much of conventional methods of analysis, in addition to standard logic, inapplicable. As I said, the predictability of specific events is low, and it is such opacity that makes it low. Not only that, but because of nonlinearities, one needs higher visibility than with regular systems— instead what we have is opacity.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragile
As the systems that define and shape the modern world evolve to become more complex, we’re moving from a time where the frontier of advancement is knowledge to a time when the frontier is innovation.
From a time when the people that prosper are the ones that understand complicated systems to a time when the people that prosper are the ones that operate effectively in complex systems. (To understand the difference between complex and complicated, take a look at the Cynefin Framework image below.)
Recently, I tried mapping the last 300 years of economic development (Industrial Era->Knowledge Era->Entrepreneurial Era) to the Cynefin framework, a management tool developed in the last 10 years to help executives understand which domain they’re operating in to be able to make effective decisions.
Simple = Industrial Economy = 1700-1900
Complicated = Knowledge Economy = 1900-2000
Complex = Entrepreneurial Economy = 2000-???
What we’re seeing now is a move out of the knowledge economy into the entrepreneurial economy. In a world where best practices are usually one Google search away and good practices are a search and a phone call away, the frontier for innovation moves to the complex domain.
Logic and knowledge alone are no longer effective at the frontiers of meaningful domains. They’re valuable in a complex system only to the extent you can combine them with experience to design new, innovative ways to create meaningful outcomes.
The American Diabetes Association vs. The Gym Owner with a Blog: Blogging For Business
If you look at pretty much all the innovation going on in the diet and fitness space right now, it’s coming from the front lines, not the well-funded institutions. While the people on the front lines are knowledgeable, the value of their knowledge is multiplied by the practice of their craft. Purely academic institutions watching from the sidelines can’t keep up with the practitioners’ innovation.
Who is the last person you met that said – “Wow! The American Diabetes Association Diet really changed my life!”?
Who is the last person you met that read some self-published book on Amazon or a blog by some personal trainer or forward thinking physician that said that?
I’ve yet to meet the former, but I probably meet the latter once a week.
Practitioners like Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Mark Hyman, and Ben Greenfield among many others are all running relatively small (for now) organizations compared to the ADA or FDA, but they’re generating exponentially better outcomes.
I meet people all the time whose lives have been profoundly changed by some blogger that I’ve never heard of.
Why is this?
Unlike the ADA or other large institutions, practitioners are forced to confront the realities of 2nd and 3rd order consequences and design around them to develop effective solutions to complex issues.
They go through the Cynefin framework’s “probe, sense, respond” iteration on a daily basis.
Sure, if you live in a bubble and are fed a 1200 calorie diet through a tube then you’ll lose weight. But you also won’t have any friends, won’t get any work done and will feel miserably hungry the whole time. It’s a non-functional solution that no one can actually stick to.
Contrast that with a trainer that’s working with a client everyday. If he prescribes some hyper-restrictive diet that the client can’t stick to, how long is that person going to stick around as a client?
The trainer and gym owner has skin in the game so he’s forced to confront the other facets of their reality to design something that works.
You can’t “think through” these sorts of issues in a purely academic way. You can certainly think through to a logical next step, but you don’t really know the full process until you go out and try it.
The Black Box Theory and The Rise of Practitioners
In a complex system, it’s difficult ( if not impossible), to causally explain something, but you can connect inputs with outputs.
In most cases, practitioners see what the inputs are what the outputs that those create are but still can’t explain the exact mechanisms.
If you went to a personal trainer and you lost 20lbs of fat and gained 20lbs of muscle, do you really care whether or not he can explain the exact mechanisms?
Probably not so much.
This is part of the reason people that thrive(d) in the knowledge economy struggle as entrepreneurs.
As someone that was “good” at school, a system designed to create knowledge workers, this was always my biggest struggle as an entrepreneur.
I have a tendency to seek understanding before action when the correct answer is Ready, Fire, Aim.
As we move deeper into the entrepreneurial economy, power will continue to shift increasingly from credentialed institutions to people with track records, interesting points of view, and publishing platforms.
Effective systems are unearthed by practitioners on the front lines and then only explained (or explained away) by “experts” in retrospect. May the narrative fallacies abound!
The Oncoming, Not-so-Long, Not-so-Slow Death of Credentialism
Credentialism is a relic of an era where transparency was the exception rather than the norm.
When information is poorly distributed, it makes sense to rely on institutions to credential people. The less transparent a market, the more imperfect it is.
Interestingly, one of the OGs of the modern corporation, John D. Rockefeller, had a father, Bill Rockefeller, that was more or less a conman.
He was an itinerant salesman that wandered around the then-unsettled American West in the late 19th century calling himself “Doc Rockefeller” and selling people elixirs that he knew didn’t work.
Given that reality, having a certification system monitored by third party institutions makes a lot of sense. There’s no way to tell when Doc Rockefeller shows up whether he can actually do what he promises or not.
It’s from that ecosystem that a lot of modern, knowledge-era credentialism arose.
Today, you could kill Doc Rockefeller’s business in a lazy Saturday afternoon with one two minute Youtube video called “Doc Rockefeller’s Snake Oil Review.”
In a world filled with blogging and Youtube, the margins and defensibility on the snake oil businesses are pretty thin and we don’t need big credentialing institutions to tell us that anymore.
On the other hand, the optionality and upside for people creating real value through meaningful outcomes are healthier and improving.
The Dramatic Optionality of Publishers
Coupled with the frontier of innovation moving from complicated to complex systems, the cost of information transparency is plummeting.
Gary Vaynerchuck is right – every single one of you is a media company.
As the practitioners are figuring out a lot of things that can’t be explained (or explained away) by more traditional institutions, there is a lollapalooza effect to the upside they gain.
Not only are they discovering more effective therapies, they stand to gain more from them because the cost of sharing those with others is so cheap now, they can go out and publish about this stuff.
The number of multi-million dollar businesses built on free publishing platforms like WordPress, Facebook, and iTunes is growing daily.
Robb Wolf started running a gym and now he’s an author, speaker, has a bunch of products for sale and the also runs a gym. The gym is what fed his understanding and let him be an effective practitioner and the publishing created new opportunities for him.
Gary Vaynerchuk, Basecamp (formerly Thirty Seven Signals), and Dave Ramsey are all first and foremost publishing brands. Sure, they have products as well, but the asset is the audience and their trust and attention.
Even as traditional publishing and media struggles to survive, publishing on the whole is going through a Renaissance and we’re still in the very early days.
Last Updated on July 30, 2019 by Taylor Pearson