And then there was One


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And then there was one.

From a competitive standpoint, this phrase conjures up images of one champion left among the many fallen. One champion bold enough, strong enough, and resilient enough to outlast everyone else.

The immortal words of Hall of Fame Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi come to mind:

“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour — his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear — is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.

However, in a networked age, is this mindset still relevant, or does the phrase “And then there was one” take on a completely different connotation?

Humans across the globe continue to assemble into one giant interconnected network, a network of one.

Social Network Growth

It’s imperative to recognize that this didn’t just happen with the creation and growth of facebook, or my space, friendster, or geocities before that. Civilization has been paving the way towards greater connectedness since the beginning of the 15th century, but more specifically over the last century. The printing press, telegraph, telephone, radio, and television paved the way for the internet. And the internet has paved the way for faster and richer connection and communication, which continues to outpace our comprehension of how to truly leverage these new technologies at mass scale.

In addition, this rapidly assembling network isn’t just humans. It includes machines as well. Assuming the current trajectory, there will ultimately be one interconnected global network of people, machinery, robots, appliances, cameras, smartphones, and devices and meters we haven’t quite conceived yet.

In my session at the CRM Evolution conference last week (and in a few previous presentations), I asked the question that I believe should be at the forefront of every executive’s mind:

“In a world where access to almost anyone and anything is available from almost anywhere…
and in many cases will be automatically recommended…
How will you compete and win?”

Reflecting on this question, I realize that I may actually also be captive to an old way of thinking. In a networked economy, the concept of competing and winning may simply be outdated. Or perhaps, winning is not outdated, just the methods, measurements, and outcomes associated with it may be.

In a networked economy, there are very few clear winners and losers, but nodes that contribute and prosper from participation in constantly evolving flows of value creation. The mindset that infers that business is a zero sum game may be on its way to extinction (especially when there is a seemingly limitless supply of global monetary currency).

Perhaps the better question to ask is:

“In a world where access to almost anyone and anything is available from almost anywhere…
and in many cases will be automatically recommended…
How will you continually create value in constantly evolving complex network?”

How are you and your organization responding to this rapidly descending inevitability?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Brian Vellmure
For more than a decade, Brian Vellmure has impacted hundreds of companies on their journey towards increased profitability through strategic customer focused initiatives. For more insightful thoughts and resources, please subscribe to Brian's blog by clicking here


  1. Brian, thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    Clearly we are moving into a more connected, digital/social world. But I wonder if we can extrapolate from the current trends to the future state you describe.

    We’ve had phones for a long time, and they have changed communications. Yet there is still nothing like a face-to-face meeting. Hand written notes now have impact (again) because so much of our communication has gone digital.

    At a conference recently I moderated a panel of millennials, all socially connected and digitally astute. Yet in questions about how they made buying decisions, contacting friends personally (via text message, phone or in-person) was still more popular than social media. Indeed, some recent research suggests that social networks aren’t all that influential for buying decisions.

    One problem is that all these connections are overwhelming. And there is evidence of social fatigue in Facebook, in particular. My son says he now prefers to interact with a close circle of real friends via text rather than spend hours on Facebook with virtual friends he really doesn’t know.

    Ten years ago we wouldn’t have predicted the digital/social trends we’re writing about now. I’m confident that the next 10 years will hold some surprises, too.

    All that said, one thing I’m willing to predict is that companies that really delight their customers with products and experiences will be the ones that succeed. That was true before, but the digital revolution has accelerated the creation of winners and losers.

  2. Bob,

    Thank you for taking the time to read and to comment.

    The central theme of this post actually transcends 1:1 communication channels, social media, buying decisions, and even business, for that matter.

    Your last sentence highlights a core principle: “…the digital revolution has accelerated the creation of winners and losers.” Except, perhaps revolution is not the right term. The pace of innovation has simply accelerated and will continue to accelerate exponentially if the last 100 years are any indicator. And, as I highlighted above, perhaps the very concepts of winning and losing are changing.

    Facebook will come and go, and we’ll see new ideas, organizations, and devices come and go in ever shorter timespans. We’re still working our way towards greater maturity and I sense that we’re still in the early stages. We’ve already begun to see patterns of rapid dominance followed by rapid irrelevance (see RIM, Nokia, Groupon, MySpace, etc.). I believe this pattern and trend may become even more pronounced and more volatile.

    Our interconnectedness is changing what’s possible, and eventually what’s necessary.

    Increasingly, we’re seeing the strict definitions of customer, vendor, and supplier blur. I know many scenarios where two companies are all three of the above in relationship to each other. They are participants in a value chain, an emerging and dynamic “ecosystem” that some would argue is increasingly similar to behaviors and characteristics of complex biological systems, neural networks, flocks, schools, and swarms of insects, where actors adapt and take on roles that are most required in that moment.

    While I believe customer experience and delight is obviously important, we’ve go to change the lens through which we’re peering at such terms as the constraints of industrial models limits the potential of what can truly be accomplished.

  3. OK, I see your point. There was a time when email systems were independent, and one email system couldn’t talk to another. Then bridges were built. Then standards were developed so that now it doesn’t matter what email system you use, they all work about the same.

    Would be nice to see something similar happen in social media, and maybe it will. But one big difference is that social networks are profit-seeking businesses that want to wall off their networks so they are the “one” that people end up at. All the better to sell ads.

    I don’t see why Facebook, Twitter etc. will want to cooperate even if consumers want one network. It will be a free for all for some time. The “bridging” may be done by 3rd party apps that aggregate activity across networks, to the extent that APIs allow that.

    You’re right that interconnections change what’s possible, but I don’t think they change what’s valuable. People don’t change as fast as technology.


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