real value comes from the choices we make

We call this the ‘information age’ and talk about the ‘attention economy.’ This harkens back to the old adage that ‘time is money,’ and becomes all the more true in the age of Google Adsense and social media marketing. As our News Feeds grow, our attention becomes more and more scarce therefore making it all the more valuable. Big and small business alike understand this and struggle to get noticed as the mass media era shrinks in our rear view mirrors.

This past week a Vanity Fair published an article about the rapidly increasing gap between between the America’s rich and poor. Check it out: Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

For most, the primary measure of wealth remains money. Although still a useful measure, it’s important that we keep in mind that access to actionable information is where the real wealth is in this day and age. It’s interesting then that the latest trend on the web is to create a public API (Application Programming Interface) for every data source we possibly can. This brings access to data down closer to the masses. As this trend continues, more and more people will have access to the kinds of big information wielded by major corporations.

These observations (amongst many others) leads me to a hypothesis. The ‘attention economy’ is only half the story when it comes to understanding business in the early 21st century. Attention does not create economic value in and of itself. It’s merely a way to conceptualize market traction in the information age. The real value comes from the choices we make. I’m going to restate this in bold.

In the information age, real economic value comes from the choices we make.

Information enables to to make better economic decisions. Big businesses realize this which is why they invest so much in big data. It gives them the power to monetize our attention. But if the real economic value comes from the choices we make, then it becomes clear that we’re not living in the attention economy. We’re living in the ‘Intention Economy’.

That sounds cool! Let’s google it: http://www.google.com/search?q=intention+economy

Sweet! A bunch of people who agree with me! A few quotes that stand out from the Doc Searls article in Linux Journal:

The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made. You don’t need advertising to make them.

The Intention Economy is about markets, not marketing. You don’t need marketing to make Intention Markets.

The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don’t have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase. Simple as that.

The Intention Economy is about buyers finding sellers, not sellers finding (or “capturing”) buyers.

How this relates to arts organizations from the Artful Manager blog:

Arts and cultural experiences are among the most personal and complex goods on offer. It might be time to embrace an upside-down view of the marketplace that begins with the person primed for action rather than our separate (though desperate) organizational needs to fill our spaces.

The intention economy isn’t yet obvious, but it’s already impacting our lives. Google for example has moved away from trying to understand your search term to trying to understand your intent because smarter search results get you where you want to go faster. They are also trying to make adsense more valuable by showing ads that may actually help meet a users needs.

But that’s Google. What about the rest of us? How do we operate within an Intention Economy? The answer may be simpler than you think. From the Assetmap Blog:

Each of us has more to give, and each of us has more to receive from the people and groups that care about us. Learning to ask for help is the central skill necessary to unlocking that opportunity. The implications are not just individuals finding more of what they need, but an across-the-board transformation in what people can achieve.

So far we have two ingredients here: Attention and Intention. Search and broadcast. As our data services and filters become more sophisticated, we are becoming better able to both state our needs and meet the needs of others.

I feel like I’m rambling a little, but here’s the question I’ve been asking myself: Is the ‘Intention Economy’ the next big thing? Is it the next stage in how the internet continues to change the way our world works? Can we use this knowledge to somehow bridge the growing income gap within our economy?

In writing this, I’ve come to a realization: Adding ‘Intention’ to the dialogue doesn’t tell the whole story either. What’s missing is Action.

So where does this leave us? Let’s review:

  • Real economic value comes from the choices we make.
  • Better information enables us to make better decisions.
  • Information technology enables us allocate our scarce attention (and therefore time and money) more efficiently by mapping our intentions to actionable information.
  • Economic growth occurs when exchanges of information leads to creative action.

And so let’s throw out both ‘Attention Economy’ and the ‘Intention Economy’ as useful terms and come back to the highly redundant ‘Creative Economy.’

Still, in this Creative Economy it’s those with access to big data and better information that win. So, what choices does this leave us? What choices do we want to make? What’s the next action?