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 In a networked economy, the concept of competing and winning may simply be outdated. Or perhaps, winning is not outdated, just the methods, measurements, and outcomes associated with it may be.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?

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