We live in the 21st century, but we talk like we have barely left the 19th century.
So why does this matter?
Because the language we use doesn’t just reflect our thoughts — it also shapes our thoughts. Many of our mental models, and the language that describes them, have outlived their usefulness and are limiting our ability to grow.
Take binary code, for instance. It sounds modern because computers, which are actually a collection of switches, use it. But depending on when you start counting, it’s either from the 9th century BC (I Ching), the 17th century (German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz), the 19th century (English mathematician George Boole created Boolean algebra with its yes/no operators in 1847) or the 20th century (Claude Shannon, an MIT grad student, realized in 1937 that Boolean algebra worked beautifully with electrical circuits).
The upshot is that something that still sounds modern is actually ancient — and mechanical.
Then everything changed. In 1998, our world stopped being mechanical and went down the rabbit hole. That was the year of the first quantum computer. That was the year something could be 1 and 0 at the same time, or something different altogether. And it was the year black and white stopped being a useful way to think.
We’re all still catching up.
Here are three examples of how, 20 years in, we’re still trapped in an industrial-age, binary way of thinking that no longer works and stunts our growth as entrepreneurs and humans.
The Broken Machines
Broken Machine #1: The Funnel
In marketing, “funnel “ is the word we use to describe the process of starting with lots of prospects, narrowing them to a few leads and narrowing them down again to deals. A clean, mechanical process.
The flaw in this machine is that it describes a linear journey with one point of entry and no exit except a sale. Put simply, it’s like a trap. The fish travel in; they don’t travel out.
That journey ended in the 20th century.
Friending and unfriending, liking and trolling, abandoned shopping carts, retargeting, inbound marketing — all of these things point to one truth: the customer journey is no longer linear. What I mean by this is that the modern customer is actually more like a quantum particle than a fish. These particles can be in two places at once, their paths unpredictable and circular.
In fact, they aren’t even just customers anymore. With their access to social networks and the intersection of personal and corporate branding, they have become hybrids: customer-suppliers. The YouTube star talking about your brand doesn’t fit any traditional binary model of “this or that.” And she isn’t moving through any funnel.
• Your customers are your partners. Design your interactions accordingly.
• Community building is a business model. Build a marketing system that makes it possible for humans to connect and create community.
• Tinder, where you swipe right to approve of a date prospect or left to disregard that person, isn’t a business model. In a modern business model, you want to create options for people to engage with your business other than just buying. Why? Because less than 10 per cent of your potential market is ready to buy right now, but you still want to keep them engaged. If you don’t offer them other ways to engage with you and get value, they’ll just slip out the side door. No one wants a relationship with someone who only wants one thing.
• Go for the second date. See beyond the sale to repeat sales and referrals. When your aim is a long-term relationship, something circular and synergistic, you’ll stop treating people like fish in a funnel trap and more like quantum particles.
Broken Machine #2: The Assembly Line
Formal education, careers, social standing and relationships: things used to go in straight lines. The universe was cause and effect: get a degree, get a good job. It was safe, comfortable, linear and black and white.
But we don’t live on assembly lines any- more. Today, nothing guarantees anything else. It might be Brownian motion, or an M.C. Escher drawing, or wabi sabi, but it isn’t an assembly line.
We’re at the edge of a new world of just-in-time, drop shipping, 3D printing, computer trading, Uber and Airbnb (infrastructure businesses without infrastructure), free MBAs, bitcoins, M-Pesa (financial transactions without banks or even accounts) and bearded men in plaid who can’t operate a chainsaw.
There is no guaranteed B after A.
• There’s no more gold watch. Assume most of what you learn will have a half-life of a year or two.
• Practise “beginner mind.” Run your business like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: act like every day is day one. My version: on day one, you have nothing and know nothing; on day two, you get comfortable and assume you’ve got this; on day three, you’re dead. Instead, wake up every morning assuming nothing and taking nothing for granted, or you will get comfortable and never see day four in your business.
Broken Machine #3: The Balance
Balances are machines built for a binary world, a place where things are this or that, black or white, now or later, good or bad.
Balances reflect and create binary thinking: employee or employer, work or life, right or wrong, right or left, here or there, customer or supplier.
As we enter the age of quantum computing, we’re reaching the end of a time when binary thinking is useful. Now, things and people can be more than one thing at once, or one crazy new thing, neither apple nor orange but the only fruit of its kind, unique and beautiful.
• Employer or employee? How about neither? Humans have been in civil societies for 5,000 years. We’ve had employees for about 300. It was a phase; we’ll get over it.
• Weekday or weekend? Prepare to replace the work/life model. Another product of industrialization, its end has come. If a human can’t find joy in it, a robot will be designed to do it. Growth and success will belong to those who understand that creativity and the creation of beauty are the industries we will return to. We don’t need weekends from that.
• Have cake or eat cake? Create an unbalanced life — a creative, entrepreneurial life. Solve problems, create delight. Make a difference and make money. When you are both consumer and producer, when DIY is not just a hobby but a life, having your cake and eating it too doesn’t pose a problem any- more.
The World After Machines
We are entering a world where chat bots are already talking to each other in languages humans don’t understand, where computing in parallel universes is not science fiction, where the biggest threat to Canadian manufacturing is no longer off-shoring to other human beings but to robots. Even “sacred” white-collar jobs like accounting and legal work will be done by robots and software within a decade. Amazon is delivering groceries to hotel rooms.
So who will thrive in this new era? Businesses that create value with employees and customers as partners and businesses that create trust and community through real leadership and delightful, creative experiences.
It’s time to stop dividing the world into 0s and 1s. Opportunity is neither here nor there — it’s everywhere.
This article is from the October/November 2017 issue.