The Internet and the new information technologies are changing every aspect of our lives. Nothing seems to be immune to the effects of the virtual age: from language to architecture, to the economy.
One revolution conceals another
We could not better understand the revolution we are living through than by looking at the Dome of Florence. Five centuries ago, Brunelleschi managed to build the biggest completely self-supporting cupola in the world; and his record remains unbeaten. Four million bricks, arranged in a herring-bone pattern, are laid out one on top of the other. This self-supporting structure did not need to be sustained by a wooden centering during construction. Brunelleschi dared to take on the complexity of a challenge that consisted in raising a multitude of different shaped bricks up to 90 meters above the ground, with lifting machines that he had to invent himself! The Dome displays characteristics of our new immaterial society. The edifice’s value has nothing to do with the sum of its constituent parts’ values; it is definitely absolutely different from 4 million times the price of a brick! The value of the whole outweighs the value of the parts from which it is formed. This global value is generated by the organization of the bricks and by Brunelleschi’s genius; by his audacity as a visionary builder, his capability in organizing the on-site work and his capacity for sharing his passion and his belief with everyone involved – from Florentine notables right down to the men working on the construction site.
This describes the essential elements of a company’s capital: shared passion, intelligence and collective creativity. It is not created by simply adding together individual talents, but by enabling them to come together in harmony. Therefore, the immaterial elements of a company’s capital cannot be reduced (contrary to what is so often claimed) to information or knowledge – they contain all the motives of human decisions, the passions, values, mental models, courage and weaknesses… Once, this mobilization of intelligence and passions was necessary for the construction of cathedrals, today it has become indispensable for the production of anything within competitive economic conditions.
Why such a brutal break with the past? The causes lie in the increased complexity of problems and the explosion of knowledge. The marriage of these two factors creates a situation in which material resources are no longer decisive and the value-producing part is increasingly less physical. Work essentially becomes creativity and creation of significance, of human relationships. Furthermore, no single organization can expect to control the enormous wealth of talents necessary to construct an object, even a simple one – cooperation alone creates added value. For four centuries now the Italian districts have demonstrated the power of partnership between businesses, even between competitors. This once useful practice has today become, in a word, indispensable. The logic of partnership also imposes itself on the organizations and their members. It is impossible to obtain immaterial work through force. If the capital becomes human, man once again becomes capital! It is important to incite him to use his talents, enough so that the growth of individualism reinforces the needs of free will. It is also important to convince even the most competitive businesses to work with us, and also to convince the consumer so that he/she can buy throughout the world. Clients no longer buy technique – they buy solutions and services. All businesses, including those that produce materials, sell functions; that is to say, they sell that which is immaterial.
The importance of this digital revolution derives from the formidable impulse produced by this other, even more radical revolution: that of the immaterial. It is precisely the immaterial which is transmitted through the Internet. The multiplication of contacts increases creativity throughout the world. The Internet spreads information, ideas, passions, emotions and more, allowing both the best and the worst to appear. In the different articles in this issue of arcVision many strong tendencies appear quite clearly. Let us summarize four.
– Networks are above all instruments of collaboration; they favor working together, in so far as they reduce the effects of distance, diminishing the cost of the transaction. Through the Internet, networks of small or medium size business can compete with the biggest groups. The success of Dell over IBM and Compaq is entirely constructed on this factor which is, for example, leading the giants of the automobile industry to collaborate with each other in spite of their rivalries.
– These networks need coherence and the construction of standards becomes a strategic objective. This can lead to irresistible monopolies like that established by Microsoft Windows.
– These monopolies will be regularly challenged by technological progress, new players and by the reactions of consumer-citizens. In fact, the latter benefit from a capacity for coalition that is without precedent.
– Consumer-citizens, more informed than ever, will expect custom-fit services available any time any place. They will be more important than ever, and will require our capacity to understand them, to create with them.
The immaterial revolution, “doped” by the Internet, will be an economic and human Renaissance as long as we place the technical instruments at the service of pertinent and ambitious strategies.