Brandon Cheung | October 27, 2011
Have you ever wondered what the archeologists of the next generation will find?
In an age where most of our intelligence is stored in 1′s and 0′s in a field full of servers out in the middle of nowhere, what will we have left behind? Previous societies have left us with hieroglyphics, songs, paintings, artifacts, and books. These creations allowed us to look back on human history and understand behaviours and beliefs during those times and how they’ve impacted generations forward. What story will the yottabytes of data tell about us?
I fear that we’re in an age where we create more noise and less meaningful impact. Statistics say that 30 billion pieces of content are shared each month on Facebook. This would lead you to believe that we’re in the golden Age of Creation. But I’m not convinced that we really are.
Of these 30 billion pieces of content, comprised of web links, status updates, blog posts, and photos, we’re doing a lot more sharing than we are creating. We’ve become very adept at listening and finding other people’s creations and bringing them to the forefront. We’ll often add our own commentary. But we’re not creating.
We’re constantly inspired but never acting. For every moment we’re inspired with a new idea, we’re equally paralysed by a myriad of choices to pursue the next idea. Look at how many times we change jobs in an average career compared to the generation before us.
We are closer to the Age of Distraction than we are to the Age of Creation. We don’t create with the same level of depth as we used to. We deliver in shorter formats – web video, short stories, and blogs. Our attention spans are shorter as there’s more to see and less time to see it all. It’s a vicious cycle that’s creating a void of real innovation.
Lately, there’s been a lot of wisdom floating around from the late Steve Jobs since his passing. There are two quotes in particular that touch on this void that I speak of.
The first came from an interview he did with Playboy in 1985:
“Most of the time, we’re taking things. Neither you nor I made the clothes we wear; we don’t make the food or grow the foods we eat; we use a language that was developed by other people; we use another society’s mathematics. Very rarely do we get a chance to put something back into that pool. I think we have that opportunity now. And no, we don’t know where it will lead. We just know there’s something much bigger than any of us here.”
The second came from an interview with Fortune in 2008:
“People think focus is saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”
There are two lessons to learn here:
1. With all of the collaborative tools around us (that we’ve taken from others) we hold a tremendous responsibility to create something meaningful. Progression does not come without invention. We have no excuses.
2. Single-minded focus is a lost art. Ignoring the distractions is more important than trying to consume everything around you.
It boils down to this challenge: Let’s not be remembered as a generation of takers.
Brands of today are not excluded from this challenge. Brands must also make something meaningful. If you think about it, most businesses get trapped in a cycle of ‘following best practice’ or ‘modeling after excellence’, which are just nice ways of framing conservative actions. We constantly make incremental improvements to the old models before us. But the most innovative companies leave their mark by creating something genuinely new. They break the old cycle and start a new cycle. The greatest inventors before us had conviction in their creations, even when they failed.
So again I ask, what will the archeologists find from us?
Let’s be remembered for more than the 1′s and 0′s we’ve left behind in an empty field. Let’s live up to the legacy of the great artists, inventors, and humanitarians before us.
“You have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” – anonymous
Some may say we were the Age of Digital or even the Age of Information. I’d prefer to say we are the Age of Invention, just like every generation before us.