Talking about a revolution

Are you a revolutionary? Do you have nothing to lose but your chains? Do you believe in the collective? Is it a case of share or die?

In my rebellious youth I believed that revolutions were sudden shifts in group think. We would suffer under the yoke of oppression and then, as if by magic, leaders would emerge from the jungle and lead the uprising. In quick order the radio stations would be captured and the glorious news would be broadcast to the huddled masses who would leave their hiding places and celebrate by dancing in the streets.

Oh sure, this romantic vision of a revolution would leave out the messy aftermath, the former leaders stood against the wall and shot, or the inevitable purges to eliminate any potential challengers to the new regime.

However, in real life revolutions are much more subtle. Insidiously they creep up on us and for those who do not recognize the signs soon enough they will be devastating. For example, look at the American auto industry. Since the early part of the 20th century Detroit ruled. Ford, Chrysler and General Motors owned the top three spots in production and sales. Other challengers came and went or were absorbed through the years – Nash, America Motors, Packard. But the big three continued to grow unabated.

They built big cars for American families. In the 1950’s with the rise of the interstate highway system travel by automobile really took off. Suddenly, everyone owned a car and drove everywhere. And why not? Gas was cheap and the roads were safe. People moved out of the cities and into the suburbs and traveled back and forth to work by car.

Life was good! Well, until the gasoline supply became an issue in the 1970’s. Suddenly fuel became more expensive and in short supply. You know the rest of the story, the perfect storm of fuel economy, quality, vehicle safety and crippling health care benefits for their workers drove the American car makers to the brink of extinction.

Meanwhile, Japanese auto makers, primarily Toyota and Honda, who had the perspective of expensive fuel costs and the culture of listening to their customers and constantly improving quality, started to flourish.

And now, the once great American auto industry is literally fighting for its life. Of course, it didn’t need to happen. Call it arrogance on the part of the auto company leadership, or lack of vision, or not recognizing the signs of a revolution until you are being lined up against the wall.

Now the revolution threatens to consume tens of thousands of American auto workers’ jobs and reduce household brands such as Ford to fond memories.

The landscape is littered with stories of large companies with a lack of vision – think of IBM licensing DOS from Bill Gates because they were only interested in manufacturing computer hardware.

Right now if I was working in the entertainment industry – television, movies and music – I’d be seriously looking over my shoulder. In this industry, revolution is definitely under way. As the mass entertainment companies fight desperately to keep command and control of their intellectual properties, the people are rising up to seize them. And the more that the mass entertainment industry resists the faster the revolution will overwhelm them.

The funny thing about revolutions is that they are organic and can grow at astonishing speed. Think of the rise of Napster and the damage it did to the traditional music industry model.

The people will not be held back – they want to collaborate and contribute, to interact and improve – and if you stand in their way, you will be the next against the wall.

A milestone today – Mohammed Ali turns 65. Happy Birthday Champ.

Posted to Sparkplug Copyright by Peter McGarvey 2007.

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