We are living in the age of mass individualization. No two people get the same Google search result, see the same products on amazon.com, have the same Facebook feed or iTunes catalogue. Every smartphone is unique two minutes after its first boot.
We are living in an age where the new mega industries have all become personal services industries and the old incumbents are still struggling to put out a mass product at almost no margin or cost (e.g. digital news media, insurance, banks, bikes, cars, tooth picks etc.).
Future wealth lies not maximizing the efficiency of the value chain but in the individualization of every product, service and interaction.
The conflict emerging between the demands of customers and employees on the one side and the hostage taking of companies and organizations on the other is not new. It all bears clear historical preference, valuable to clarify what is happening and accepting the inevitability of some of the changes.
History repeats itself – the premium puzzle
Shoshana Zuboff studies the history of capitalism and finds there is a recurring wave affecting every generational shift. She coins this the premium puzzle, where people at each shift outgrow the companies they depend upon for consumption and employment. And where companies figure out how to unleash new wealth by breaking with the inbuilt sanity of the current market in order to accommodate the next. All in the name of offering what was before a premium to a larger market.
100 years ago the premium was all about cost, reducing the prize of luxury goods in order to accommodate a mass market. The pinnacle of this might be Scientific Management brought to us by F. W. Taylor in order to increase the efficiency of production. But, what is the nominator, the premium puzzle, for the current generation of capitalism?
The new premium puzzle is individualization. Personal services companies are the mega corporations of the second decade in the 21st century.
The premium puzzle is no longer about access to goods, but about individualization. People no longer accept being robbed of their identity or having to accommodate their needs and behaviors to the one dictated by a limited offer given by the current industry. They are increasingly demanding products not only tailored to them, but also demand that products exist in the markets that serve their needs.
The path forward seems to be more connected with forcing the technology to accommodate the individual customer, rather than forcing the customers to give up on their personal achievements and goals in order to collectively commit to the incumbents available technology.