Agency Reconsidered

Disruption is a very popular word these days. Tech startups especially like to talk about disrupting an industry. And we usually think of disruption that replaces human effort or mechanical effort with digital tools.

It might be more effective to think of disruption in terms of stories. In the old days, stories moved at a relatively sluggish pace. So, when Ford and GM started the story of consumers buying cars, they were able to dominate that story line for at least half a century. At some point, however, the story changed. It changed because Japanese car makers were able to offer something that car buyers thought was better. The market was disrupted.

These days, stories move faster. So Apple under Steve Jobs got into the mobile device market and started a new story around music with the Ipod, then around communication with the Iphone and then around content distribution with the Ipad. And the story of what people want from mobile devices got very interesting very fast.

If you are a Steve Jobs, this is a “master of the universe” type of game. But most of us are not like Steve. Most of us have our noses stuck deeply into our own stories. We are too preoccupied with these to think deeply about larger story lines.  Ooops!

Does this mean that we will miss out? It might. But then again, it might not — if we had a tool to help us connect to larger stories. What type of tool is that? It is not a digital tool like search. It is a human whose productivity is enhanced with digital tools. It is an agent.

Here is an example of how agency works in the digital age.  An agent beings human skills to the table — in other words, a human can understand the story line.

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