Farrar's Faucet: A psychologist’s candid, productive and often humorous take on principled business behavior and better business outcomes.

Connected business in a flat world

If you read and believe the current hype you should be seeing the world as flat. The internet, shrinking economies of scale, outsourcing and even more efficient supply chain management have produced a “flat playing field” where everyone competes equally.

Although recent bestsellers have acknowledged that around half of the world lives in an “unflattened” economy, this is larely attributed to the pace of global development, with the issue being centralized in China, Africa and rural India.


Rapidly changing technology bombards people daily. Look at YouTube: Everyone can be their own movie director. Look at emails, newsletters, blogs and websites: Everyone can be a mass communicator. The real question is: “Why are millions of YouTubes, emails, blogs and newsletters completely unnoticed, while some are seen by everyone?”

Ask yourself this question if you want to change your thinking and commit to an actionable way of looking at business: “If the world is flat, what’s with all the spikes?”

The world may be flat, but it’s also full of spikes. A spike is a large and overwhelming variation from the average. Microsoft is a spike in the world of software producers. Starbucks produced a global spike in the way we purchase and drink coffee. Harry Potter represents a spike in the reading habits of children, and the likes of Lindsay Lohen and Jessica Simpson regularly produce spikes in the way we buy magazines and view the news. These spikes have six things in common.

  • Simple: Coffee that tastes better than anything else, an orphan who goes to school to learn magic. The best ideas can be expressed in the fewest words.
  • Powerful: One software for every personal computer. True spikes fully occupy their niche, like the “killer apps” of software designers.
  • Interesting: The ideas and applications that catch on contain an element of intrigue. They involve the mind and arouse curiosity.
  • unexpeKted: A spiky idea contains a novel twist of the kind to attract attention and keep it.
  • Emotional: People respond to emotions. Humans are wired to feel empathy and a sense of involvement with others.
  • Success stories: By definition spiky ideas are successful. They meet a need, and the other five elements of spikiness explain how they take off quickly and come to dominate.

Imagine these spikes as tidal waves in a sea of ordinary. They overwhelm their surroundings and competitors. You have to ride the waves or go under. Spikiness is how things are noticed and connected in an increasingly flat world.

Recognizing how spikes happen enables you to critically look at which waves you want to ride along with, and how to create spikes of your own. The main issue is to be purposeful and build appropriate connections.

Trust is the key.

In a flat world punctuated by sharp spikes building connections can be difficult. Everybody is looking to be a “trusted partner” but few can define trust in a simple actionable way. Competence and honesty are just the minimum you need. A fuller description of trust looks like this:

  • Can you do what you say? (Competent)
  • Will you do what you say? (Reliable)
  • Will I see what you do? (Open)
  • Will you do what you should? (Principled)

Competent, reliable, open, principled people are trusted. When we are trusted we can build powerful connections with others. Whether coaching senior executives or reviewing a marketing plan the four questions above always determine the extent to which the person or organization is trusted. People form an impression of whom they trust very quickly, trust can be destroyed equally quickly and regaining trust is long and difficult. While trust exists relationships generate a high trust dividend: things go more quickly, at less cost and with more satisfaction.

To do business in a flat world see the spikes, ride the waves, and build connections with trust.

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