Rather than be cowed by the idea of the new economy, we should be pro-active and participate in it. Acquire the necessary skill sets and thrive! Contrary to most expectations, the new economy isn’t so much about new technology. It is about knowledge, and hence it is sometimes called the knowledge economy. Someone who can learn, organise and apply knowledge faster than others can thrive easily in the New Economy.

The late American inventor and philosopher, R Buckminster Fuller, once mentioned, “The only failure is the failure to participate.” He may have been referring to the New Economy, because in the New Economy, many things happen at the same time, such that there isn’t anyone who can track all that has happened. Also, things are happening so fast that certain information have already expired when you receive it.

The only way to keep abreast of the times is to participate in what is happening around you. There are three areas a person has to work on if he is to truly participate in the New Economy – technology and its applications, networking and interpersonal skills, and mindsets, beliefs and attitudes.

Technology and Its Applications

The common misconception is that everybody would need to get a degree in information technology (IT) or the life sciences in order to secure a job in the future. Fortunately for us, what we need is to find out the nature of each new technology that emerges and its applications.

For example, the nature of the Internet is that it is the most efficient way to communicate, distribute and transact, anywhere in the world. It eliminates most of the constraints imposed by geographic distance and time zones, and can be integrated with a computer system to store all online activities in a database for analysis and action later.

E-mail is a good way to save on long distance phone calls. You can also use software to sort groups of people you know, such as your classmates, pen-pals, close friends and acquaintances, and customise your e-mail to each group. In business, you can use the integrated features of the Internet to tell you who your best customers are, what they buy, how much they buy, etc. You can then customise e-mail and faxes that are directed at various groups of customers at very low costs.

The 19th century sociologist Max Weber pointed out that new technology is created because there are certain things that current technology cannot achieve. It may be a long haul but participating in the race for knowledge is necessary for survival. While this new technology may create some breakthroughs resulting in newer technologies, such breakthroughs will give us value only if we can understand its nature and find uses for it.

A case in point is Du Pont’s invention of a synthetic fibre in the early 70s, called Kevlar. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that some people finally understood the nature of Kevlar – strong, light and flexible – and used it to make bullet-proof vests and helmets.

Others understood its waterproof property and used it to make canoes, snowboards, motorcycle bodies, etc. Du Pont knew everything about Kevlar, but it took some other people to find applications for it. Hence, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to find out what you can do with rockets. It’s the same with IT and the life sciences.

Networking and Interpersonal Skills

Networking between people can be the surest way to find business partners, investors, suppliers, customers, and even help you get the job you’ve always been dreaming of. Networking is not a new concept. Traders and merchants from countries and regions as diverse as India, China, Arabia and Europe had relied on personal networks to trade and build businesses for hundreds of years. As the legal institutions of the time were not very advanced, merchants would only deal with people whom they know well, so as to avoid fraud.

Part of networking is the building of interpersonal relationships, and this will take some time. It should start before you even see the need for it. As best-selling author Harvey MacKay puts it, “Dig your well before you are thirsty.” But why network, when we have access to all kinds of information globally via the Internet, including checking on a person’s reliability? The fact is most venture capitalists will not even look at a business plan unless it was given by someone they know personally, or by a referral through their friends.

Having strong networks can help you gain access to information that even the Internet does not have access to. You’ll have access to collective wisdom, that is, the combined knowledge of every individual in the network. Now if you want to find an application for a new technology, knowledge or idea, your network may just provide you with the answer you’ve been searching for. Networking can take place in clubs, associations, at talks, seminars, events, schools and the workplace.

Mindsets, Beliefs and Attitudes

It used to be drummed into us that we had to study hard to get a degree so that we could get a well-paying job. True, the salary gap between a degree and non-degree holder in the past was huge, but nowadays, the gap has narrowed. Having a degree does not ensure success in life but if you attend university you will learn about the nature of technology (and other things), and you will get a chance to network and test ideas.

Corporations nowadays are getting flatter, which means chances of promotion are smaller, so it may not be a bad idea to consider being an entrepreneur, setting up your own shop and being your own boss. It doesn’t take a lot of money, experience nor expertise to be an entrepreneur. While some experience in the field is needed, the key ingredients will be your understanding of technology, adequate insight about the market, and the strength of your network. You can gain access to capital, customers, suppliers, loans and just about everything you need to start your business.

I have a friend who sells supermarket plastic bags to France. My friend had lived in France for a number of years, so she has a network there. The average annual sales turnover for her business in the last five years is US$2 million (S$3.61 million) to US$3 million. Her costs? The bags are outsourced for manufacture in Malaysia, where labour is relatively cheap. And she has only two staff in the office: her husband and herself.

My point is it really doesn’t take a lot of money, experience, expertise, or even risk to start a profitable business. This brings me to the beliefs we hold about money. While it is true that money does not grow on trees, it is not as difficult to earn as it’s made out to be.

How much money we can make depends on the value we provide to others.

If you are able to provide more value, and educate your customers that you are providing a lot more value compared to others, you’ll probably make more money than others, whether you are a businessman or an employee. Isn’t this the main reason that you get promoted and rewarded at your job as well?

I believe that there is no such thing as the new or old Economy. The same principles of effort, diligence, thrift, demand and supply, etc. apply in the two notions of the economy. What is new is that things are moving faster, and knowledge is growing at an exponential rate. We have to change certain aspects of our lives because we can build certain skill sets that will help us thrive in an ever-changing world. The important thing is to dig your well before you are thirsty, so participate before it gets too late. If you do that, a whole new world awaits you.

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