A peek into our plentiful world

In today’s economy of abundance, new technologies offer us an ever-widening range of brands and service providers to choose from.

We live in a world with an abundance of choice. Want to relax and watch a movie? No problem. Tune into Netflix, Shomi, CraveTV, iTunes or Kodi. Want to buy a used bike? Easy. Search Kijiji, eBay or Craigslist. If you don’t know exactly what you want, watch out. There are thousands of options available to you and you’ll have to figure out how to narrow them down. Welcome to our world of abundance.

We are no longer limited by geography, shelf space or warehousing capacity. The old-world economic principles based on scarcity are being disrupted by our world of wealth and we are witnessing this all around us. Today, the advantages from economies of scale are even available to the manufacturer of Scottish competitive dance team kilts.

Some time ago I read an article by Chris Anderson in Wired magazine titled “The Long Tail” that had a profound influence on my view of our technology-centred economy. Turns out I wasn’t alone. This article, his followup book of the same name and his subsequent book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, are some of the most influential and read works on the economy of abundance.

The term “long tail” refers to the shape of a graph showing sales to product offerings. Offering only a few products creates a short tail, whereas many products create a long tail. Take beer sales by brand in Canada, for example. Thirty years ago there were only a few brands available, producing a short sales-by-brand graph. Now, due to the explosion of microbreweries, the beer sales-by-brand tail is much longer.

Anderson identifies three key forces that constitute the foundation for today’s abundance-based economy: placing the tools of production into everyone’s hands; cutting the cost of distribution; and connecting supply and demand.

The most obvious example of widespread production capacity is the computing power now available to all of us. Windows 10 hit the market (see “The Latest Game-Changer,” August) and in future columns we’ll explore its far-reaching influence on our interchangeable use of desktops, notebooks, tablets and phones. Technology is also creating countless opportunities for professional development and knowledge refinement training via both public Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) offerings and individual on-demand products. New collaboration techniques taking root in the latest versions of Office 365 Office Groups, Skype for Business, Yammer communications and Office Delve will change the way we work. Stay tuned.

Growing efficiencies in distribution are also creating opportunities for the profession. Very few of us need to develop unique distribution channels; we simply need to use those channels that are already available. Keeping in mind that a bulk of our profession’s true product is expert content, future columns will examine the power of cloud-based platforms such as YouTube channels, Office OneDrive and SharePoint portals.

The third and final pillar of the long tail is the ability to connect supply and demand. In short, when presented with hundreds of choices, how do we decide on a specific beer? We do what people have always done: we seek advice and talk to each other. Our social networks also provide us recommendations, likes, favourites and comments. The next step, then, is to shorten the long tail of opinions by searching profiles and connecting information for a tighter fit. So we filter our choices from beer to ales, lagers or stouts. Then we refine our ales to IPA, red, brown and blond. Part of the emerging collaboration technologies that we will visit in future columns addresses just that.

And believe me, when you are searching for someone to help edit the default setting of a Word table cell or to determine payroll withholding tax required on a lump-sum retirement payment, you will want the expertise provided by the long tail of choices that our abundant world offers. Stick around as we explore these and other emerging technologies.