I just came across a fantastic interview with Stanford Professor and futurist Paul Saffo who talks about how we have moved from the Producer Economy (from about 1900 – 1950) to the Consumer Economy (fueled by Advertising and Marketing ) (from about 1950 till about 3 months ago (!)) and to the Creator economy, which we are entering right now.

According to Saffo the Producer Economy was preoccupied by overcoming the scarcity of making stuff. It ended after the WW2 when firms realized they could make more stuff than people wanted.The next economy was dominated by the introduction of the credit card – and it was less about the workers who produced than the consumers who purchased the goods and services. Power shifted to those who created desire which pushed sales/ marketing (and especially advertising) to the forefront of the purchase process.

Interestingly enough he highlights that in the Producer economy the promise was abundance but actually scarcity was the key motivator in the continuing goal of producing more goods and services.
In the Consumer Economy, the mantra was buy more, then repeat. And we all know now that endgame.

The fundamental difference he outlines in the creator economy is that the fundamental actor is the person who neither just produces nor consumes but does both in the same single act. People can create value without it costing anything and its all about interactivity. Google, YouTube, Wikipedia all exist as part of this new economy.

He continues to detail the rise of the City State (not the Nation State which was prevalent up till now) and how mega regions will start to define how economic decisions are made in the future. As interests fragment keeping nations together with an incredibly diverse population will increasingly difficult. But people will self-select with others in creative geographies to provide the most opportunities for expression.

He maintains that the essential theme for the next economy is uncertainty and he contends that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and we have to get used to it because that’s the way it is. I think he is largely right but additionally we have to somehow realize the flipside of uncertainty is opportunity because we can do so many things we have less constraints on our lives than ever.

The implication is on the financial models that underpin this new economy. In the past, if you had invested in credit card companies at the beginning of the Consumer Economy you would have done well in hindsight. (Well up to about 6 months ago!) What is the model which underpins this new economy? Is it selling advertising against a whole bunch of creators work like Google? Or is it some other non-economic model like reputation or credibility?

Only time will tell but Saffo’s advice? Always look back twice as far as you are looking forwards.