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The Power of the Individual

Last week, as I was discussing the future of the networked economy with a couple of my colleagues, one concept that really crystallized in my mind is just how much of power the individual person has today.   That power can be used to disrupt industries, make a difference, or even change the world.

If you are in the cosmetics industry, it would be hard to miss recent Harvard Business School graduate Grace Choi, who recently told Techcrunch that she wants to take out the middleman markups served to consumers by high-end cosmetic companies.   Grace invented Mink, a sub-$300 printer that prints custom makeup pigments on demand. To create makeup using Mink, consumers use color picker to pick a shade they’d like to recreate. Click print and within minutes a real life beauty product pops out! Choi created an eyeshadow for the demonstration, but she noted lipsticks, creams, foundations, and other items can also be made.

Going back just a few years, would Grace been a threat to some of the biggest, multi-billion dollar cosmetic brands? Absolutely not! she has nothing but an idea and a prototype.   With no money, no marketing and sales channels, the giants who dominate the industry would not even twitch.  But today, with Grace’s demo getting nearly 250K Youtube views and the innate ability for her to very quickly raise funding and early adopters through crowd funding platforms, sell online and market through social networks (think of the exposure and the momentum she’s already created with one demo), getting to scale becomes not only a realistic goal, but a very feasible one.

I recently received an email about Sarah Kavanagh, a 17-year-old Mississippi high school who was drinking Gatorade one day and chose to look up the ingredients on her computer.   She found a controversial ingredient called BVO (Brominated Vegetable Oil) on the list, which was banned in Europe and Japan.   She soon started her petition on and in just a couple weeks, more than 200,000 people signed and Sarah sent messages to Gatorade. At first, the company sent her a form letter and thanked her for the feedback,  but as more people signed and the media got interested, the petition got so big, it couldn’t be ignored. Thanks to Sarah’s persistence, not only did Gatorade drop BVO, but Powerade, Coke and Pepsi did too.   That’s the power of the individual!

As we think about disruption and change, what we have in our hands today as individuals is unique and unprecedented.   What we are seeing (and will continue to see) is the balance of that power shifting from large corporations into the hands of individuals and smaller start-ups who are truly committed to connect with their customers and serve a new need. 

Whether you are in a large company, or an individual, it is no longer about who’s got the deepest pockets, the most resources or global reach, the balance has shifted and is here to stay.

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