Within the social media revolution an idea has developed that we are seeing a new Renaissance. The idea is that a New Renaissance Paradigm in which those who create content can avoid the middle man that traditionally help them to reach their audiences. Social media technology allows artists and technological talent to decide their own success. The technological talent no longer has to rely on corporations; they can do it for themselves. Like the old renaissance, the new one has wealthy technological patrons, individuals, or corporations like Google and Facebook, who can nurture technological talent. However, the focus today though is not on the art, the literature, or the politics. Instead, the renaissance is based on technological innovators. In turn, their creativity and their ability to create creative networks make it possible for other talent (media based artists (especially musical) to follow the same path to economic freedom and control.
The social media economy relies upon technology and content. Their relationship is at the heart of the new renaissance paradigm. How they work together challenges the economic hierarchy. Customers and content can meet through social media. There is no need for an organisation to act as an intermediary. For customers, they receive lower prices, a wider choice, and a chance to influence content. For talent, the new renaissance paradigm means that the patron-artist relationship has changed. Now money and political power are chasing talent. As an analysis of the future of work, it presents a compelling story.
Without intermediaries, talent can be in charge. The talent can work directly with its clients and it can decide what is best for itself and the client. Unlike the original renaissance, the new renaissance has the talent as patrons. Zuckerberg, Brin, Schmidt, Ellison and others commission work and develop the talent. Unlike the financiers or industrialists of earlier years, today’s patrons understand and reward technological talent. For many, talent will welcome the fact that social media economy allows a patronage economy to return.
Talent can control its product and its destiny. They can leave the corporation, where what they created was the company’s property. They can control their intellectual property rights. The intermediaries are removed or reduced and there is no need for the corporation to be given a share. Talent is paid directly. Within this system, patrons pursue talent. Talent receive the commission and they work independently. For example, musicians can work independently because they can release their music directly to their audience. Instead of relying on a large music corporation, the musicians can work with social media talent to promote their music to their audience. In sum, the networked economy, the new renaissance paradigm, allows talent to benefit from shifting between companies, collaborators, and contracts.
If only it were so.
Instead of a dream, a patronage economy is potential nightmare for talent. The renaissance was not a halcyon period where artists were in demand and dictated the terms to enrich themselves and unleash their creative genius. Instead, it was a period where the artist was at the mercy of the patron, be it a prince or a city, and the relationship favoured the patron. The patron dictated the terms, they dictated the topic and if they were displeased, you were not paid.
We may hope that the new renaissance has arrived for the “artists” and the “talent”. Yet, there remains a need for enabling organisations to achieve their success. Even in a networked era, we still need an organisation. We need it to distribute our product or manage our supplies. We can automate our individual work, leverage our individual technological creativity by sharing, but what we add, our specific creativity or judgement, cannot succeed without an organisation.
What the new renaissance may be ushering in is a new approach to work. Work is changing within companies. Work is also changing as organisations are still figuring out the best ways to manage talent inside the company or the relationship with it externally. Talent management is a key challenge for any organisation and will be an important comparative advantage. Broadly speaking, I see two conflicting, but potentially reconcilable, futures for talent management within a new renaissance paradigm. The first extends the earlier corporation but manages talent by creating tightly knit talent silos. The second is about the networked company. In this vision, the network acts an organisation to support, or leverage, talent.
Apple networking talent silos with vertical integration
One view is Apple’s vision. In that organisation talent is kept in silos with creative conductors that enable the company to harness and leverage talent for success. Apple focuses on a few products and has a seamless supply chain from innovators, to designers, to suppliers, to distributors all working together to deliver the product. In a way, Jobs was able found a corporation on the principle of democratic aristocracy. Talent was connected to the same goal. By being able to nurture talent and harness it to a goal, despite how it was organised inside, the organisation “disappears” as an agent and is there to support talent.
The other view is the idea of a network as an organisation. In this, the approach is similar to the creative commons. Across the network as an organisation, talent can coordinate, connect, and share the work. Talent will join talent to provide the organisational leverage needed to flourish. In this system, the same pieces are in available, as in Apple, but other talent joins the network to deliver the outcomes. Instead of talent being captured, it can enter or exit on its terms and it is free to move and take its intellectual property with it. The advantage is that the organisation is created from the networked relationship.
The creativity is good, shame about the politics
The patronage economy of the renaissance cannot be understood without reference to the politics. For talent (and organisations) to thrive, the political structures have to be support them. Again, the reading of the renaissance politics does not present an ideal to emulate. The art is nice and the politics are terrible. In some ways, the reverse is true today. The art is terrible but the politics are nice (that is we are not seeing political opponents killed in the street). The artistic exuberance and experimentation was joined to political innovation and creativity. By that, I do not mean to suggest that killing political opponent would be a way to unleash creative energy. On the contrary, the talent-organisational dynamic is built upon a political stability drained of such threats. Instead, it is suggest that a political renaissance is linked to any creative renaissance if it is to flourish.
The question, though, is whether the politics today is as creative as the social media innovations. The question perhaps is whether politics today is becoming corrosive of creativity. If politics is reduced to a cost-benefit analysis where all political problems are reduced to technological ones, have we lost an element of creativity? In that view, technological talent does not have a separate sphere because it is in service to society, the state, rather than remaining true to itself. A political landscape that does not reward talent nor allow it to be rewarded could be emerging. The politics of social media, while based on a collaborative creative commons, has a hint of conformity that can stifle individuality. To succeed, technology has to scale up. To scale up, the technology has to fit within exist frameworks and organisations. Yet, that demand to scale and fit, means that talent has to be assimilated to the system. In the renaissance, the political talent was an innovative as the artistic and technical talent. Can the same be said today?
Even if your sponsor is a tyrant, talent is in demand.
In the Renaissance, the Borgias were well known for sponsoring some of the best art of the era. Yet, they were a ruthless, terrible, and rather corrupt family. Machiavelli saw Casere Borgia as an example of a prince. Today’s sponsors are not as dangerous as the Borgias were, but the same dynamic exists. Then, as now, the question is the mechanics of the relationship. Despite the changes, there is still a need for intermediaries. Although the relationship is unfolding, it is clear that its role will be stripped down from the previous standard. The best-known talent intermediaries, such as media companies and music corporations are still profitable but their size and structure have changed dramatically. For sponsors, talent is in demand. How it is managed and how talent manages itself will depend in large part on how companies respond. Companies are adapting either by providing the stripped down support talent needs (see for example blogging platforms or social media platforms) or providing innovative products that need their size and scale. In each of these, the company and the talent still have to work together. However that relationship is resolved it will influence and show the future of work.