Markets and the year(s) ahead: Post-digital edition
The initial installment of this series was published two years ago as a sort of forecast, at which time the digitized economy was already shaping trends that have since become more pronounced. It isn’t difficult to predict some things from a high enough level, so in this follow-up installment the level is elevated even further and the forecasts are really more like observations, to be safe.
- We are entering a post-digital era in the sense that digital technology is no longer a defining attribute for some but a fundamental reality for all.
- As all companies are now immersed in technology to varying degrees, technology is a differentiator mainly as a matter of quality.
- “Technology” as a sector category is a subjective grouping and its use as a valuation class is increasingly dubious.
- As anticipated in the earlier installment, the greatest value is accruing to networks (defined to include platforms, marketplaces, exchanges, communication systems and messaging tools), displacing industrials in keeping with the more current economic revolution.
- New network solutions with network topologies and effects are also prevailing in the leading new technology innovations, such as artificial intelligence of all varieties, which are data networks in the guise of innovative products.
- But all networks are not equal, and the most valuable are those that integrate multiple offerings with a multidirectional, decentralized topology; this perpetuates sector convergences already well underway, connected by software, data, and universal access.
- Just as financial markets are large networks, so also networks have certain properties of markets; thus, excesses and bubbles may be followed by corrections, but rarely does a network evaporate like a product is disrupted.
- The centralized network is the most exposed to breakage because its center is an existential vulnerability; should it break, so also the network.
- Networks need new products to grow and refresh; while products without network relevance just fade… and companies also.
- Building a network is not like building a product; the latter can be iterated, finessed, upgraded, updated, or restarted… the former requires a tipping point, which is rare and virtually impossible to predict.
- In a post-digital era thus forming across every realm, network scarcity and product abundance determine new supply and demand equilibria.
- The network forms a base, its product offerings may create upside.
- The value of the network base grows or shrinks with the intrinsic asset but also with relative externalities; which is to say, in turbulence and rapid disruption, the stability of the base gains in value, as does its optionality.
- The layering of network systems and interconnectivity between them is a new strategic dimension that can vertically or horizontally lead to dominance.
- Some companies are better positioned than others to control the integrated stack, but doing so is not the ideal in all cases; flexibility matters in a perpetually evolving market economy.
- Markets are adapting to the deflationary non-industrial aspects that define the post-digital world, and are finding value in resulting power-law distributions; Economics, as a field, is slower to adapt.
- The divergence between markets and Economics, between investors and economists, and between investment and the economy during this transformative period, leads to micro opportunities and macro risks that relate but don’t necessarily balance.
- Network science has not yet made its way into valuation models, but that may be a coming market wave, which cryptocurrencies seem well suited to originate.
- As these and other efficiencies gain while artificial intelligence and other network systems continue to expand, signals and game theory will grow in stature and importance.
- The edge is not the next big thing, but the one after.