Borders are falling and Brexit won’t stop the trend

If I want to source a piece of design work today, I don’t need to find a local agency or freelancer. I might choose to, but my options are many, varied, and global.

If I want a custom t-shirt designed? $15 is the going rate. $25 if I want it turned around in 24 hours. Maybe I want a voice-over from a professional voice actress? Prices start at $5. Logos, brochures, animations — all available from a global marketplace of talented creatives via a number of low-friction portals like Fiverr.

These services are not going to go away in the face of political attempts to reverse years of movement towards global free trade. They might need to adapt. But it’s hard to imagine how a wall across the southernmost US states, or the reversal of Britain out of the EU is going to create barriers big enough to prevent the flow of digital traffic.

They might even increase it. I’m reminded of Leia’s warning to Tarkin in A New Hope: “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

Scale: reset your expectations

Services like Fiverr are just one example of the technology-driven trend for falling barriers between and inside organisations. These falling barriers are a consequence of the lower friction of digital communications. Physical proximity and human-to-human communication still has enormous value in many contexts. But in many others, a digital intermediary — or even direct machine to machine communication — can replace historically high-friction human interactions and have a dramatic effect on business.

Take global digital marketplaces like Ali Baba, and their effect on the supply chains of so many industries. Now everyone has near-direct access to the manufacturing hubs of China with an intermediary that diminishes the fear, increases trust and minimises the advantage of direct contact and experience.

Or take a much smaller example: the relationship between two different departments in a single organisation. Before, the interaction between these departments might have been limited to meetings and memos. Now real-time data can flow between them constantly. Few organisations have got to grips with the transformative potential of this effect. But those that have, like Amazon with its Lego-brick architecture of standalone functions integrated by a shared software layer, have proven to be hugely disruptive.

Move fast and break laws

The momentum of this effect seems too great to be significantly slowed by even international political efforts. You can’t un-invent the internet, and even the most aggressive attempts to control it can ultimately be subverted. Combine this with the gung-ho attitude of many tech companies and tech-driven entrepreneurs — what I’ve come to term “Move fast and break laws” — and it’s hard to see how Brexit, or Trump’s wall (real or virtual) will have a long term effect on slowing the collapse of walls between our countries and organisations.

 

This post forms part of my Blogs series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Blogs page.

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Tom Cheesewright