For many people, it's been a tough year. Yet, underneath the gloom and rocky economy, we're seeing buds of a new economy of opportunity emerging, driven in large part by technology.
Just as the moribund economy of the early 1980s was fueled in part by Silicon Valley and the software industry, and the moribund economy of the early 1990s exploded into the Internet and dot-com boom, entrepreneurs and innovators are laying the seeds to a new economic boom. And, again, technology is driving things. The recent economic slowdown was and still is painful for many, but it was also met by the converging forces of social, on-demand and mobile computing, which dramatically tilted the scales toward consumers, employees and entrepreneurs alike.
Consider areas of opportunity which are occurring under the radar of government unemployment statistics:
1) New innovation: Previously, innovation was limited to the imagination of staff members within organizations. Now, everyone can participate in projects that interest them. The “crowdsourcing” approach is being employed by companies of all sizes, as well as government agencies to develop new ideas from experts and thinkers from across the spectrum.
2) Entrepreneurial resources: There was a time when launching a serious startup required serious capital for hiring talent, marketing and promotion, office space, and for technology to make it all happen. Thanks to the availability of powerful and low-cost on-demand technologies, innovators now have access to computing and information resources unheard of even a few years ago. Thanks to cloud computing and social networking resources, it now costs virtually pennies to secure and get the infrastructure needed up and running to get a new venture off the ground.
3) Access to capital: It may be difficult to convince banks or venture capitalists that your idea is the next big thing, but many entrepreneurs are doing their own fundraising. The “crowdfunding” approach, as explained in Knowledge@Wharton, helps get projects off the ground by tapping support from fans and other interested parties. This has long been practiced by politicians and charities, but now “the adoption of social networking makes crowdfunding feasible even for the average citizen with a dream and some creative talent.”
4) Economic boosts for distressed communities or regions: Thanks to the Internet and social networking, residents of communities falling out of the mainstream of economic activity — because of plant closings, for example — have access to the same information and educational opportunities as those in thriving areas. Cloud and social technologies reach and serve any location with Internet connectivity — and that’s just about everywhere. Residents of Appalachia or impoverished areas of the Southwest who seek greater learning and opportunity now can access online courses from the Massachusetts of Technology or Carnegie-Mellon University.
5) Recruiting and employment tools: I call it the LIFT phenomenon — with powerful networking tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter at everyone’s disposal to connect with potential employers, and stay connected with colleagues. A survey from Jobvite reveals more than 22 million Americans used social networks to find their most recent job opportunity — up 7.7 million from last year’s survey. One in six members of the workforce say an online social network was one of the sources they used to find a job, and those with more contacts get better results. For example, every Wednesday on Twitter, for example, many people swap knowledge of job openings with messages via the #WorkWednesday trending hashtag. This time around, many people have been empowered, rather than being victims as in previous economic troughs.