The driving forces behind the collapse of trust and utility in our current economy are based upon a discrepancy in value. As long as any structure continues to be abused by inflating and deflating its perceived value, we suffer the risk of going through the same collapsing economic bubble over and over again.
We can't expect a rapid recovery either. Unemployment rates will continue to rise until new leaner and more agile business structures take hold. Large slowly changing business was the foundation of the industrial era. Too big to fail has been replaced with too large to adapt. The momentum of these lumbering giants has turned against them in today's economy. The primary cause for the re-evaluation of size is based upon market forces. While big corporations race to shrink their size, new startups are growing from the ground up with a big advantage. They understand the value of dynamic market adaption, and have built it into their company's DNA.
The consumer market has drifted from being fairly predictable to heavily dynamic. This change really started happening about 10 to 15 years ago. In the age of mass media, a business which sells products could count on marketing dollars to drive product demand. This is no longer the case (unless you're Apple).
Successfully marketing a product requires more rapid research upfront. Marketing and engineering must listen to and learn from user needs before trying to design, build and sell their next set of products. Businesses simply can't expect to dictate to consumers what to use. In addition, consumers can buy directly from manufacturers, so there's less of a need for middle organizations which function soley as distributors (unless you're Walmart). The New Middle must offer each consumer preciesly the set of tools and products which best aid them.
Lets look at why Apple and Walmart have bucked the trends. Their success can be traced to controlling the market in one way or another.
- Apple may have mastered mind control. I'm not sure why else folks pay double the price for similar computing hardware (disclaimer: I'm writing this on my iPhone 3Gs the best smart "phone" I could buy at the time). Apple succeeded at influencing my good friend Aakin, and he picked us both up iPhones when the 2G first released. Their "pwnage" of mobile/portably computing has done much to precipitate iTunes and AppStore explosions. Multiple feedback loops of human word of mouth marketing have allowed them to seize the imagination of a generation. A favorite mortal portal of mine, Louis Gray has been a longtime super fan of Apple (although like myself he uses a range of tech hardware and software).
I suspect most of the magic of Apple will fade when Steve Jobs decides to leave. He has directed this large corporation with the agility of a startup as it has reinvented itself through many "just in time" products.
Ultimately a market of people will want to be in charge of their own computing destiny, and you can expect to see consumer forces move in this direction. Hardware administration, user identity, virtual currency and goods will all be centered on user ownership with an incredibly simple user experience (a lasting legacy of Apple).
- Walmart pushed all of it's resources into building nearly perfect logistic efficiency. Walmart crushed opposition with cheap. Other stores just can't compete with Walmart on price. Where the behemoth will struggle is transitioning to virtual stores. Walmart has a very functional web shopping interface, but this is not enough. It can't wield it's logistics advantage as easily without careful planning and creation of local hubs (convert stores to local warehouses). My instinct is that other businesses that focus purely on this aspect of the problem, will do it more efficiently. Perhaps Walmart will transition into a transport business layer somewhere between FedEx/UPS and web shopping?
Product Creation is Moving to Consumers
Business prototype designs have been remastered by consumers to best fit their needs. This yields surviving business structures which embrace this market force, and make it part of their strategy. Don't get too caught up with your user design, they'll customize it themselves. Brands will be known more for their flexibility and ubiquitous utility than for specific designs.