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Facebook is our Spinning Jenny

Standing on the threshold of a revolution, what would you do?

James Hargreaves invented Spinning Jenny in 1764.

He was a weaver and a carpenter and he put his skills to use to invent an automatic weaving machine to make his own work easier. The result was Spinning Jenny, a machine that sparked what later became the industrial revolution in England.

Now, imagine for a second that Facebook is the Spinning Jenny of our time, a historical marker of change in a shift that reshapes the way we relate and communicate with each other.

The industrial revolution changed our way of life by restructuring how we form societal groups. We became less dependent on a local community to provide for all of our needs and we were able to become more urban. The digital revolution has brought upon us a shift of similar magnitude — never before in human history has groups formed and dissolved so rapidly and so free from demographical boundaries.

Of course, the industrial revolution wasn’t only due to Spinning Jenny, just as the digital revolution hasn’t been only due to Facebook. James Hargreaves and Mark Zuckerberg just happened to create something that demonstrated to the world the potential of a new technology. Chances are that future historians will use Facebook as a similar symbol for change, just like we refer to the Spinning Jenny today when we explain the industrial revolution.

But what can we as business leaders learn from history?

If you in the early days of the industrial revolution happened to be in the textile industry, you would be a fool to ignore Spinning Jenny. You would be a fool not to invest in some sort of automation. And, you must be smart about it; you must make money throughout the transition while investing in new ways to make money.

If you weren’t in the textile industry at this time, maybe you had some “extra” years to prepare before your line of work became industrialised. Some used those years to prepare and to invest, others didn’t. They just couldn’t bring themselves to accept the inevitable.

Two questions for you, dear reader, to meditate on:

1. Imagine yourself being in business in the early days of the industrial revolution and someone came by and described the Spinning Jenny to you. How would you react? What actions would you take?

2. Today, you’ll have to go to a museum to find a Spinning Jenny. It was a disruptive invention, but like Facebook, it was still just a tool. What will the world look like when your digital tools are a thousand times more efficient than Facebook is today?

Now, go be smart about your Facebook — and business! — strategy.

Photo via Wikipedia.

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Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer aka Doctor Spin is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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