This Wednesday, July 16 at the TimesCenter, Percolate is bringing together marketers, inventors, and entrepreneurs at our first industry conference: Transition. Join us in a conversation about how invention is reshaping the industry, the enterprise, and the world.

Peter Thiel, the widely respected entrepreneur and investor, is out with a book called Zero to One, based on a series of lectures he gave at Stanford University. In the book Thiel argues that not all progress is the same and you can break down progress into invention (0 to 1) and globalization (1 to n). Here is a chart that describes the two types of progress.  


In the book Thiel talks about how you often have one or the other but you don’t often have both. I believe we are living through a time of both and this is what transition is all about. Never before has there been the technology and global progress of the 21st century allowing the world to be completely changed.

How did this happen?

First, 25 years ago, British scientist Tim Berners-Lee and his CERN collaborators built the framework for the modern day Internet. As it moved from being an academic and military network into a human network, people and organizations were able to connect directly with each other in entirely new way.

Then, starting 10 years ago, social built a layer on top of the web – a layer that provided a graph of relationships and interests that started to map the planet.

Finally mobile – we’ve started to put the internet in every pocket, and the scale of possibilities have grown exponentially.

Each progression in this sequence: internet, social networks, mobile smartphones, involved both acts of invention (0 to 1) and acts of globalization (1 to n). Today, marketers mostly talk about technology as a way to reach more people around the world: more consumers, more impressions, more engagement. This is understandable but it isn’t the whole picture.

In the next five years we will move from 3 billion to nearly 6 billion internet users and it’s hard to overstate the realities and excitement of nearly 100% of the planet being connected on the same network.  We will also see the global middle class increase from 1.8 billion to almost 5 billion by 2030. What happens when a good portion of the whole world wants — and can afford — your product?

That’s the question we need to answer now. We are living through a great period of transition. As marketers, the job is to define this new and larger market (n) and march towards it. But the challenge is that yesterday’s systems won’t scale with the new realities of today’s n.

As marketers we must go back to the drawing board and rethink our technology progress. We must invent new systems to deal with the new scale, pace and pattern of the new n. Marketing must have its Macintosh/Google/Facebook/iPhone moment: The moment when it steps from 0 to 1 to fulfill on the reality of 1 to n.

As Thiel said in his Stanford lectures:

“We focus so much on going from 1 to n because that’s easier to do. There’s little doubt that going from 0 to 1 is qualitatively different, and almost always harder, than copying something n times. And even trying to achieve vertical, 0 to 1 progress presents the challenge of exceptionalism; any founder or inventor doing something new must wonder: am I sane? Or am I crazy?” – Peter Thiel (paraphrased)

His point is that invention requires courage and a willingness to embrace uncertainty. We’ve seen how technology has impacted the discipline of marketing over the last two decades — and it’s only getting more intense. While you and I are in charge, we will see even more dramatic shifts in the way we create content, grow brands, and reach audience.

The opportunity is bigger than any of us could have imagined when we started our careers — and it’s right in front of us. As marketers, we have to be willing to tackle not just globalization but new invention if we want to truly fulfill the promise of this new era.

This Wednesday, July 16 at the TimesCenter, Percolate is bringing together marketers, inventors, and entrepreneurs at our first industry conference: Transition. Join us in a conversation about how invention is reshaping the industry, the enterprise, and the world.