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Former Federal Reserve Economist to Discuss “Imagination Age” at LSA17

The 2017 LSA Conference in San Diego (February 27 – March 1, 2017) will offer a mix of practical sessions and forward-looking discussions that explore the rapidly evolving world of local and location intelligence from a variety of perspectives: publisher, advertiser, agency, media seller and technology provider.

Kicking off the conference on Monday February 27th will be a keynote on the beginnings of a new age in economic development: the “Imagination Age.” Dr. W. Michael Cox, former chief economist and senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas will discuss, “From the Information Age to the Imagination Age: Six Economic Themes for the Decade Ahead.”

Dr. Cox holds the unique distinction of being the Federal Reserve’s only chief economist in history. He served for 25 years advising Fed leaders Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke on monetary and economic policy and is the author of numerous articles for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Financial Times, and Investor’s Business Daily.

I had a chance to catch up with him about his upcoming keynote at LSA17, and here is a recap of our discussion:

What is the Imagination Age and how would you describe it?

The Age you are in is defined by what is “dear” – possible to have but expensive.  You leave an Age once what was dear becomes commoditized.  We left the Agricultural Age once food became abundant (with the advent or mechanized farming).  We left the Industrial Age once mechanical and electronic consumer goods became commoditized – cars, appliances, TVs, etc.  We left the Information Age once information became cheap, with ubiquitous computing, cell phones, the Internet, search engines and so on.

You can’t make a good living selling information any longer.  I can get more information than I can read in a life time for free in 0.2 seconds from Google.  Today, we’re in the Imagination Age, because what’s NOW dear is our ability to imagine what can be done with all the technologies around us.   Getting rich today comes from thinking outside the box – yesterday’s box – to see all the possible new goods and services and new ways to bring them to the customer.

The Imagination Age is the stage of American economic development where imagination, creativity and vision have ascended to being the most dear and most valuable human assets.

How will it compare with other economic revolutions we’ve experienced?

Earlier economic revolutions valued other human assets most highly.  The Agricultural Age valued muscle power, physical strength and human durability.  The Industrial Age valued manual dexterity and motor skills plus formulaic intelligence—our ability to perform rote, repetitive tasks in a world of assembly lines and mass production.  The Information Age placed a high value on human “IQ” – knowledge of math, logic, programming, etc., the stuff we call “left brain.”

Today’s Imagination Age values humans’ ability to see the new world made possible by new technologies.   The opposite of imagination is assumption – assuming that something has to be that way today just because it was that way yesterday.  To succeed today you have to stop assuming.

Bill Gates got rich imagining the new world made possible by GUI software.  The guys who invented it (Xerox Parc) were the IQ guys – the engineers – but they lacked the vision and imagination to see the new world made possible by their own invention!  Gates saw the future, bought it from them, started Microsoft, and was rewarded billions for his imagination.

Same with Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Elon Musk (PayPal), Pierre Omidyar (eBay), Mark Cuban (Real Audio, Broadcast.com), Jan Koum (WhatsApp) – all of them dropped the assumptions about the way things had to be done and imagined a new way of doing things.  All are Imagination Age moguls.

Why should an audience of digital media and marketing executives care about this? What kind of takeaways should they expect?

If you want to get ahead (or just survive) in today’s world, you better give yourself uninterrupted time to think so your creative juices can flow.  You need to daydream.  You need to get away from today’s world of constant communication and give your imagination time to run wild.  We live in a world of constant distraction.  That world needs a place and time of sanctuary.

Another take away is to realize that we are in a world of long-term rapid change.  All ways of doing things which were optimal before are no longer optimal.  Because many technologies are new and still improving, we will not get to an “equilibrium” where change slows down for a long time.

There will be lots of creative destruction – out with the old and in with the new – as always happens at the start of a new Age.  Look what the spread of railroads did to America back in the late 1800s.  You can either be part of the steam roller or part of the road; abreast of new technologies and lead, or be flattened.  This is not a time to rest, sorry.

What’s also important to know about today’s economic revolution is that many of the new technologies have a high fixed cost/low marginal cost production structure.  This means that product prices fall as consumption increases, which is the kind of cost structure that leads to high levels of market concentration.  The payoff from winning is huge.  But a larger fraction of competitors will die along the way than in previous times.  High risk, high reward.

This will be a fascinating presentation and sure to get people thinking about how to position their companies for the next cycle of economic development. Don’t miss it. Click here to learn more about LSA17.

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