Yesterday FutureGov held an event in London and I gave a talk in which I asked whether in public services and social business we can raise the game of social involvement. (big thanks are due to the excellent Dominic Campbell at FutureGov for the invitation.)
At the end there were a couple of questions about leadership. A much-bandied word, maybe it's time again to look at what it means.
Since the formative experiences of Seth Godin’s triiibes.com community began over a year ago I've come to agree with Seth that the ingredient that’s being easily missed in social communities, and the one that’s maybe being ducked in connection with the idea of social business, is how we develop concepts of leadership.
@RobertBrook's tweet in the #socorg feed yesterday ‘leadership is a word that makes me nervous’ got me thinking. It's easy to understand why it makes a lot of people nervous. When someone else has too much of it and when we don’t have enough it’s a threatening experience, sufficiently threatening to activate a fundamental sense of insecurity. Social organizations are meant to be egalitarian, so what gives? And what does talking about 'new leadership skills' say about the ones we have now?
One the one hand, social organizations play to our idealistic drives for a better world and offer freedom. On the other they represent a primal fear of loss of control.
Social business design needs to address both these twin drivers together in order to prevent the kind of attrition that comes from creating a negative feedback loop and adoption failure, reinforcing old patterns.
Existing organizations cannot become social overnight. Social organizations are intrinsically organic, defined by new levels and degrees of involvement and their success comes from how well they express themselves as shared entities.
And the glue in the truly collaborative experience is identity, purpose and task. There's no internal and external in the social organization, its validity of purpose comes from those who simply want to be a part of it.
With affinity and the desire to connect driving the viral nature of networked communications, the tectonic economic plates may have shifted a little. Spending cuts require that we look for and measure value in new ways, like the Klondike trail did. It's leading us to involvement in events and ideas that are compelling and credible. An adjustment in emphasis around less factory, more affinity, is a big part of the power intrinsic in social organizations and social business.
In order to realize it, we must choose creativity as part of the developmental path. Technology is enabling art and science to act together as counterpoints on a heightened scale, but it’s easy to lose sight of the art.
Leadership with art is creative vision, and one can argue that leadership with only science is control. The internet disperses power, the consequence of which is that, as long as we have free will, intrinsic inspiration will trump external control.
That is why I think we must recognize that the progress of the social revolution involves freedom of expression, an increased emphasis on creative expression, and on talent development. In this way we can have better experiences.
Cultural DNA is a unique intangible asset, the lifeblood of any organization and especially the social organization, and culture comes from the generative experience of sourcing self and purpose. More than an algorithmic or an outsourced approach, the creative vision of leadership is what is going to encourage community involvement and is the key to developing consequent value.
The social age requires association, rather than disassociation. I think that means we mustn't forget leadership, we must reframe it. Leadership as talent development and creative vision can go a long way.
From the Australian National Botanic Gardens website:
‘The Bottlebrush is a plant native to Australia and is found all over Australia, from its tropical north to its temperate south.
The flower spikes of bottlebrushes form in the spring and in summer and are made up of hundreds of individual flowers. The flowers can be spectacular and they are irresistible to nectar-feeding birds and insects.
Most species are frost tolerant. Many species can tolerate or thrive in damp conditions. They grow well in a wide variety of soils, except those that are highly alkaline. Plants grown in full sun produce the best flowers.’
The Bottlebrush is one of a kind, one of the things that makes 'down under' a place unlike any other. Culture is often all about coherent differences. Species of distinction are the things that make a place, a person, an organization, an experience, unique and irreplaceable.
Species differentiation is at the heart of the health and wealth we enjoy by having a diversity of life. There’s a similar value in encouraging species differentiation in terms of social business.
Social business design may very well spell the end of the ‘me-too’ brand.
In a social environment, culture becomes a very important point of distinction. As new marketplaces evolve to become ecosystems, the unique DNA of each organization is what sits at the core of its ability to sustain itself as a successful, distinctive, and sustainable life form because when marketplaces act as ecosystems, there’s an inherent value in being different.
Social business design is far less about tools and channels than it is about behaviours and relationships. Within the social sphere where consumers are not ‘mass’ anymore, what matters are durable, strong relationships, relationships that are trusted, and are discreet and niche. Business must engage authentically at a community level as a consequence.
Just as the Bottlebrush’s value has come from how it has adapted to its environment, organizations that have strong definition and strength of purpose can achieve the same.
This is especially the case in a marketplace that’s increasingly being powered by attention and ideas. If attention’s a commercial currency, there is a value in being remarkable, in one way or another, if you can connect to an ecosystem that can support you.
In the last week Social Business Design has been firmly put on the map and legitimized. Social Business Design emerges as a commercial sector in its own right as a couple of key practices reach critical mass, the highly respected Altimeter Group and Headshift/Dachis Group, with a merger announced yesterday between two of the space’s most talented consultancy teams.
Stepping up like this, they represent a venerable array of talent and a commercial sector that’s 'go' for launch.
Social business design sits at the intersection of organizational development and marketing, and can loosely be described as the practice of developing communities of engagement to generate ideas, activities and outputs for commercial and social benefit.
As organizations adopt the principles of social business design, intangible, soft assets like brand value, purpose, human resources, processes and capabilities come to the fore. Social business design is about engendering involvement and it's inbound.
Slightly differently, marketing services and ‘broadcast’ media operate on the basis the message and transaction are the means to the end. Marketing services communicate primarily outbound.
It's interesting to compare the two in the light of the IPA effectiveness awards season that's currently underway. Geoff Russell of the IPA has written about the dangers of ‘hammering costs from suppliers whose "product" is intellectually and creatively based’.
That the marketing communications industry is currently shoring itself up against the imperative of working smarter and reducing costs whilst it's looking at the next best thing in performance effectiveness is interesting. And in the context of social business design, how effective that can be, on a long term sustainable basis, is coming under the hammer.
What makes social business design a ‘must-have’, is that digital technology is ushering totally new states of commercial play. Social business design that involves taking into account trust networks, relationships and behaviours as much as it does tools, channels and transactions, has implications for traditional marketing and media management, which tends to operate much more at arm's length. How will 'broadcast' and outbound marketing effectiveness compare against social business design effectiveness when, in social business design, performance effectiveness has built-in conduits?
Social business design dynamics are that affinity is stronger than structure, the net worth is in the network and the power and potential of network communications increasingly makes much marketing communications activity a tax paid for being unremarkable.
In both social business design and traditional marketing communications, being worthy of attention is the point of power. But if attention and ideas are emerging as commercial currencies, what happens when organizations and people aren't trusted and we’re inclined to give them less attention? There are significant implications for marketing services in there.
The transactional value of digital is that it offers ease and convenience as well as significant opportunities to streamline, but the transactional value of digital is one that it's easy to overplay whilst relationship angles can be neglected and not be fully taken into account.
Over the years, the marketing communications’ industry relationships with clients have frequently been downgraded from partner to supplier. The irony is the transactional use of broadcast media as a tool to deliver commercial growth is being more and more highly scrutinized, something the industry itself says is a barrier to the development of effective ideas.
In contrast with ‘broadcast’ media, social business design harnesses collaboration and involvement. It can create, track and measure dynamic business pulses of activity and momentum and has that as an embedded advantage. The significant stepchange in social marketing this week is that it's getting real; it's moved from being less about media to more about business.
And with that, a crucial part of social business design that will come to the fore is going to be business model design. Businesses, how they're positioned and the propositions they offer will need to be redrawn in the light of the emerging social dimension to business design. Organizational purpose and how to create sustainable social as well as commercial benefit becomes a key requirement. The focus will shift to being about organizing consumers, leading and managing in totally new ways.
So maybe we're on the brink of re-tuning the returns measured and valued as part of social business design. The next time you think about how and where your business value is coming from, you may like to consider how much potential there is in developing collaborations to focus on creative problem-solving, as much as the value that may come from doing more for with less.
The two are utterly inter-linked, and it's a fair bet that the creative potential of inter-relationships in social business will be at the heart of a new organizational effectiveness and a new commercial return.
Captain Kirk might well have said this, to paraphrase, if he were at the helm of the Starship Enterprise as he steered it to new frontiers, across a commercial galaxy.
Business is spawning new forms of life, and it's business Jim, but not as we know it. This is a time for revolution, of turning things upside down, new frontiers, time for change and transformation.
Things have been a quiet on this blog lately because I've been away in Sydney, the antipodes to life in the UK, diametrically opposite on the globe and for me it's brought thinking about things upside down to the fore and the value of being counter-intuitive.
At the same time, Seth Godin's www.triiibes is one year old. As a founding member of triiibes.com there since the beginning, Seth's work on tribes demonstrates that great places teeming with commercial life can exist but not as we know them and that collaborative possibilities are available in new ways. Being a leader in www.triiibes.com over the last year's been a highly stimulating, iterative experience and a fascinating journey.
Social media's been riding this wave in general too, but don't be deceived. Visceral businesses that move people, that create connections that have the capacity to enhance operational capability and performance ask for more than just another media overlay. What's being asked for are changes of habit (and habitat), doing the unthinkable, a deep desire to will the new into being and the courage and passion to put everything into trying.
In the last few weeks Changethis.com have published a manifesto I've written about this, called 'Cracking The Genetic Code' and a new way forward for corporations. It's time to view business more organically and create new business cultures and if you'd like to download it just follow the link.
And what's a Visceral Business in a nutshell? Here's the summary
Got anything to add? I'll welcome all your thoughts and comments. It'll be great to build a body of opinion on this.
Martha Lane-Fox talked about the enormous disadvantage that’s creeping into UK society with the disenfranchisement of the 17 million people who are not online.
In some powerful rhetoric, Matthew Taylor reflected on whether the finger-pointing for the demise of UK plc should be at the doors of those stubbornly entrenched in old power plays, the system itself or the unwillingness of the majority to do something about it. As he put it, ‘wallowing is nicer than having to deal with something you don’t agree with’.
Lee Bryant put down a challenge and asked for a shift from linear and binary conversations to networked and nuanced ones, and Howard Rheingold developed the point by commenting that just participating isn’t enough: We need a reboot that will mean something to others.
The message of the day for me was that being well-meaning isn’t good enough. The crucial step now in many ways is not to go ‘from competent to relevant’, as Emer Coleman summarized in the very good session on local government, but 'from relevant to competent’.
Because for social media and the voice of the many to show what it can do, for it to be a driver of substantive change, means crossing the threshold of it being a ‘nice to have’ to an indispensible, instructional tool, a bio feedback mechanism truly capable of generating a shift in power via a bit of collective cognitive behavioural therapy. That’s what will get the synapses going.
Social media is a participative medium and social networking is, in essence, a contact sport. Yet years of deference, a society untrained in articulation, the need to develop a collective social intelligence based on shared values and new protocols, and a human preference for inertia all prevail.
We also have a ‘data sensitivity’ issue. Lee Bryant mentioned government has to be open and transparent with data, and we do too. With privacy concerns at the core of the issue it's nevertheless the case that taking comfort from data is a vital part of using bio-feedback as a route to collective learning, growth and development. We have to be prepared to deal with the complexities and the nuances that networked information can generate. This is all part of how we learn to manage our ecosystem.
There are some substantial social and cultural challenges to overcome in rebooting Britain as a socially inclusive and self-determinant state of substance and opportunity. I left Reboot Britain yesterday feeling we are still numb to much of the potential.
Euan Semple talks about there being ‘no conscripts only volunteers’ in social media. So, the vision has to be able to be visceral enough to move people. What a reboot has to do is nurture the kind of visionary, committed and inspiring social leadership that can open up pathways for participation, make the most of always being in beta and enable giving and receiving feedback as the kind of tool we need to save ourselves.
We all need a bit of cognitive behavioural therapy, nation state, system and citizen together. It's part of developing the kind of social intelligence and awareness that collectively means we can make stuff happen.
Arjen and Mary at Somesso have posted a three-part article with me on the subject of business transformation, if you have a moment head on over and have a peek, it's here.
It contains a few ideas and I'd love your feedback. How big is our appetite for transformation towards a better organizational ideal?
Organizations come in all shapes and sizes, and ever since Charles Handy wrote 'The Gods of Management' in 1995 I've been fascinated by them.
Downturns are a good time to do a bit of stock-taking and to shake out issues we have with the status quo. Is there a case for commercial reform driven by the need to make more with less? I think so.
And, as corporate opacity goes out of favour, the declining value of established business models, together with corporate governance issues, prompt a fundamental reappraisal of the core purpose of organizations as well as a look at how they can work better.
It's time I think to go beyond the generation of shareholder ROI as we know it. In particular, it's time to look at what organizations collectively can achieve, in ways that benefit the entire ecosystem they operate within, for the many and not just for an elite management few.
As Alva Noë has said, we are not our brains and I believe the paradox is that technology affords us this understanding.
Business really has to be an organic, humane process to be sustainable and it has to have soul to be beneficial as a social activity. Together with the rapidfire awareness that technical diagnostics can provide it is these elements combined that give organizations a pulse.
This is my take on effective and self-propelling principles for management and operational development in the 21st century. You'll need half and hour and I hope you enjoy it.
Do we spend money because we want meaning?
Does the one cancel out the other?
When is spending time and money a good investment?
When we spend for functionality, how exactly does that help in the long term? Organizations, brands, us - we're part of a bigger and more connected network now.
Everything's transparent. It's time to reconcile money and meaning, and to do so overtly in the way we manage ourselves.
The answer is reciprocity, or more especially the lack of it. Reciprocity isn’t baked into marketing which, in this market, is a problem.
Marketing fails now when it doesn’t offer the chance for customers to have a voice and it fails when it doesn’t acknowledge, in a meaningful way, the attention that someone is paying to it.
The economic axis has tilted. With that tilt, the commercial ratios of consumption and production that equal success have altered.
The big consequence is it’s becoming a brand requirement to provide easy steps to the door for comsumers, and the most powerful of these is reciprocity. Reciprocity is a sign that says ‘you’re valued’, ‘you belong here’, ‘we hear you’.
No-one has much attention to splash around these days, let alone disposable income and it is increasingly a false assumption that either are given freely.
So when I want to ask my favourite fmcg brand a quick question, something that may help them shine a light on a possible business opportunity, how does that happen? When we want to show our support for a cause, what do we get back? The ‘what’s in it for me’ now looms way beyond the product.
Any business may be in the pursuit of margin or volume above all else, but the bottom line depends on how well a brand can create and maintain a sustainable following. The 1000 true fans, the sneezers who will recommend a brand can be, and are being, influenced in a remarkably creative number of ways.
Astroturfing and Socialwash are two of the more colourful and ultimately doomed ideas in the field. The bottom line though, is that in this commercial environment, and with social connectivity becoming an emergent form of currency, nothing beats the power of reciprocity.
That’s what Tom Peters called attentiveness when he said ‘The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity'. It’s the kind of attentiveness that can engage and delight and make a brand remarkable.
It’s a ‘thank you for your comment’ on a blog, thank you for the retweet or the Twitter follow, ‘thanks for your ideas’ on a discussion on a Ning site. Those thanks have got to be authentic and heartfelt to make a connection that counts. People don’t fool easy, they’re media literate. Trust is the gold dust of the 21st century.
Reciprocity also means your website has to have easy ways for people to comment and contribute and your business has to have a community management strategy. If your business isn’t baking in reciprocity into the way it does things, it’s simply not making the most of its potential consumer contribution. Marketing like that is a tax that’s paid for being unremarkable - too much media spend without the return.
An imperative of commercial leadership is that business plans make room for reciprocity. Without it overheads are higher, companies are spending too much and are likely to be living off the low margins that come from transactions not relationships. Businesses need new leaders threaded throughout a business that can put reciprocity at the heart of the way they do things.
We’re learning all the time that increasingly there’s no such option as no contact. Fortunately branding, as they say, is a contact sport, and everything is a footprint. That being the case then, why not rethink your marketing to get some synapses going and harness the contributions on offer? Make it real and make it reciprocal.
Over the weekend, some important stories have zeroed in on how the hand-in-glove relationships that exist on both side of the Atlantic between governments and the banks are not in the public interest.
The Bill Moyers Journal has a compelling interview with William K. Black about the financial regulatory framework of the last ten years in the U.S. and the significant bearing it's had on the current financial crisis.
Switching sectors, over in Pharma Marketing, we’ve got the ‘faux community’ of My Crohen’s & Me, created by UCB for its Crohn's disease drug Cimzia to look like a community, but without the option of any interaction from consumers.
These governmental and commercial initiatives are attempts to live in false, walled-garden environments, with all the benefits and none of the risks of real conversational dialogue, and both miss a massive trick.
A critical question is the one asked by the Pharma Marketing blog: Why are the concepts of these "faux" communities and social frameworks preferred when perfectly "real" communities with all the benefits of enhanced dialogue can be created?
It’s not just a matter of integrity, leadership and values, though they help. It’s about how much more effective and sustainable it is to bridge reality gaps instead of the effort of creating diversions to go around them, and how much more easily managed and better are the advantages of ‘real’ as an approach as compared to denial as a strategy.
On April Fool’s Day, this year renamed Financial Fool’s Day, city bankers attempted to escape the attention of protesters against the banks by donning the camouflage of the casual dresser. Who they were kidding isn’t clear. A lot of effort goes in and the damage of distrust remains.
As an allergic reaction to the radical transparency, blatant integrity and the call for authenticity that the digital environment asks for from governments, businesses and brands alike, a rash of affrontery has been breaking out in established circles. It claims the right to maintain the status quo, even when the voices of change that challenge it are all around.
Leadership of connected communities goes beyond putting out a message. Brands promises can be monitored, marketing becomes vision delivered as a service and leadership has to act responsibly. One KPI of digital leadership is having ideas that are sufficiently big to lead; One way towards achieving this is via the acceptance of communal dialogue as a means of generating value.
Everything else is playing politics. Politics, as we know, can be a petty path, a place of partisan opinion and an inhibiter of innovation. It's tempting for management executives to choose a stranglehold of social communication as an alternative strategy to the innovation and leadership challenges of social community management, and this is often the attempt they choose when they play politics. No matter how subtly it's done, it's a strategy that can’t help but be short-lived.
Authenticity is an increasingly valuable commodity because, as we become more sophisticated in our tastes, anyone with any kind of socially-intelligent radar can sniff out fakery out at a hundred paces; any business that isn’t reflecting its inherent strengths and making real connections with consumers is scoring less and less as socially astute demands for enagagement come to the fore from audiences.
It’s increasingly unlikely that any of these initiatives, or ones like them, are fooling anyone. The biggest news from the April Fool’s Day season this year is, as far as that goes, the rules of the game are changing.
In 1968, at the height of the hippie movement and free love, the musical Hair sang it out: ‘This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius’.
Picture by anela. ©anela. All rights reserved.
I think that time reflects the first sensory stirrings of something that social communities are now bringing to fruition. The age of aquarius has paved the way for the age of expression.
The age of expression goes beyond having a conversation; what counts is the moment when people actually want to get onboard with your brand. Social marketing that’s really sticky is about putting yourself out there as a corporate or personal offer. Disintermediation, after all, can be harsh to take. Tacit judgements become a overt part of the equation in the social relationship, which calls for authenticity, blatant integrity, and new ways of behaving.
Social platforms and applications across the spectrum, from Facebook to Twitter to Skype, they all nudge people towards various forms of self-expression and elicit different preferences and, in the information age, they are not a management tool or form of information exchange that plays to everyone’s strengths in the same way.
Some of the current tensions we're experiencing now, commercially and socially, and some of the resistance to social marketing that exists within established management structures, comes from this.
A look at the variously described Keirsey Temperament Sorter will tell you, for example, that expressive communication is an anathema to analytical types and not everyone is comfortable with people over data, or the extraversion of putting it out there over the introversion of keeping it to oneself. Even for those who do, a little judicious judgement may be necessary. Getting social can be a bumpy road.
Having said that, as one of my favourite paradoxes of all time, the analytical type that will prefer to avoid socially oriented contact and extroverted expression, has become perhaps the greatest architect of the new social age.
In that regard, all points of the social compass point towards a coming together of data and community dynamics, where finding and articulating one’s voice becomes a value we can define and measure.
Analytical temperaments work differently online compared to in real life. Online, process management is automated but in organizations a huge amount of human resource is spent on analytical transactions which can detract from the more useful activity of communicating. Corporates are having to work out what happens with the multiple, or multiplied, voices within their business, as are governments, in the age of self-expression.
Corporates can’t all talk with the same voice, and that’s a challenge, but a visceral business, that’s in tune with itself, is able to sing with the same voice. That’s the opportunity.
And beyond the need for conversation is the need for a new economic substance and a shared wealth to come from it. How people, businesses and brands develop in these times will depend on their capability to express themselves and generate the kind of formative ties that bind.
The age of expression is calling out for the kind of leaders than can be accepted by networks as well as hierarchies, and that can channel self expression positively into creating champions for their businesses to exist alongside them.
More than conversation, the power of the expressive age really peaks where it encourages and engenders commitment and contribution. That’s where we have to go to create the greatest potential we have available, and that’s how, I think, the age of aquarius can be converted into a fully realized prize in this new age of self expression.
Picture by RightEye. © RightEye. All rights reserved
As the G20 debate bears down on London, many are doing a bit of speculating: Will the marches be peaceful? Will we be breathing more easily by the time it’s over? Will anything concrete come of it, or will global indecision send us into an abyss?
It’s very tempting in times of uncertainty to tighten one’s grip, and the almost innate human reaction is to tighten the sphincter. When markets dry up, we’re supposed to sell harder, and when anarchy threatens to break out, the almost automatic response is more policing.
But this is potentially a very creative time. Consider the counter-intuitive reaction of less grip, not more. Psychological studies suggest that being in grip is neurotically playing to the opposite side of one’s best self. The laws of physics tell us that real change is not a violent swing from one side to the other, but the synthesis of thesis and antithesis combined. This is what creates direction instead of reaction, and possible, progressive ways forward.
There are lots of ways to get to grips with a situation. At his EdgeEconomy blog, Umair Haque is talking about a financial cold war and coup d'etat, calling the Geithner plan 'a weapon of social, political, and economic mass destruction'. On youtube, Michael Hudson is talking about a kleptocracy, and both amount to the same thing - that the economic issue that the G20 must address is how to unloosen this unhealthy financial grip, the stranglehold of capitalism in the hands of the few that’s managed to drive sustainable business management into the buffers at the expense of the many.
How do we evolve from here? My own personal message to the G20 is it's time to profit with, and not profit from, the people, and what change demands is that we tune into new global psyche. Governments are not the natural home nor the harbingers of the creativity and innovation that’s now required to liberate and drive us out of depression; instead it’s the social voice that must now hold sway.
We have to drop our deference and, as people congregrate online, realize that the value of the trusted network is in a great ascendancy as the seedbed that can help to chart a creative and co-created economically sustainable future.
Howard Bloom puts this very eloquently in an article Reinventing Capitalism: Putting Soul in the Machine that should be required reading for all the attendees of the G20 summit, because whenever there have been times of great uncertainty economically, it’s grip that’s traditionally moved into place. Whilst leadership is needed, what's needed most of all are big ideas, the kind of leadership that can inspire as opposed to control. It's that which moves us. It’s leadership that requires blatant integrity. Going from Business to Usiness means dropping the ‘B’.
Uncertainty gave raise to dictatorship in history after the 1848 French revolutions, after the Russian Revolution and after the Weimar Republic, to name just three incidences in the last century of a fairly common and unfortunate social tendency. Then, in each instance, moderation gave way to authority and tyranny in the face of fear. The mass market of the day didn't have the tools to do much else either.
By comparison, now we do, and we need uncertainty to give rise to democracy as never before. There's a great challenge and an opportunity in this. Hierachies have their place and social order has to harmonize with the fluidity of network. But, as was the prize of the American revolution as a managment alternative to an outmoded sovereignty of the time, the social voice now needs to organize itself into a homestead for new value. That means collaboration not control and generosity of spirit instead of greed.
Less grip, not more.
Photo courtesy of ori2uru
Technology creates affordances within organizations that are making it possible for commerce to experience a shift from process to people.
With technology creating transparency, we don’t need the apparatchik. Management layers of old can be stripped away as true talent claims the right to emerge, blinking, into a new world.
The new world is about more than strength in numbers or the factory. It's where quality and quantity balance and where the strength of the individual is the key to the strength of the collective.
This is an intriging dynamic. And, in recession, it has the possibility to create a ‘champagne effect’.
Quality and equity both boil down to the strength of the individuals that support and follow something. In that kind of situation, every impression, every experience, every touchpoint matters and the richness of experiences is what holds sway. This is a phenomenon of social connectivity.
Technology means what now matters is all about the company we keep. This new world brings with it huge potential for those prepared to live outside bureaucratic protection because freedom beckons for strong individuals.
Network effects are crucial to consider, and it's impossible to ignore the implications of the long tail - both good and bad - and that an infinite supply of crumbs can exist in the tail, while the big players in the juicy head grow bigger.
Whatever the case it’s clear that the simple irrefutable equation is that leadership creates success.
One essential characteristic of tribes is that the strength of a tribe is inherently connected to the strength of its leadership. You get to have a tribe by having the courage to lead. Where push marketing is thrust and permission marketing is traction, it’s the pulling power of the leadership from which all else follows.
So when a leader is ‘full up’ and their cup overfloweth in a tribe there are opportunities to go round, opportunities gained by developing leadership in each and every member within their tribe, each doing their own thing, each going their own way, each with a specialization, each being remarkable.
These aren’t the days of the factory anymore where people are assigned. In tribes leaders choose and are chosen. I wonder whether the way to make profitable relationships in a tribe is less about tails and heads it’s more about leadership and individual excellence.
The commune was fair, but flat. Imagine a notional 30%:70% value split cascaded all the way down a champagne tower and you get a lot more fizz, and a lot more leadership. But it also takes strong leadership to stir up the bubbly in the first place.
The champagne effect is what makes social communities exciting. It encourages leaders with fizz and the chance for us all to pop our corks.
This is the age of social activism. It’s an age that was brought to life by the good - by the fun and exhilaration of youtube and grown by the bad - by disasterous earthquakes and desperate meltdowns.
Whilst we first came to know about networks via video and new kicks with pictures, we’ve got organized around events like China, bank charges and bonuses and the need for hope.
Social community is, at its core, about human connections and emotional bonds. It’s an age that supports self expression.
This doesn’t sit well with everyone. Rational, analytical types on the Keirsey Temperament Scale, for example, may view social communities as unattractive. One attribute of social communities is their random volatility, they are not all code. There’s also the question of how to measure the value of social communities, problematic in a risk averse and credit crunched marketplace.
Technology and goodwill, however, have the combined power to create seismic shifts in this.
The Treasury Select Committee is questioning the highly numerate Fred Goodwin of RBS, Andy Hornby of HBOS, Lord Stevenson and Tom McKillop to a packed crowd today at Westminster.
And within this investigation of what went wrong with the banks, what’s transpiring is the extent of a tragic mismatch – between what was required to manage in changing circumstances and what we actually had.
The ground was shifting and there was no way to recognize it until it was too late.
Andy Hornby, ex head of HBOS has proudly stated how 5 members of the HBOS Executive Team had 150 years of experience between them. Experience in looking backward. They were blindsided.
They were blindsided too by an abject lack of consumer dialogue and a culture lacking conscience. As John Prescott and myself and others find potential for action in facebook, there’s clear and tangible evidence that the gulf between public opinion and Board perspective has hardly been wider.
A universal uproar at the dual principles that have been applied is in motion, the disparity between what expectations are handed down to the public around risk and reward and the management of credit and debit, compared what banks are claiming as principles for themselves.
Those protected by a bubble of assets, highly numerate and secure, are failing to grasp the emotional content that real life hardship is releasing. This is the kind of content that’s going back to the more primal connections and real life values that social networking fosters and allows.
Despite the fact that these bankers have gambled away huge sums of capital built up by shareholders and customers, with RBS losing £28 billion in the last year, Fred Goodwin walked away with £4.3m in bonuses.
That’s the paradox. The failure to grasp how it feels to hear that when others go broke for far less means that communities and trusted places are becoming places of some refuge, stimulating new ways of trade. Time for organization 2.0.
It wasn’t absolute zero yesterday, but it was a colder day than most, and ten inches of snow brought London practically to a standstill.
On Wimbledon Common the snowman building tribe came out, for one day only, to do their thing, a temporary tribe.
People were engaged in a shared experience and the community spirit was not only alive and well it was thriving, creating a life affirming energy in the depths of winter. That’s what communities do.
Chilling out has long been associated with having a plus side, it suggests moderation, it attracts rathers than repels. As Lucy Kellaway writes about the recession’s web of fear and how we manage an emerging global collective psyche, arguably the best thing we can do right now amidst the panic of potential meltdown, is chill.
The interesting thing absolute zero as a temperature is it’s when matter exhibits quantum effects such as superconductivity and superfluidity, so as far as getting things going is concerned, it’s a pretty good place to be.
Apply that to economics and no growth may be a good thing for a while, a time to take stock in lateral ways.
When we take time to survey the economic scene it’s just as much in the depths of a bleak midwinter as my local snowscene. It looks like the repetitive rush to profit and productivity has driven us at a reckless pace into the buffers like a runaway train that’s facing derailment on snowy tracks.
Compare that to the strongest social community I know, Seth Godin’s www.triiibes.com community where, on an entirely voluntary basis, in six months 3,942 members have created 353 groups, 3,163 discussions, 2,075 blog posts and uploaded 437 videos.
It’s the laissez faire approach coupled with a strong leadership ethos of ‘lead and get out of the way’ that’s generated an excellent signal-to-noise ratio, such remarkable productivity and a whole wave of active participants as the antidote to 'single-think'.
The internet lowers the cost of failure and has the ability, in social communities, to create safe places to land, thus spawning entirely different cultural possibilities compared to more rigid management structures.
These cultures are more relaxed, committed to the need for collaboration as the way to get things done, and capable of rapidly accelerating group capabilities because of the cumulative effects of learning iteratively together in real time.
Strong community cultures accept and encourage everyone involved to express themselves, to feel valued for having a point of view, metaphorically speaking, to build their own snowmen.
They recognize that consumption and production and new forms of credit can often be generated better as a group, for and with one another, than by seeking that fix from outside, especially when a common purpose can bind people together like glue.
These things are beginning to emerge as new imperatives for productivity and growth. Being chilled about that probably isn’t a bad way to start.
This is a real case of 'if we build it they will come' thinking.
Imagine what the next 18 years may bring in terms of social connectedness.
Social media is incendiary stuff. For many organizations it's a direct challenge to existing norms and the way things get done, the sort of direct challenge that spells potentially profound consequences to the basic shape and fabric of existing business practices as we know them.
People like Gary Hamel, who've written about best practice management for years, are saying that management must be reinvented. It's a voice that can turn into a clamour when social media becomes part of the equation. Change from without is a challenge, but it's also well established that change is rarely well effected entirely from within.
So when David Gelles at the FT writes about 'firefighting' as the point of social media within corporates, I must confess that I get ever so slightly sceptical. When 'companies are using Twitter to douse public relations fires before they erupt' it's worth asking how much emollient can be dispensed at the same time as facilitating the real opportunities that businesses need to reinvent themselves?
I'm part of Seth's tribe. We recognize the quite heretical element in many of the conversations that social media is starting and because of that we often talk more about starting fires than fighting them.
This is a picture of firefighters who start fires, record the moment, then put them out as part of their training. That's what well trained firefighters do. The casebook's a free download for your viewing pleasure full of stories where communities have been set alight because of the spark of imagination that being social allowed them to generate. Download TheTribesCasebook
And as the established world view of many businesses comes pressingly and perilously close to the white heat of customers who care through social media, the challenge becomes how to deliver the best interests of organizations in terms of how they engage with it.
With the opportunity to integrate social media into business practices opening up, real conversations can start to influence strategy. Cost effective transformation can happen to replace the tedium of the monologue that the diet of traditional media has been serving up for some time. Beyond that there lies the question of how to 'operationalize' a tribe. As Bob Pearson of Dell puts it in the same article, "social media is much more than getting out there and having conversations, it transforms a business if you use it correctly."
Socialwash is an unfortunate and emergent reality, more CRM 2.0 than a new management opportunity for a radically different era. The question worth asking is what are the responsibilities and opportunities that belong to the new corporate masters of social media and what will their paymasters let them be, a point of PR or agent of potentially profound change?
On the day when industry figures released have been labeled as no less than ‘frightening’, and as we wait for a continuing rollcall of businesses to fall by the wayside, this is a thought about what’s going to get many out of the ditch and how we view the company we keep.
No matter how seismic this current redefinition of commercial drivers seems to be, one thing that remains the same is that the platform for growth and change has always been people.
The singular piece of IP, the unique process, the first mover advantage, the heritage and culture behind a unique offer, none of these build or sustain a business without the people who are behind them. They’re the ones who have the ideas, the vision to open minds to new ideas, the ability to be inspiring, that helps businesses turn corners.
McKinsey are talking about and highlighting the upside of investor and operational transparency. It’s becoming clearer by the day that the people who build blatant integrity and transparency back into businesses and the way they work, and that can encourage that most precious of commodities, investor and consumer confidence, back into their businesses, are the ones that will win. This is not management land, it’s about real and honest relationships.
As the brand is being marked down as a bygone buzzword, with compelling stats telling the narrative of their sorry decline, what’s becoming the most credible story for tomorrow is that if you don’t have a social brand it’s likely you may not have a sustainable business.
Acording to this article, 'a Mediaedge:cia study found that 76 percent of people rely on what other people say versus 15 percent on advertising, and 92 percent of people now cite word-of-mouth as the best source for brand information. Universal McCann found that 74 percent of global Internet users write reviews online, while 75 percent of people consult blogs before they buy, according to Bazazarvoice. Brands have nowhere to hide.'
And as organizations wipe the slate a bit and redefine many of the numbers that add up to their corporate reputation and what it’s worth, now’s the time to start supplementing it with new value.
The value that’s set to increase is the personal reputation of the people that are associated with a business. What's beginning to matter more and more are the leaders that have a voice, who blog, who twitter, who bring a position and a point of view, a platform for action and a following to a business proposition because they believe in it.
There’s lot of talk right now about how to monetize, or not, these relationships. What that boils down to ultimately is the same thing that has been the make or break of many a business for some time - how well it’s overall DNA is aligned to deliver its vision, how well the synapses actually do work as a connected entity. This is the hallmark of visceral businesses.
This is the time for many businesses to be doing a lot more to encourage the talent that’s already in their business to rise up to the surface and find a voice, and it's something that can happen from within and without to the point where both become seamless. That way businesses and organizations can constellate themselves into social brands that are open, transparent and able to command a following.
It all boils down to the company we keep. And the type of company management we leave behind.
Today I thought I'd join the Synchronicity group on facebook and various events happened synchronistically that led me to doing it.
As soon as I joined the group, the fact that I had came up as an entry on my facebook feed.
That moment was an act of synchronicity too.
The point is there’s an instantaneousness to how we're getting things done now. It's becoming very powerful, suggesting that the net worth is in the network.
I’m a big fan of Chris Brogan, and Chris is writing about how social media has enabled him to scoop the best journos at CES09 by communicating news and ideas fast, directly, to an online audience, and to get a dialogue going using twitter.
As with the facebook story the ingredients are part human and part technical. It's how we engage today. The really big story both these things illustrate is that affinity is stronger than structure, which has profound consequences for every marketer and managing director.
Crowdsourcing and flash mobs are often thought of as going hand in hand as what happens when an unruly random mob flock to either an idea or a venue. The dynamic is seen as the same, unruly. Now though we can pick our friends, build networks of our own and attract people who are interested, committed, enabled, or who’d like to be.
The thrill from the random meet works for a while but sometimes one needs a little more. People connect rapidly in times of distress. That’s when they need to connect, and connect well, with things that matter to them.
One of the most important predictions about 2009 I've heard is that people are going to get a bit choosier and more selective when it comes to thinking about who they connect with online. It’s going to happen because people haven't got much time, and as Stefan Stern has mentioned recently, they have very little attention.
Networks matter because they tell you where the other people who care about something that matters are going to be. The strong networks will be the ones that can build that interest, sustain the energy and lead and transform. Put it like that and networks become the 2.0 version of what used to be called organizations.
Brands need attention to thrive, so why are so many not working with the laws of natural attraction? And why are they not working in real-time connected to social media environments that can engage their audiences and support them by allowing them to contribute? It’s the storytelling, in conjunction with others, that engages.
This is a difficult time for many organizations, they’re desperate to raise interest and get their share of attention before the money runs out. It’s easy to ignore what the step change of social networks offer, and what community management provides when what you’re used to is media management, not people management.
Read Seth Godin’s latest blog and you'll read about ‘the kneejerk rejection’. It’s an easy slide to consider getting back to the way things used to be done, fear promotes that kind of visceral reaction, but the real twitch for brands is coming from the synchronicity of interests, from affinity trumping structure because that’s where the attention lies.
That’s where the synchronicity of the network makes everything happen, a little bit more easily and a little bit quicker.
We live in a world of duality – light and shade, expansion and contraction, the list is endless. Biology, technology, art and science, right brain, left brain, they’re perpetually intertwined.
Data has evolved into a mental deluge as part of operational consciousness. When even the smartest of organizations can find it hard to process it all, let alone interpret it, maybe algorithmic error and human error are still not that far removed from one another, at potentially great cost. The old adage of ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ remains.
As we get technically more savvy, humanness is also coming to the fore as its natural counterpoint.
The cumulative effects of a miniscule miscalculation means it’s still all too easy to go off the tracks when data informs what we do. This is why tribes are so important and have such allure today; they protect and validate their own.
One of the hardest things to factor into any equation is that curiosity does not collude with calculation, and when one attempts to streamline and restrict it, somehow life finds a way to escape.
We want rapport in our lives, every bit as much as any analysis, and business needs this. It’s the personal stories that are most illuminating, the ones on the fringes that have the most to offer. We crave uniformity, the comfort and reassurance of code, but also love the lure of the new, the things that are different and make things interesting and fresh.
The other day a woman joined a train next to me in well-worn biking gear and perfect make-up. She defied categorization. It was clear from the get-go that hers was a deftly crafted commute, individually styled and accessorized, a tale made up of a catalogue of potentially conflicting life-choices that no one without the most appreciative and detailed of insights would have had a chance to understand.
So who captures her story? Who connects with her as she puts together her portfolio for personal brand consumption? How is behavioural analysis going to help build a relationship with her? What's going to make her feel prepared to share?
The difficulty with data is that it’s a numbers game, not a people game. Brands that are data heavy and look at consumers from the outside in should beware.
Science is telling us there is honesty in teams. Communities and group dynamics demand that you be yourself. This is the challenge of the inter-connected society.
The serious implication is that brands must develop the ability to function within other ecosystems and win the trust required to hear the real stories. Only by having a shot at understanding this level of complexity do they have a chance to thrive, beyond emotional connection, into visceral connection, as matter meshing together.
Talk, as they say, is cheap. To some this is a very good thing. It’s never been easier to gather up dialogue using tools for collaboration. In a committed wiki, everyone has a point of view.
But what lies beyond the wiki? Converting talk into action is not so easy for a whole host of reasons.
Some people are simply not motivated to do more than talk. The power of the voice online is a tempting offer to deliver a stream of consciousness that’s attractive to many for the fame simply of being seen.
Once the bonding starts to happen online, collaboration tools like wikis operate through a series of responses to develop a cumulative strength of opinion, and some consensus, but not always.
The wiki is also the domain of cyber-bullying where the egos of thread contributors can be trounced by dominant group members, overwhelmed by points of view so vehement they simply fold, cease to contribute, or exit stage left.
The significance of leadership within wikis is I think heavily underestimated. Failing to recognize that dominant personalities can stifle creativity in other participants, failing to recognize that good leadership is important within a democratic wiki, can prevent wikis from achieving anything at all.
The real opportunity of the wiki is to move beyond talk into valuable and productive collaboration and for many the challenge about how best to do that is upon them.
When digital type was first invented people went crazy with fonts. The sweet shop was just too tasty, the range available just too big, for people not to gorge themselves until typographic indigestion set in. Something had to be done. All the fonts were there, but no-one could actually read anything.
So it is with wikis, where the temptation to add something, to be seen to be seen, to have the last word, can have a massive impact. Sometimes, it’s a good thing just to let an idea be, just as it is; wikis rarely offer that option.
For those who want to go above and beyond the wiki, the real value is in adding to good ideas by firstly letting them rest. A good idea takes time to assimilate and be truly appreciated for what it is.
Contributing to a good idea is then not so much about talk at all, it requires action. Accepting the challenge to step up a gear and get practical, developing a methodology that proves the concept, solving problems, taking responsibility for applying and making it work in certain areas, helping in a hands-on way to iron out the kinks, is a lot harder than telling.
In a streamlined world, and in either real or the virtual environments, the best contributors are prepared to make a commitment to the thread that way, by moving into production. Are yours?
Demonstrate leadership and you've something to offer. Encourage your community to connect and thrive, give them a soft place to land and get out of the way. Put purpose into the picture and empower belonging.
As a short and sweet strategy for participation, this is what created the Tribes Q&A ebook, the culmination of a multitude at work who discussed, debated, collaborated, compiled, and generally stepped up to contribute spontaneously to this impressive accompaniment to Seth Godin's book Tribes on www.triiibes.com. As Seth himself says, 'there a juicy insight on every page'.
So go ahead take a look, it's free to download and share.
If organizations can inspire participation at the levels this initiative was able to do, their prospects are rosy.
Twitter's fail whale is a hero for modern times.
It's become an icon for those who appreciate and understand that modesty can be charming, engaging. What it's also done is drawn fans into twitter in their thousands and as such it's a superb piece of brand communication. Alongside the charm there are guts and integrity.
Technology and the speed of change presents significant challenges to humans and the irony here is when we understand that perfection is for the Gods, then we understand how to fail.
It's important to know how to fail because when new is exciting, we don't always want stable. Stable is not remarkable or a thrill, it doesn't move people on a visceral level.
The online environment offers an opportunity for a golden age of entrepreneurship, where this play between technology and humanity is in motion and where networks that engage build reputations, intellectual capital assets and in turn generate value.
The potential of technology to reach out and build rich communications with constituencies around the world is significant, not least because it also asks us to be more human.
It's amazing how many people have a flutter on the lottery.
It's notable how much money has been made on a hedge on the stock market.
It's worth remembering the value of stocks and shares can go down as well as up.
It's a predicament that there's now not enough credit to go around.
What's completely remarkable is markets have had so much propulsion - because of risk not despite it. So it's ironic that, because of these risk games that have gone wrong, now there's too much risk for people to take a chance on credit the way they used to.
We should have been betting on a sure fire thing.
So now we have a chance. New forms of credit are emerging that are far better than the old ones and it's turning out that the kind of credit that can make a difference are the ones that are a little more homespun.
They're the kind of credits you give to your friends, your tribe members, to people that are close to you. Affinity and proximity have substantial value essentially because it's trustworthy when the chips are down.
It's reputation that matters, that's a better bet than most. And reputation is the kind of value that's generated when people give credit where credit's due.
People all over the world are reviewing the credit crunch and they're asking what we could do better. Are they thinking about the kind of credit fix we can all generate when someone does something remarkable and makes a difference and we credit them?
What would that do to world markets do you think in terms of growth potentials and value generation?
What wealth do we generate together when we are able to credit the unique contributions that someone did because they cared, because they used their skill, their talent and their voice to make a difference?
And why is it do we believe for one moment we're not capable of using all our unique gifts to create remarkable things rather than to pass something off 'as is', which is so often the case in marketing?
As Marianne Williamson says, 'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us'.
We need - urgently - to give credit where credit's due, to each other. When people step up and do things and when they make a difference. Building your brand helps, finding your voice, knowing that you'll get credit from fair-minded people that allow you to step up and building your reputation not appropriate or exploit it. This encourages contexts in which possibilities and potential become valuable.
By working in a tight community or a tribe, the possibility to create fair-minded credit becomes possible. Because the thing is, it's all traceable, technology makes it so. It's safe.
So why not keep the credit we give to those we trust going and build reputations in this way? Let's do it because by association when they win, we win. We want to credit something therefore when it's good.
This is the way our economy becomes headed in ways that are most rewarding, spontaneously. And it's a lot less risky than where we've been going.
Very few structures stay standing indefinitely. Even fewer stay standing intact in their original form.
As European stock markets plunge markets are in a state of panic selling, with many a UK Council facing the fact their cash is trapped in foreign banks.
What's being spelt out is uncertainty, even for our closest communities.
This brings with it a new awareness - an awareness that affinities are stronger than structure, but affinities have to some extent been eroded by too much orchestration in a quest for management opportunity.
One could argue that, at the most basic level, it's over-engineering that has been at the heart of these troubled times.
In any case the net effect is that trust is on the ropes. Instinctively, we feel a need to stay close to the things that matter to us. What comes to the fore in difficulty is the need to protect and feel protected.
This week sees the launch in the US of Seth Godin's new book Tribes. It offers stories of revolution and hope of resurrection.
Tribes are primal structures. They're bonded by creed and choice, not by management imperatives.
Corned beef gave way to a return to scratch cooking once the thrill of being able to manufacture food subsided a few decades ago, and so it is with business today.
We're learning in this economic collapse that wealth generation needs to become a lot more personal to achieve a re-balanced economy. It needs traction and not just thrust.
My good fortune of the last two months has come from having been able to be an active participant in Seth's online tribal experiment - Triiibes - a learning community launched online (by invitation only at the moment) back in July. Next week I'll be at the US book launch in New York with many a tale to tell from my tribal compadres. Even though we come from all around the world, as a tribe, we're close. In marketing terms, Tribes marks a shift of revolutionary proportions.
We are seeing seismic shifts in markets and marketers need to respond. Tribes offers tales of a new kind of leadership, a safe haven and firmer ground for the future.
And as a ticket out of near-death economic experiences and market upheaval, it's a safe bet being tribal is going to be a better way forward than many others.
Gordon Brown has been making the point that markets need morals. This is something brand people have been espousing for years, that enterprises work better when they have shared values.
It's never been truer in fact. Today shared values work for brands, for markets, for countries and for whole economies.
The day is dawning for of the kind of intangible value that might offset the decline in tangible value being seen around the world.
In the world of Economics 2.0 profit is a brand, a marker of how much is being taken out of communities and how much is being put in.
The world is increasingly transparent. Stakeholders today give an organization a mandate to operate, permission to market, and not just the liquidity to operate.
When profit is being used to fund marketing campaigns that are only a tax paid for being unremarkable, profit is a big part of the brand and it's likely to create negative equity.
Too much profiteering may very well break a brand, not just finance it.
Brands are energetic entities, at their most essential level, they’re pulses of attraction.
Peristalsis is ‘the rhythmic contraction of smooth muscles to propel contents through the digestive tract. The word is derived from New Latin and comes from the Greek peristaltikos, peristaltic, from peristellein, "to wrap around," and stellein, "to place’, according to Wikipedia.
The rhythmic contractions of brands are a big part of the way brands stay relevant. Brands are quite naturally a response, like peristalsis, to the elements in place in any given society; they wrap around raw ingredients to form entities that can create a following.
What’s happened to this flexing and adapting over time is very interesting, and it will become even more interesting in the near future.
The whole idea of branding was at the very beginning to create ownership, but as this recent study
confirms, we’re moving closer to collective ownership being the driver of wealth then ever before. Forget communism, hello tribe.
A brand was initially a wrapper of raw ingredients, a container of tangible assets, that promoted itself through the creation of a badge of quality. Through the use of these simple signifiers - logos - brands were able to communicate at speed, harnessing mass-market channels of communication to reach huge audiences.
Then brand segmentation kicked in, and it became possible to replicate the brand model, to create a multiplicity of products and services. Competition came into it.
Next step was the fragmentation of communication channels, and the targeting of audience-specific needs and wants. We got brands by the bucketload.
Now, no-one really feels the need quite as much to define themselves by their tangible consumption and we’ve learnt not to believe the hype. We’re living in the age of the intelligence economy, we’re co-creating in fluid groups.
So any self-respecting brand consultant has to ask themselves this: ‘Does the brand have a place today? Does it work as a label of assigned ownership and a ticket of entry to value in such a context? What’s the role for ownership in a fluid society, where we are all, at any time, part of one thing or another depending on what focuses our attention?
The emerging phenomenon of folkonomies, of the new world tribes, that many are seeing and participating in as creators of value, mean it’s time for a brand contraction. We still need definitions, yes, but what’s needed is definition based on a singular awareness of what each individual can provide within the tribe.
Then we need to understand that how the tribe that controls itself realises its worth and generates value.
We will always need definitions because we need ease of access. Branding enables that essential distillation to continue as societies become more complex but everyone finds their place and they way they can contribute to it. Branding allows us to value the individual elements fully too, as part of the connectedness that is now beginning to power society, well as the shape of the whole.
This is the difference between the community of old and the new world tribe, the tribe generates defined value, as much as shares it.
Today, the nature of government is changing profoundly. It used to be we all had one Government each - that of the land we live in.
Now, potentially, we have several. As the world becomes more complex, made up of the real and the virtual, the mass market and the niche, as we each take control of our own existences rather than having them managed for us, and as we deal with and respond to challenges and change in real-time, there is a need to look at government in a new way.
Apple, for example, is very often the government of my existence online. I use Apple’s Macs, Apple’s iPod, Apple’s iPhone, Apple’s software to create my website (though Typepad do the blog bit because of various Apple shortcomings there, don’t ask) and I get co-ordinated online services through Apple's Mobile Me. I couldn’t exist online at the moment without Apple. They enable and, to a reasonable extent, govern me.
All the music I buy I hear online and purchase via Apple’s iTunes store; Apple looks after my calendar and it manages all my emails. In fact, I’m not sure that the good old traditional government that looks after my physical citizenship in London does as much for me, and I pay them taxes!
I pay Apple too of course, and this week Apple has created a blog specifically to manage the poor experiences that many of their consumers, the citizens of the world of Apple, are feeling a little let down about at the moment, namely the simultaneous introduction of the 3G iPhone and MobileMe that didn’t quite go according to plan.
But Apple communicates, it’s open to dialogue about itself from others and it listens and that’s a good thing. It responds in near-time as much as it’s capable of doing and it has reasonable levels of brand trust, and that’s not something many political parties or governments of state can lay claim to.
In the days now when real-time representation, as Robert Scoble reports, is gaining ground particularly in the US thanks to the technological opportunities offered by the likes of the iPhone, Twitter and Qik, you’ve got to thank Apple as a brand that takes communication a little more seriously than most.
What’s worth recognizing though is that as the nature of government is arguably in flux, so too is the nature of the social contract that comes with it and, here, darker overtones are emerging as part of change.
The scale of the mortgage defaulting crisis in the US for example is so large that the number of people walking away from their homes is at 'tsunami level'. As one person is reported as putting it, ‘Is the bank going to pay for my retirement because I was a good girl and paid my mortgage?’ and another observes, ‘It's a business decision for their family that the smartest thing they can do is walk away from their home’.
This is a landscape where there is very little to keep people loyal to their job when they lack job security themselves, very little in terms of a quid pro quo that the consumer can expect from either the state or the commercial sector in terms of welfare and very little in terms of the social relationship contracts that exists between many individuals in society on a day to day basis.
People have in many ways simply stopped caring about the notion of a social contract at all. What applies to them, as instilled by national and commercial governments of all shapes and sizes, is that the individual is on its own. It’s the kind of behaviour that means people don’t return calls, that communication stops flowing, that people are defended instead of open and collaborative and there's generally a lot more cynicism.
One reason for this is that caring doesn’t necessarily comes with a particularly good business case attached to it. Capitalism has long since stepped away from being able to deliver a sense of common good. Brand promises, perhaps the epitome of that, have very little currency in the minds of many.
As share prices dive, creditors default and wealth generation in the West is on the ropes however, we need to re-examine this sense of what government is all about and find another way. We need to create, find and invest in social contracts that can be built to last in an emergent world built on productive social exchange.
There’s always the spoiler, the person who’s more saboteur than honest participator or who’s looking for the next free deal. Governments have traditionally had means in place to circumvent this in that, firstly, you have to show up and be prepared to be identified and, secondly, you have to pay your dues – you get to be part of the community by participating and paying taxes.
The unfolding months and years that are ahead will be an exercise in whether we can find effective ways to manage the mass interest of collaborative societies online. A new approach to brand marketing will be at the heart of that. It offers the possibility of harnessing a new kind of wealth. It’s worth doing and the prize is great.
Blatant integrity is key and at the core of this challenge, as is managing your brand, making promises you can keep, being productive, building brand reputation and staying true to the values that underpin a reputation in order to guarantee specific behaviour that's more capable of being trusted, even when things don't quite go according to plan. In this way people can be prepared to re-invest and that's what, both economically as well as socially, is very much what's required now.
As an antidote to the dog-eat-dog death throes of the status quo, that’s a better way of creating wealth than the unproductive cul de sac many businesses are going down at the moment. It’s also a better way to govern pretty much anything.
There’s an interesting thing about passion. When it’s stifled or thwarted by circumstance, it just gets stronger.
Do passionate people give up when things get harder? No. It’s an essential characteristic of being passionate, in fact, that they don’t.
The curious thing that happens is, after a period of being stifled, when one finds oneself in tune with one's passion again it can create a real surge of very dynamic productivity. With passion, it really is a case of absence making the heart grow fonder.
Passion comes from listening to the body and the soul. It comes from respectfully tuning in to what really matters. It takes time. And whether that body is political, corporate or personal, this is what 'listening to one's body', means.
In toughening circumstances it’s easy to lose sight of where and what our real passions are and just survive. It’s easy also to get caught up in a rush of frenzied activity, of ‘doing’ without ‘thinking’, without the calm reflection that listening to one’s body entails.
In a commercial context, in fact, 'doing' too much can obliterate any opportunity to do some really useful ‘thinking’. Thinking can be seen at times as a commercial risk when the name of the game is just delivery, pure and simple.
Trying to develop new ideas and capture them on paper whilst catching a train, for example, is not that easy. Rushing from one meeting to another doesn’t allow for scope to sit back and collect some objectivity. No, thinking and doing are often not all that compatible except when they come together as part of an iterative process or a cognitive experience.
For many, corporate life is increasingly tending to mean being dead behind the eyes in the quest for continuing productivity within the same paradigm at any price.
Traditionally, commercial acceleration has been driven by the investor and the consequent need for a year on year return. Is this sustainable long term? What happens when the system's got nothing left to give?
Steve Jobs, when talking about managing through and economic downturn, relates to the issue of passion. “When the dot-com bubble burst”, he said, “what I told our company was that we were just going to invest our way through the downturn, that we weren't going to lay off people, that we'd taken a tremendous amount of effort to get them into Apple in the first place -- the last thing we were going to do is lay them off. And we were going to keep funding. In fact we were going to up our R&D budget so that we would be ahead of our competitors when the downturn was over. And that's exactly what we did. And it worked. And that's exactly what we'll do this time."
The ability to see beyond the darker horizons of a situation is fuelled by passion. Being in tune with one’s body, in Steve’s case, Apple, makes it easier to achieve. It makes a priority out of finding what ways will release a surge of far more meaningful activity when the struggle is on. It makes success much easier to realize.
There’s a lot of talk about social networks being a route to future value. Social networks constelate around spontaneous, unbridled interest that doesn’t have to be contrived and is therefore very efficient. Reports are that to date the majority of corporate businesses are failing to harness this opportunity. It’s questionable also whether social networks can affect the change we need in isolation from the investor perspective.
For corporate businesses to continue to have a good chance of generating future wealth for their investors, investors need to allow the corporates to seek an approach to wealth management that centers value around the social network and that liberates the passion of their people. They need to listen to the body.
Some things get better with age, and some things don’t, but the fact that nothing stays the same is inevitable, and possibly the best thing any of us can do in the face of changing economics and business landscapes is to consider a little re-wiring of ourselves.
With acknowledgements to The Psychology of Computer Programming: Silver Anniversary Edition (Paperback) by Gerald M. Weinberg.
If this is singularity in a co-created environment, it works for me.
The level of consumer disassociation with brand marketing present today suggests that collaborative, responsive relationships need to be at the core now of the way brands do business.
In the information age, opinion matters, reputations count and 'being liked' is a new currency within wealth management. So when reputation is everything... and in the information age it is everything... it pays not to be too heavy-handed.
This seems to be escaping Martin Sorrell at the moment. In his attempted purchase of TNS, it seems the message is that there are some things that money just can't buy. The Beatles called it love. In corporate take-over terms it's the ability to be a preferred partner.
The operating ethos that's built the WPP Group is pretty well known. A strident and doggedly persistent focus on its goals is one trademark that has possibly been what's behind having its bid snubbed three times to date.
The strange thing is that WPP is well-versed in the value of intangible assets as well as tangible ones. The value of brand management is predicated on this, but it seems that the value of reputation and of being preferred only now seems to be coming home to roost for Martin Sorrell as a decisive factor to take into account.
An irony exists in that, by following WPP's takeover battle for TNS, it's possible to glean from the fastest growing communications group in the last 30 years, just how much the communications landscape itself has changed over that period. One could argue it's this change that's at the root of Martin Sorrell's thwarted ambition.
It used to be that in building a consumer brand, 'first base' was to build awareness and an 'opportunity to see' via mainstream communications channels. An 'opportunity to see' (or OTS value) of 8 or 9 would usually be a sufficient amount of exposure to from any kind of recognition or recall and establish a sense spontaneous brand awareness. All that had to be done was to spray some interesting creative content with a pack shot and/or logo down a mainstream channel for that number of times or more and eventually your audience would get the message and get to know you.
After that, if the price-point fitted and customers could get hold of the product, an advertiser would have its first wave of sales. With a catchy call to action in place, a percentage of viewers would be tempted to go out and buy the product so the next step would be to focus on building repeat purchase. For that advertisers would need testimony, a couple of housewives, perhaps, discussing the virtues of said product. There was a name for those ads and it wasn't pretty, but they usually worked. And of course if you could get a celebrity endorsement, well then, how influential would that be.
A focus group or two, a bit of tweaking with the product and a few 'New, Improved!' campaigns later, everyone could get on with the business of keeping up the media spend, doing creative and charming campaigns, focus on building long-term customer loyalty and consider a bit of diversification or line extension. The best agencies of the age did that very well. Martin Sorrell bought quite a few of them.
Move forward to today and interesting conversations are being had between WPP, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. There are some new kids on the block and new ideas. It's interesting to watch these worlds of established and emergent communications collide, and building testimony still has a very great part to play.
Now the lines are blurred however between client, partner and consumer and the communications landscape is no longer a place where anyone exists in the context of 'us' and 'them'. Martin Sorrell talks about the relationship as being one of 'frenemies', lately he has talked more darkly of 'froes'.
As Digitas CEO David Kenny said as part of the debate however, 'treating Google as a threat is counterproductive'. We've been living in a world coloured by threat and some would say of terror, for quite a while now. It isn't very appealing. But a large corporate has to protect itself by remaining large in order to survive.
This is possibly why, to WPP, the acquisition of TNS is so important. The 'kiss and punch' of the WPP model, as Martin Sorrell has described it, is built on the assumption that scale is the only way it can protect margin, and margin is derived from control.
Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt suggested in 2000 that capitalism is just another fad in a long line to have gripped society and then slid from grace throughout the development of the civilized world every 200-300 years.
Capitalist growth, certainly, demands ever more profit derived from ever greater consumption and streamlined production and distribution to succeed, yet capitalism has assumed a world of infinite resources. Advertising and marketing have depended on that assumption too.
From the beginning of the marketing age several decades ago, when communication traveled through a few primary channels and fed many simultaneously, we've moved through targeted, then tailored, then on-to-one marketing, then viral marketing, in the pursuit of more sales to feed a consumptive appetite as part of the capitalist ideal.
We have reached the point of audience fatigue and we may have reached the point where there simply isn't enough economic wealth in the system to generate an infinite supply of wants or ever increasing profit without something new in the mix.
Marketeers today are beginning to appreciate just to what degree controlled communication pushed out to consumers has little traction. Instead, as Yochai Benklerâs work on open-source economics suggests, a new model of 'radical distribution' has to drive us, one capable of generating new forms of economic wealth as well as new ways of realizing that wealth.
Some things are hard to retain or convert in the pursuit of progress - the switch from VHS to digital was one such example. The requirement for a radical shift in marketing now might similarly mean we shift to a new platform.
It's a shift that involves us moving from being primarily consumers to being primarily producers, a shift that's the result of moving from muscle to intellect as a primary means of production alongside the emergence of the information economy.
On the internet and in real life, given our scant attention on a number of subjects, we surf. Our attention tends to gather around people, groups and businesses that interest, inspire and lead the way. In the past that's been governments, large corporates or celebrities, but today it can mean any kind of group, such is the democratized beauty of online communications. As producers our interest is focused and generates attention.
Moving on from surfing, closer contact and deeper awareness with subjects, issues and interests as producers, means there is willingness to follow and track subjects in our sphere of interest. When promises are authentic, they generate fans, willing to be counted, then followers.
As followers, interest is invested over time, we touch, feel, generally interact as in the traditional heartland of consumption, but as producers, once we consume, we stay invested. We have ideas about the product based on a deep knowledge of how it engages us, and how it it could be developed to be better.
By contributing those ideas, involvement and participation takes place. Friendships are created, supporters bring goodwill and a vested interest in future success. We create shared truths and shared space. We build trust and develop the ability to influence.
Then as we become influencers an affinity of values, an economic fitness of use and purpose becomes manifest. And once we have gone that far, we become partners where co-production and collaborative relationships can generate future development and efficient income production.
This is a landscape of multiple currencies, all as valuable as one another, based on mutual interest in the pursuit of spontaneous and cost-effective growth where there is no one locus of control. We all need to watch how we do business.
When companies and individuals take this to heart in their interactions to generate wealth, we have the antidote to the consumer disassociation that's become a blight to growth, not just for corporates and economies as a whole, but also to every one of us as individuals.