At Next09 last Wednesday my friend Lee Bryant presented on ‘User Driven Companies’.
Lee didn’t waste much time before digging below the surface of some examples of companies showing signs of being user driven. The same companies were mentioned as those held up by Jeff Jarvis and Umair Haque the day before as signs of change (Dell, Walkers Crisps) and consequently attacked by Andrew Keen as examples of the usual rampant free market power grab but now hiding under the cloak of innovation (quote). Lee Bryant did a much better job of feeding the debate (Andrew Keen’s stated interest) than Keen in full frontal attack mode, as he asked the question what it will take to embed ‘user driven’ and openness as a notion into general business culture. Taking it further, based on what still can be improved.
The short answer is that you cannot be ‘user driven’ and open on the outside and at the same time treat your own people like mere parts in the machinery. Your values need to be people focussed both inside and out, or you won’t succeed.
Companies need to ask themselves whether their goal is pure profit maximisation in the short-term, leading to pillage and plunder attitudes, or sustainable income by real value creation over the long term. If the latter, companies need to find balance between respect, social status and profit. If you opt for profit in the short-term it will cost you your respect and social status, which in turn will come back to hurt the company itself. Large companies as Unilever started out with social and profit goals. Banking was a respected profession serving communities until they descended to plunder (I think it started with the introduction of financial derivatives in the mid 1980’s, when financial investment products became completely disconnected from underlying companies and their value/values). Bankers may be rich now, but not respected or with highly regarded social status. Other models than pillage and plunder exist (as Umair Haque also discussed in his presentation on doing away with the war-metaphor for doing business), based on both cooperation and competition (like the Hanseatic trade league) or on profiting from making your customers profit (like Threadless)

All too often reality: We do not value you or your call

So user-driven companies need to start from within, letting their employees be human and be seen to be humans on the outside. Relationships are build between human beings. Between your employees and your customers. Dell maybe better at listening to their customers than before Jeff Jarvis unleashed Dell Hell, but as long as you are mostly talking to your customers through anonymous outsourced call centers it does not really change anything fundamental. Letting your people be human is a start, but needs to be augmented with having faith in your network as well as valuing your ecosystem. You need to recognize that your company is not a completely seperate entity, but merely a temporary clustering of people, relationships, values and production means (me in 2004), within the wider network around it. Managers and employees are not outside of that general network, they’re users, customers, clients, and human beings themselves as well. Acting within the context of an organisation however we often seem to forget that. Culture is the sum of individual behaviour within a group. To change business culture organisations need to allow their people to behave, and to be seen to behave, according to the company’s shared values and purpose.

The video of Lee’s presentation at Next09:

Link: next09 - User Driven Companies

Lee blogged his own presentation as well: User Driven Companies Should Start from Within

Disclosure: I was at the Next ’09 Conference in Hamburg on the invitation of the organizers as a blogger and did not have to pay for my conference ticket.

Ben Metcalfe reports BBC going Slashdot. After already experimenting with tagging (as Lee showed us in Copenhagen, and which you can testdrive at Headshift’s BBC mock-up here) the BBC is now opening up their Have Your Say section to a Slashdot-like rating system. This is another step in the BBC’s experiments with the opportunities the web gves us in building on the patterns of what we collectively contribute.
The new Have Your Say is not on-line yet.

Found via Heiko Hebig