Let’s admit it: We’re all losing control.
First of all, in the part of life that we call private life.
Where the day starts with an always-charged, smart-ass smart phone coldly grinning at me, relentlessly turning Beethoven’s wonderful “Klavierkonzert Nr. 5 Es-Dur” into my own personal groundhog-day experience. Gladly, this hasn’t spoilt my love for this concerto yet: For years now, I prefer being carried from the land of peaceful sommeil et rêves to the gates of daylight by Ludwig’s silent power than by Steve’s awful ringtone selection or distressingly well-tempered radio hosts.
Still, Beethoven aside, that’s the first loss of control of the day. Over my morning. A control (I thought) I used to have, at least before my own school days when there was just me and eternity. And also after school’s early-bird-my-ass 13 years, at university, when I could freely decide whether to get up for some early-morning lecture, or not. Probably that was an illusion, too … Aaah, whatever!
But now control’s definitely gone, along with the good-night’s sleep from pre-children days that used to precede the alarm bell’s toll.
The rest of an average day just goes with a flow that doesn’t seem to be mine (or ours, more correctly) anymore: Shower, tooth-brush, razor. Wardrobe, kitchen, espresso machinetta. Wake up kids, dress up kids, breakfast kids. School, kindergarten, metro. First mails, social channel check, maybe a little Spotify or FM4 on the train, blocking the rest of the underground world with my on-ears. Then it’s on to the office with its own very special affluent of Outlook, multiple phones, meetings, inter-desk chats, occasional join lunch breaks and … social channel checks. Metro back home, social channel check, more in a rush than in the morning. Dinner, kids to bed, cleaning up. 2100 hrs sharp: time for twosomeness, music, movies or … maybe writing a blog post?
But then: Swoosh! In comes this invisible force from out of nowhere, hangs leaden weights to my eye lids, message clear: Don’t fight it! You’re tired! Go to sleep … maybe last chance for a social channel check, then … zzzzzz.
OK, I may be overegging the pudding a little, but the point is clear: Life has taken control of me, not visa versa. But it’s never too late to fight back!
If only I weren’t so tired … :)
Then there is this other part of life that we call business life.
And I’m not speaking work-life balance here, that’s an outdated, unrealistic concept anyway in the age of smart iDevices (not “i” as in internet, but “i” as in “i am the device and the device is me”).
I’m talking about the life of a business, of a company, of a cooperation, call it what you like.
Whereas I personally admit to the fact that I’m losing control and maybe have slight hope of escaping as time goes by, (most) enterprises actually still believe they are in control – a control they have literally already lost, and will never get back. In control of the products they produce and sell (Henry Ford’s many heirs still alive, producing cars in various shades of black: Shut up, eat your spinach, it’s good for you!). In control of the people they can hire, retain, or fire. And (this is most obviously the biggest heretic belief) in control of their brands, their reputation, their communication efforts.
Will anybody out there please wake up, open your eyes, put an oversized espresso machinetta on the stove, extra strong, and realize that the times they are a-changing, or better: have already a-changed???
Read a brief history of the Internet, then come again. It’s been a long time coming …
… So: What does this mean?
“Companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.” (cluetrain.com, Thesis 18)
Opportunity is the right word. Not threat, as many still see it. Challenge maybe, yet a threat only for companies who decide to remain lonely regents of Shannon-Weaver Island. But opportunity for those who recognize that the sender-recipient model has served it’s time.
In private-life situations where networked kids are getting smarter, no longer just say “SIR, YES, SIR!” when you tell them what to do, but – like it or not – want to understand, want discourse, want dialogue, want to be taken seriously, and embark on a life-long conversation journey with their parents. And this is quite admirable, actually.
And in business-life situations all the same holds true for companies and their “kids”, which they disparagingly call stakeholders, users, target groups. But they’re actually people, human beings. Employees, customers, investors, journalists, bloggers, talents, politicians, etc.etc.etc. And as my kids are getting smarter by the day with their own real-life Internet (still very offline, gladly), so are a company’s kids, aided by the powerful global conversation that has begun through the Internet, “getting smarter – and getting smarter faster than most companies.” (cluetrain.com)
Whereas the Cluetrain Manifesto was at the time (very far-sighted, considering it was 1999) describing what was going on in a (compared to nowadays limited) community of Internet users and how this would need to impact the way corporations talk and act towards these networked, conversation-driven markets, I would like to take this notion a step further:
What if the future of companies, corporations and brands is a future, in which their brand story and their image no longer belongs to them?
What if these networked communities would not only co-create campaigns or isolated contents for companies (as they already do increasingly often today), but co-create and co-develop entire brands, communicatively manipulate a brand’s genes, its DNA? Co-write their history, story and stories?
What if reputation management wasn’t a thing a company could do by itself or have an expensive agency do, but something that is taken over by its “stakeholders”?
And now, while this still sounds like a threat, like a mob raging outside my fortress walls, here’s another thought:
What if … the above were all things a corporation would DELIBERATELY do?
Meaning: Go from telling “Who We Are!” to asking “Who Are We?” or “Who Should We Be?”
Imagine the outcome!
Imagine the level of relevance, content (as in “Zufriedenheit”), and respect you could harvest!
Imagine that you couldn’t imagine who you would be as a brand in, say, 50 years!
Imagine you could build a business not on ROI (Return on Invest), but on ROT (Return on Trust) or ROL (Return on Love)!
“And in the end, the love you get is equal to the love you give.” (The Beatles, “The End”)
Gee, scary thought.
The recipient would become the sender, the sender the recipient. The crowd would become part of the communications, marketing and brand department, and corporate comms would diffuse in the crowd. True emancipation, the foundation stone for every lasting relationship that makes love and trust its pillars.
Taking Poe’s “Man of the Crowd” to the next level: The follower doesn’t simply watch his target vanish into the crowd, but would actually follow. Dive into a kind of Great Link like DS9’s Odo and his fellow shape-shifters, a place where sender and recipient, comms department and target groups, brands and stakeholders amalgamate, for the benefit of both …
Freakin’ esoteric stuff!
So let’s better round this off with something more down-to-earth.
With the famous words of Robert Zimmerman:
“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'”
Thank you, Bob! Right on!