Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Relationships - the future of business

Marketing Online Live interests and frustrates me.

It interests me because Paul and Alex have some good stuff to say, and I like the entrepreneurial way they think.

It frustrates me because they try to reduce everything to a system - which may well be the secret to their success. Even in their latest episode, Alex (who admits he doesn't actually run his own Twitter account) suggested coming up with a set of rules for Twitter ettiquette - as if everyone was on Twitter for the same reason.

I did some soul searching to figure out why this bugged me. Two reasons:

a) It oversimplifies reality.
b) It goes against my worldview, which is shaped by my Evangelical upbringing and the gospel message. In a nutshell, it says that life is not about keeping the rules, but it's about relationships. This resonates strongly with me, because most of my life, I haven't fit into the "norm" for whom rules are mostly written.

You don't have to be a Christian to believe that the universe is about relationships vs rules. But what about the world of business? Isn't that necessarily about systems?

I was willing to think so, and believe myself to be hopelessly idealistic, but it seems business may actually be about relationships after all.

The book Disrupting Class predicts that schools - in fact, any form of educational institution - will soon change (will need to change!) from a value-chain model where products are designed for one-size fits as-many-as-possible, to a facilitated user network model, where people use tools to help each other, in the way that suits them.

I haven't got to the bit that explains the economics yet, but it's an interesting shift away from monolithic systems, towards real human relationships.

Look out for my review of Disrupting Class in the next issue of Idealog.


Steven Kempton said...

Great post. I think the systems work right up until the point where people have to make a difficult decision. That's when valuing relationships, ethics and right from wrong comes in. The problem is when large systems give individuals a reason to ignore values and ethics with answers like "that's our policy" or "that's just the way it is". Especially when it's obvious that "that's our policy" allows them to benefit in an unfair way. In order to improve on that I think it needs both the system and the individual to make better choices. And ultimately you have to believe that making an ethical decision is much more important than keeping to the system.

Simon said...

Thanks, excellent thoughts. I think what's happening now in financial markets is a bit of a wake up call. How many of the problems we have now came about when people didn't listen to their conscience, or think about the people their actions affected?

Johnny-johnny said...

It's a hugely fascinating topic. I understand completely where you're coming from. I really liked this quote:

"If process makes you nervous, it’s probably because it threatens your reliance on intuition. Get over it. The best processes leverage your intuition and give it room to thrive."

- Seth Godin:

Simon said...

LOVE that quote. Thanks John!

Steven Kempton said...

Simon, no doubt, individual decisions are a huge part of it. Of course the benefit of a system is that it can empower people who might struggle with a difficult ethical decision to make a good decision through the power of the system. But if the system ignores ethics, or motivates the people to act in one way and not the other (as we've clearly seen in the finance industry) then it's going to take a strong individual to make the right decision.

Simon said...

On a bit of reflection, I think the question is not so much systems vs. relationships, it's whether the system accurately reflects reality or not.

paul jacobs said...

Rules suck, they are about control and stifle creativity and free thought - "guidelines" are the better option. Things like spammers on Twitter need to be disposed of, but other than that it should be self-moderating and not left to some alpha group or individual to impose their structure.

In a goal-oriented context, one needs systems to provide a road map to delivering something. I agree with johnny-squared regarding his comment re intuition. The best thing is to surround oneself with people who think differently to you. Some of these people will be big on systems, whilst others will have other attributes and strengths they can bring.

Simon said...

Thanks Paul. Good point about working with non-like-minded people - it's pretty essential for giving yourself a reality check sometimes!

MHorn said...

Great point. And you hit upon our purpose in thinking of the power of a facilitated user network in the book -- it can really bring things back to human relationships.

Simon said...

Thanks Michael! Appreciate your comment.

It's also interesting how much the Facilitated User Network model is filtering into every field, from healthcare to marketing to education.

Also interesting that it spells FUN!