Changing cultures or getting back to basics

I just had a really interesting chat with Nikki Friedman a little earlier about mindsets in business and marketing and we came back to the notion that much of the social media mentality involves a counter-intuitive shift in organisational behaviour and personal beliefs, or does it? So I was going to be an uber-blogger and get my thoughts out there first as part of an inter-blog conversation with Nikki and you about this topic but she beat me to it. Here is the question we were discussing from Nikki’s post (reproduced with her kind permission):

The conversation revolved around how businesses can embrace the new social networking/blog etc phenonmenon to improve customer relations. One of the questions that Paul posed was "how do you get the organisation to buy into something that is considered counter intuitive". It’s a very real issue and one that I’m facing at the moment.

We are emerging from this mentality where we are constantly engaged in virtual land grabs. We feel that we need to grab everything that is ours and keep it to ourselves for fear of losing out. I think Nikki is on to something when her inner socialist blames it all on capitalism because our traditional sense of capitalism seems to be based on these silos of knowledge and information (the currency of our time). This conversation reminds me about something I hear when I go to family functions. There is a running joke that the older generation tends to hover near the food tables and pile their plates up with food as soon as everyone starts to eat and one reason given for this is that many of those people lived through the Second World War and the Holocaust in particular. Food was scarce in many parts in those times and afterwards so people’s survival depended on them not sharing.

I wonder if this mentality hasn’t penetrated our culture to the point where we have come to believe that our survival depends on holding those things of value close? So we now find ourselves in the midst of this social media revolution where we share everything to the point where the very word "share" becomes a four letter word. You can’t throw a stone, metaphorically, on the Web without hitting an example of where a culture of sharing doesn’t pay off pretty big. Sure we still struggle with making a few bucks from sharing our content because the model doesn’t fit nicely with how we believe we should profit from our content (a relic from the old culture of not sharing) but the revenue models are there.

For the time being we find ourselves starting to share more with each other while challenging a fear that if we share that code, that content or that widget with everyone and his dog on the new Web, we will be done for.

As Nikki points out, an extension of this is the notion that customers exist to buy our stuff, consume it and buy more but we are increasingly coming across customers who have opinions and voices that they are going to express those voices (and I’m not just talking about the guy in the store who demands to see the manager about a shortage of his favourite popsicle). These customers want to tell you what they think about your product or your service levels and they expect you to listen and respond. Markets, as the sages declared, are conversations. They are not things we talk at, they have become our partners and the people we are accountable to for lousy service and poor quality products. This is probably the single biggest realisation to come out of the Web 2.0 era. Markets are conversations and that means sharing and collaborating. So, as Nikki asks, why is this such a difficult concept to grasp? Ultimately, we all win when we do what seems to be counter-intuitive.

After all that I still return to the question why this new mindset seems to be so counter-intuitive. Is the "land grab" mentality so entrenched that we have come to see it as intuitive? What do you think?

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