The Web gives power to people that was historically almost exclusively the domain of organizations. Yes, down through history we’ve had people-driven revolutions at points where the masses had reached their breaking-point with a system or regime and spontaneously rose up.
However, before the Web, people never had the tools of organization on such a vast and accessible scale. People have access to information that they never in history had before. Ancient regimes went to huge efforts to control access to information. Authoritarian regimes today seek to closely control the Web, fearing what can happen when people access enough information.
Smartphones are an organization-building tool in your hand. A world of communication and storage and data processing tools are available at modest cost. And we can connect with people like us on scale never before possible.
In the world of economy and government, this has resulted in a shift in power. While economically the elites have never been richer, they have also never been less powerful. They don’t control the agenda or the message nearly as much as they used to or would like to. Their brands are tarnished, and trust is evaporating like mist on a hot summer’s morning.
Authority figures have much less moral and actual authority than they ever had. Sure, tribalism still flourishes (it’s hard to overcome millions of years of programming). But there is a tsunami of skepticism and independent thinking out there. In general, people are depending less on figureheads and more on themselves, their peers and their communities.
Customers are changing at a ferocious pace. Organizations are changing at a snail’s pace. The gap between customer expectations and organizational capacity to deliver is widening every day. Technology has caused this change but technology alone will not save traditional organizations. The challenges go much deeper. They are to do with culture.
A macho, hierarchical culture is endemic throughout the vast majority of organizations. While these organizations may spout slick PR about employee or customer experience, they bristle at the very idea of giving customers (or employees) more power, information and control. This toxic culture sees technology as a means to reassert control both over customers and employees.
There is a reason, for example, that most intranets and enterprise systems are usability monstrosities. Typical enterprise systems are designed to make the life of senior management easier by forcing employees to provide more information in order to control them better. These hierarchical command-and-control systems are doomed to fail because they are simply too slow and cumbersome, and they are meeting increasingly fierce resistance from employees.
The customer is now the center of the Web quite simply because there are vastly more customers than there are large organizations. This is the age of disloyalty. This is the age of rampant switching. This is the age when the most valued voice is not some CEO or some slick marketing message. No, the most valued voice is someone you know. The most valued voice is someone who has actually used the product or service.
The new organizations that are thriving today know that their most valuable assets are not their intellectual property but rather their current customers. The best organizational thinkers are current customers. The best product designers are current customers. The best collaborators are current customers. Success today is based on developing a current customer obsession.