Three books, one conclusion

I have just finished reading Herd by Mark Earls and I have been struck by the thought that three of the best books I have read lately all point to the same general conclusion.  The books are Emergence by Steven Johnson, Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowieki and of course Herd.  The conclusion is that the community of customers and interactions within it are important to the success of any business, that those interactions are largely governed by the community itself – and therefore outside the control of the enterprise.  The result of all this is that the best course of action for companies is to be well perceived as genuine and interesting by their customers, and that to do this they should let their actions speak louder than their words.

This last point – that it is the actions which count is also consistent with another of my favourite writers Umair Haque – although he would phrase it slightly differently, saying it is important that corporations have good DNA.

I suspect that this has always been true to a greater or lesser extent, but is becoming unavoidable as a conclusion as the internet age progresses and not only is everyone able to make their feelings known, but people increasingly are.  To put it in ‘long tail’ language now we are in an age of limitless communications bandwidth large corporations are no longer able to control what is said about them.

I couldn’t write a post about three of my favourite books without bringing in Taleb‘s Black Swan.  Whilst he is unconcerned with brand and community he is all about letting his actions speak louder than his words and I see his success as evidence of the ‘one conclusion’ in action.  I suspect that one of the main reasons he is so popular (I’ve heard Black Swan was the best selling non-fiction book in 2007) is that he is extremely genuine, the passion with which he holds his beliefs comes through on every page and they get people talking about him and make the book much more entertaining than a finance text has any right to be.

  • Hoover

    Hello Nic. Thanks for the recommendations.

    Along the same lines are Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody” and Benkler’s “Wealth of Networks”.

    Shirky’s book is an easy read, and explains how the net has enabled large scale collaboration and conversation. It’s non-geeky (I lent a copy to my mother) and an excellent overview.

    The second is more technical – it combines economics, sociology, law and business. But it’s useful as a theoretical guide, picking up where Shirky leaves off. I wouldn’t lend it to my mother, but it would be useful reading for anyone in a web-based business.

  • Hoover

    Hello Nic. Thanks for the recommendations.

    Along the same lines are Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody” and Benkler’s “Wealth of Networks”.

    Shirky’s book is an easy read, and explains how the net has enabled large scale collaboration and conversation. It’s non-geeky (I lent a copy to my mother) and an excellent overview.

    The second is more technical – it combines economics, sociology, law and business. But it’s useful as a theoretical guide, picking up where Shirky leaves off. I wouldn’t lend it to my mother, but it would be useful reading for anyone in a web-based business.

  • Hi Nic. I fully agree with this conclusion. I would add a small precision to it. The corporation’s initial social regulations design determines to a certain extent the initial types of interactions among the first users of the product. Thereafter the company losses “control” of the direction these interactions take but the direction itself is influenced by the initial design. It’s a bit like pushing a snowball: you can push it in the right handside direction of a slope, it can end up totally on the left but the likelihood is lower.

  • Hi Nic. I fully agree with this conclusion. I would add a small precision to it. The corporation’s initial social regulations design determines to a certain extent the initial types of interactions among the first users of the product. Thereafter the company losses “control” of the direction these interactions take but the direction itself is influenced by the initial design. It’s a bit like pushing a snowball: you can push it in the right handside direction of a slope, it can end up totally on the left but the likelihood is lower.

  • nic

    Hoover – you are bang on – Shirky is a clever guy too, and I could easily have cited him. I haven’t read Benkler though and you are the second or third person to mention him now. I will check him out. (PS One day I will find a widget to add to my sidebar that links to my visual bookshelf profile on FB showing what I’ve read and reviewed and so on.)

    Wallen – I agree the initial choice of rules and norms for the community is critical to getting it off to a good start. Johnson details this well in Emergence.

    tks for the comments

  • nic

    Hoover – you are bang on – Shirky is a clever guy too, and I could easily have cited him. I haven’t read Benkler though and you are the second or third person to mention him now. I will check him out. (PS One day I will find a widget to add to my sidebar that links to my visual bookshelf profile on FB showing what I’ve read and reviewed and so on.)

    Wallen – I agree the initial choice of rules and norms for the community is critical to getting it off to a good start. Johnson details this well in Emergence.

    tks for the comments