Alan Webber is the cofounding editor of Fast Company magazine and was the editorial director and managing editor of the Harvard Business Review. He has worked in federal, state, and local government, writing speeches and focusing on innovative policy initiatives, and is the author of Rules of Thumb: 52 Truth for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self.
Question: What is Megan Smith’s rule?
Alan Webber: Megan Smith’s Rules, yeah. Megan Smith is this remarkable, to my way of thinking, very self effacing woman who I had a chance to spend some time with in San Francisco at an event that Stone Yamashita Partners put on for the Japan Society bringing together innovators from the United States and Japan and Megan was there on the room.
Now, all of them are bright and interesting people and Megan was kind of standing against the wall, listening carefully but not trying to interject herself into the middle of the discussion and I was standing right next to her trying to monitor the conversation and see how is saying what and she was listening to what people are saying and out of nowhere she said, “Well, here’s how I think the world works, here’s what I think is going on.
Number one, the customer participates, new game. Customer is not a passive actor but participates in all of your enterprises.
But number two, it’s beyond that the customer is actually driving so if you use the metaphor of a car you think you’re in charge, no, you’re in the passenger seat, the customer’s driving and you have to let go and let them drive the car so that they actually be willing to go with you otherwise they’re going to get out of the car and go somewhere else.
So the customer participates is kind of table stakes, the customer is in charge is the reality and the third rule was open systems beat close systems.” And I wrote that down and immediately captured that ‘cause I thought, okay, if you want to play the game the new way, you want to be in the game, this is a woman who knows the rules and an awful lot of people in business, politics, you name it, the media, they think they’re still in charge, they think they’re running the game.
It’s okay to have customers but don’t let them dictate to you, it’s nice to go meet the voters but don’t actually let them set the agenda, it’s really good to have kind of a give and take but let’s remember who’s really the boss here and that way of thinking is pretty much going to guarantee you failure, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the newspaper business and you think we’re [worth] the fort to state, we control the truth or you’re running for public office and you think well, as long as I tell the voters what I think they want to hear, they’ll vote for me, it doesn’t work, it simply doesn’t work.
You really have to take Megan Smith’s Rules to heart and engage in a fresh and completely different way with the market, the voting public, your customers, even people who weren’t your customers but who have the power to comment on how you do business or how you conduct yourself. It’s a gigantic open dialogue with everybody and anybody and that reframes how you do business and it requires a kind of a fresh take, a fresh set of rules, or a fresh mindset on thinking about relationships, conversations, dialogues, open systems, there are a lot of metaphors here but we’re really describing is a fundamental change in the way you do business, the way you do your work.
Recorded on: April 23, 2009