Sometimes It's Good to Share the Secret Sauce
Should companies have secrets? Sometimes they should, but I think companies too much believe that secrets are their secret sauce.
JEFF JARVIS, author of Gutenberg the Geek (Amazon Publishing), Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live (Simon & Schuster, 2011) and What Would Google Do? (HarperCollins 2009), blogs about media and news at Buzzmachine.com. He is associate professor and director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.
He is consulting editor and a partner at Daylife, a news startup. He consults for media companies and is a public speaker. Until 2005, he was president and creative director of Advance.net, the online arm of Advance Publications. Prior to that, Jarvis was creator and founding editor of Entertainment Weekly; Sunday editor and associate publisher of the New York Daily News; TV critic for TV Guide and People; a columnist on the San Francisco Examiner; assistant city editor and reporter for the Chicago Tribune; reporter for Chicago Today.
I think you have to look at privacy differently from individuals and companies and governments. At individuals we should have the choice of how public and private we need to be. Government I think needs to become transparent by default. In the middle are companies and companies shouldn’t be forced to be radically public, but I think they would be wise to be far more public because in being public it opens up all kinds of new opportunities for them. First is trust. A more open and transparent company is just hiding less on its face. Very importantly, by opening up I think you have the opportunity to collaborate with your customers and your public as well.
When I wrote my first book What Would Google Do I speculated about the idea of collaboratively designed cars and people made fun of this and they said this is ridiculous Jarvis, it was done before, it was called the Homer. Homer Simpson designed a car with two bubbles and shag carpeting and lots of cup holders in it and bankrupted his cousin’s car company, it would be a disaster. Well along came a company called Local Motors that did and does manufacture collaboratively designed cars now. They have contests to pick the main design and then the community of customers and it’s possible to have that, the community of customers comes in and helps design the parts. Jay Rogers, the president is still responsible for making economically viable and safe cars, but he works collaboratively with his customers who are there because they want to be and one customer came in one day and designed a new taillight and everybody loved it. They said, “That’s great. We got to have it.” And Jay went and priced out how much it would cost to tool up to make that part and he said I love it too, but I just want to let you know it’s going to add $1,000 to the cost of every car and the community of customers said never mind and they went through a list of parts and they picked a Honda taillight that cost only $75 that I wouldn’t even know was from Honda.
Now the moral to the story there is that when you give your customers the opportunity, the respect and the tools to collaborate with you they will if they have that trusted relationship and they can make design and even economic decisions with you. It’s very important right now that just passed in the US is the so-called Jobs Act, not standing for jobs, but standing for the ability to do new lower scale investment and startups and this has already been the case in the UK and I heard from a company there called Escape the City that put out an offer for their customers to invest in the company and in three weeks they had 2,200 members as they call them promise up to 15 million dollars and they’re not going to raise all that, but that’s a pretty impressive view.
Now what does that really do? It really says that that company sees its customers and its members and its investors and owners as the same people. What a new relationship that is and the only way they’re going to maintain that relationship is by being very open and public with that community. So I think that companies have to consider being open in many ways. We see some examples. We see Best Buy for example has a Twitter account called Twelpforce, Twitter Help Force with 3,000 employees behind it. Try it. If you’re having problems at home with hooking up your HDMI to the what-cha-ma-jigger go in there and ask a question and I guarantee you you’ll get answers fast because there is 3,000 people who know stuff behind it and Best Buy is brave enough to let their employees talk directly to the public because they do it anyway, just face-to-face. Now they can do it online.
Now I'm not arguing that companies must reveal absolutely everything. Should companies have secrets? Sometimes they should, but I think companies too much believe that secrets are their secret sauce. Do you really want to be the company that is known for having secrets or the company that is known for having a good relationship with your customers? Should companies reveal all their books in public? Well I could argue both ways for that. Would it make your employees more open or make them more paranoid? I don’t know. The point is that you are forced to be public now more than ever because people are going to talk about you anyway on Twitter, on Facebook, on Google+, on blogs. I started a little bit of a kerfuffle with Dell Hell many years ago and so the conversation is going on with or without you. You have no choice. You already are more public than you ever were. You have to join in and when you join in don’t do so because you’re forced to. Join in because there are benefits to talking with the public, your customers.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock