09/08/2010 06:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Dog Look

2010-09-21-ConfusedDog_sm.jpgEver get that "dog look"? Here's an example shared by Adriana Lukas: A Doctor's office attempts to fix a problem -- patients are sitting on hold waiting endlessly to schedule appointments -- by buying a turnkey platform designed to speed up the process online. But this solution creates a new problem. Namely, personal data is requested which could make patients vulnerable to identity theft. When a patient, Mary Hodder (the editor of calls with concerns, those concerns are met with the "dog look".

I totally agree with Mary's concerns about the risk to the patient. But importantly, we need a better way to innovate than this vicious cycle of trial, hope, & error.

2010-09-21-Profess.DogTraining_sm.jpgThere are exceptions to every rule, of course, but dogs naturally want to please. If you've ever experimented with putting more emphasis on rewarding good behavior than punishing bad you find that you get fewer "dog looks" and more "aha, oh this is what you want me to do."

The purpose of this metaphor is not to suggest that we should reward error with positive reinforcement. This metaphor is about business and customers cooperating for better outcome for both parties.

Comradity has a theory that when mass production, mass communication, and mass distribution transformed the US economy from local markets to a mass market we lost a "Culture of We".

The mass marketplace operates on scale. Transactions are numbers. The identity -- business or customer -- is not always obvious. Moving more quantity is more important than the very expensive challenge of improving reputation or convincing consumers to share more information. So business does it more efficiently by taking information the customer hasn't offered to share, despite the fact that businesses has yet to develop an efficient way to handle all that information on a large scale to create value. Customers expect the worst, refuse to give the benefit of the doubt, and believe rumors on the internet before they believe articles in traditional media or ads.

In a local market, the transaction is human. Identity, buyer or seller, is obvious. The interests, assets, and intent are transparent. Both business and customer benefit when business does the right thing for its reputation and continues to improve in response to customer communication. So there is cooperation - customers and business share information, costumers are receptive to business education, relationships are cultivated -- not just between customer and business, but among happy customers who reinforce each others satisfaction.

Either we considered the loss of the local market "Culture of We" a trade-off to gain the mass market advantage -- making quality of life affordable for more people, or, we just took for granted that business-costumer cooperation would still play a role.

But now that today's interactive technologies make it possible for customers to communicate directly with business, we're confronted head on with the elephant in the room -- the mass market has created a "culture of me". Customers complain they don't trust business and business complains that customers are fickle. But customers aren't going to start making their own cellphones or stop talking on them. And business is still producing enormous quantities which they hope will sell at a profitable price. Although they count on each other, they resent each other.

2010-09-21-dogstopbarkingotherdogs150X150.jpgMany say that this is what is and nothing will change it. That's not the clueless "dog look", by the way, that's a dog that's been abused and only knows how to be abusive right back. These are not innovators.

Innovation makes change possible. It does not accept or excuse the negatives of the status quo.

So if you are still with me, the first change we need to make possible is a better environment for innovation at companies -- who want to support innovation that goes beyond trial, hope, and error -- can discover new ideas and those with new ideas can learn what it takes to change the game instead of just creating more problems. Specifically, a place where everyone is less threatened and in a defensive "me" mode and more confident and in an outgoing "we" mode:

  1. Start with a promise that if you share information, you will discover where you'll get the best reception.
  2. Use the information to visualize where individuals fit in the community.
  3. The roles participants play are obvious.
  4. Customers initiate contact when the timing is right for them.
  5. Business can see the interests, assets, and intent within cluster they intend to satisfy and anticipate how to capitalize when they are contacted.
  6. Each participant, business or customer, controls the information they share, with whom, in what context and timing -- when it may be released or destroyed.
  7. Communication tools maintain a sense of security that sharing information will not make one vulnerable to exploitation.

UPDATE: I recently received a McKinsey Research Report [registration required] which says that over 80% of executives say innovation is very important to their company's growth but only 55% say they innovate better than others. Reportedly, the most typical challenge is organization. A better environment for innovation could be a strategy to transform an organization of individuals in the "me" mode into a "culture of we".