Permanent Changes arising from the Economic Crisis

Changes? What Changes?
Change InvertedThe ongoing worldwide economic crisis has created many obvious changes in behaviour, mostly focused on the effects of reduced funds. Whether it is the fear that makes a salaried person “tighten” his or her budget or someone who actually has less money coming in (for example, an entrepreneur struggling to make ends meet or, worse yet, someone who has been fired), there is less money floating around. However, given human nature, once the world’s economies recover and businesses reignite, with fuller employment, most of these shifts in behaviour will inevitably revert back in pavlovian style to the habits of the past.

The question that interests me most, however, for this post is which of the changes will be permanent. The profound changes in culture and the creation of related new processes are what will cause the change to stick. Many of the changes pre-date the recession, at least in their origin. The recession has also provoked new business models and practices. Among the lingering changes in behaviour, clearly, from a corporate standpoint, managers who have never had to face such difficult times will have plentiful learnings which should augur well for being better prepared in future downturns. A perfect example is how management at internet companies have managed this crisis much better since getting their proverbial fingers burned in bursting of the internet bubble in 2000-2001.

I will present below which four major changes I believe will have staying power, at least in the much of the developed world.

Durable Sustainable Development Effects

Instant Sustainable Development

As the need to green has invaded mass media, I have three thoughts here about the more lasting cultural shifts: (1) There is clearly a move away from heavy consumption of fossil fuels (SUVs and cars in general), creating new habits such as walking to work or taking public transport which may, in turn, help justify and finance more public transport development. (2) Purchasing “green” for the long term should have, by definition, a long tail. An example is the purchase of long lasting LED lights whose benefits of durability and low energy consumption are slowly gaining traction, even if they present a higher upfront cost. (3) Attention to reducing water consumption has meant walking away from bottled water (at restaurants as well as at home) and perhaps showering a little quicker and, perhaps, less frequently… On average, every minute under the shower represents 2 gallons or 7 1/2 litres. (Find out how much water you use daily with this handy USGS calculator here). There’s a continuing business opportunity for the water filter companies, although it is not so good for the shower gel business.

ChangeGoods that are good for you and the end of consumerism
I would argue that, for an ever growing part of the population, there is going to be a true and lasting trend away from hyper consumerism. Ownership is not all it is be cracked up to be. Beyond the worry of reduced finances, the issue of buying and owning goods is one of quality of life: people will come to the realisation that owning too much is actually a burden, a headache, often times actually creating additional embedded costs and hassles; and, it certainly does not lead to greater happiness.

Someone who owns more than two homes knows what I am talking about: each home creates multiples of paperwork, presumably having to adjust to different rules and regulations. Just making sure that each house is stocked with the basics, much less complete dinner settings, etc. is quite the ongoing exercise. If you are someone who owns a super expensive car, you know that investing in spare parts and getting little scratch marks fixed is a hassle — especially as you roam away from the local dealership. Finding “protected” parking when you decide to take your jazzy car for a ride in town is an extra constraint. Of course, having too much of anything means that you need to have the space to store it… extra hassle and expenses. One of the more potent trends that plays to avoiding owning yet another holiday house: swapping homes (whether for the holidays or not). Here’s a plug for a friend’s initiative, Geenee, which allows for a swap with the “world’s best.”

Slow FoodOn another level, eating at home as opposed to going out to the restaurant will create a new culture of homecooking, with a sharper attention to the ingredients (not just their cost). There has apparently been tremendous growth in cooking school enrollments. And, in a similar vein, there is also the notion of SLOW FOOD*, as promoted diligently and valiantly in the US by Alice Waters (check out her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley CA where they serve only in-season fruit and vegetables).

So, the lasting trend here is a move away from amassing goods that crimp my space, burden my mind and waste resources. Instead, people w
ill focus on goods that bring mental freedom, physical health and, hopefully, a smile to the face. As the literature and media coverage latches on to this trend, I see this trend going mainstream even in the rich circles. Recommended reading: The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and The Art of Simpe Food by Alice Waters.

Buy Local
Buy Fresh Buy Local LabelThere are two driving forces to buy local: “sustainable development” and latent protectionism. If you buy locally produced goods, the concept is that the items didn’t use as many resources travelling from faraway lands, and at the same time that you are supporting your local community. There are two sBuy Local Posterubplots to this trend: the potential revival of the feelgood effect of buying from a local shopkeeper who knows you (even by name!), and greater attention to the content (“made in” labels) and ingredients (“made of”). In economic tough times, this may be a counter-intuitive trend in that mom & pop stores have a hard time competing on price. Nonetheless, I would look for this “Buy Local” trend to prosper on the other side of the recession.

How Well do You ShareSharing, renting and leasing versus buying

There are certainly economic reasons for not being able to buy something and, to the extent the item you are looking to buy is for limited use (e.g. a new dress for a party, a bigger car for a 2 week family holiday…), the option of sharing, renting or leasing becomes more inviting. Sharing & renting may also be collateral plays on the reduced need/desire to buy and own (point 2 above) as the need to preserve and store the item(s) is less onerous. Sharing & renting also pander well to the green conscience. With this burgeoning trend, there are many new offers that have cropped up. I cite a few of the more interesting ones that I have come across:
  • Zipcar: a for-profit, membership-based carsharing company providing automobile rental to its members, billable by the hour or day.
  • ArtRentandlease.com: providing “rotating monthly rental packages, Fine Art Leases and direct sales… Individual prices start at just $20 per month, including eco-friendly Green Art.”
  • Avelle, or BagBorrowSteal: Rent by the week, the month or for as long as you’d like top fashion brand names for jewelry, handbags, sunglasses, watches, etc. “There’s never a late fee.” You don’t have to be a member, but if you are, the prices are better.
  • Babyplays: A membership-based online toy rental site. About time kids’ closets stopped bursting with just-opened, barely used toys, no?
Craigslist, Olx and eBay are the leading internet plays on the circulation of second-hand goods (and services). With Craigslist and Olx, there is the local play as well.

Underpinning virtually all these structural changes in behaviour are (1) the internet and (2) sustainable development.

I wrote a while back about how inter-related I felt web 2.0 and sustainable development are (read here), and when you overlay the evident economic benefits, I can only reinforce how this crisis will accelerate the changes and how, coming out on the other end, we will all be that much more on the web, taking advantage of new behaviours and goods & services, indeed creating a kind of new ‘unpop’ eco-culture.

*Slow Food, a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization, was borne out of the anti-fast food movement in France in 1989 and is headquartered in Bra, Italy. Slow Food stands against “the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. To do that, Slow Food brings together pleasure and responsibility, and makes them inseparable.” The organisation boasts over 100,000 members in 132 countries.

The Guns Crisis Continues – How can it be reversed?‏

Gun sales in the US have gone [blasted a hole] through the roof since the end of last year.

Time Magazine: The Gun in America
In November 2008, after the election win of Obama, requests for gun licenses in the U.S. spiked +42% to 1.5 million. The following months have seen year over year increases of between 23% and 29% (through March 2009).

Numerous theories abound for this gigantic leap, centering on Obama’s anti-gun past and a fear of a clampdown. Obama suggested a 500% tax hike on gun sales in 2000. With the continuing headlines of daylight massacres (57 people killed YTD in the US), you wonder how the gun lobbyists and fervent 2nd Amendment defenders resist. Yet, they maintain a lethal stranglehold on Washington, pushing back enough to have dropped the latest proposed ban on assault weapons.

Meanwhile, underneath the increase in gun purchases — hardly your regular anti-crisis remedy or an expected recession-resistant category — some speculate on a fear of increased violence and social instability generated by the crisis. Is it possible that the violence of gangs — that so desperately turn the impoverished (or immigrant’s) dream into a nightmare — will bleed into normal society? Is the US social fabric that weak? While racism and social tension admittedly abounds in many cities, one has to hope that very presence of Obama and his campaigns will bring the US through to the other side; at the very least, so that there is no massive breakdown in social order. I have to believe that we are observing, in this hike in gun sales, more exaggerated and outrageous fear-mongering.

What can be done to reverse this trend or, more importantly, undo the US proclivity to buy and use guns? On this the tenth anniversary of Columbine (April 20 1999), maybe it could be via the viral internet that a mass anti-gun movement could be started to aide the White House and the DC crowd to see straight. I remain deeply saddened by the American violence that is so hardly reconcilable with the world’s leading democracy.

Any such action should also be accompanied, in my opinion, by an element of greater controls on the video gaming worlds (PG, G, R, X-ratings?) that have clearly contributed to the wild dreams of the gun frenzied youth. At the same time, parental leadership and guidance must also play a major role in instructing their children, providing them love and solid (non-aggressive) values. The blame for the gun craze and the rampages is spread around: parents, schools and society at large. We must all take responsibility. Spread the word to un-gun the American Dream!

Food & Restaurants in Marrakesh Morocco – Part 2 of 3

The culinary experience of Marrakesh and environs

Al Fassia Restaurant MarrakeshMarrakesh.

We had to miss out on the famed Hotel Mamounia because it is [still] under refurbishment. We splurged on two “exclusive” dinners, one at the Jardins de la Medina, 21 Derb Chtoukah, Kasbah Marrakesh) which featured excruciatingly slow service and a waiter that told us that had we wanted a dressing for our salad, we should have spoken up at the beginning. That said, the cadre, inside this deluxe hotel, is attractive. The other “prime” address we visited was Al Fassia in Guéliz (“new” Marrakesh) where we had to reserve two days in advance to get a table. Owned and run by some Moroccan women, Al Fassia (+212 5 24 43 40 60) was well worth it; we gave it top marks for its service and décor and we particularly enjoyed the “pastilla de pigeon” (pigeon patty).
For more local fare in Marrakesh, we had a delightful Tajine at la Gourmandise (151 rue Mohamed el Beqal), also in Guéliz as well as tasted some fine local pâtisseries (Adamo, 44 bis rue Tariq Ibn Ziad, and Al Jawda, 11 rue de la Liberté). If there is one thing I learned here is that Moroccans don’t do good chocolate.
The other eating Marrakesh experience is of course at night in the Jamaâ El Fna square (picutred below). Once you get over the heckling, you can find a jolly good meal. Best advice: find the one where the majority of clients are Moroccan.
Jemaa el Fna Square Marrakesh Morocco

Ourika Valley.

For lunch on our trip through the Ourika valley, south of Marrakesh and a Berber heartland, we aimed to eat at a well-regarded spot recommended by the Guide du Routard; but, apparently, there have been too many Marrakeshis (and tourists) visiting this establishment, so the owner left to seek refuge and rest at a nearby 4* hotel. Clearly, the crisis has not dropped the shoe down here. Our attempt to go to nearby Dar Piano was thwarted as it too was closed, so we hit a lively, open air spot overlooking the river, in the buzzing town of Oulmès. Being the only non-Moroccans, we were the entertainment for the Moroccan patrons of the restaurant. We enjoyed in turn watching nervous Moroccan women wobble across a shaky wooden bridge. As with virtually all local meals, you can have a full family meal (for four) for around 150 dirhams or 15 euros ($20). Tajine (or couscous) is sold for between 7 and 35 dirhams (70 cents to 3.50 euros) depending on where you are. If the prices are not printed, you may end up paying at the higher end of the scale, but for a maximum 3.50 euros, a tasty tajine is still a great deal. In this particular restaurant in Oulmès, we got to learn that people still use the old rials to calculate prices (much like the old French franc). For the record, you need to divide by 20 to get from rials to dirhams.

Tahanaout, Route to Asni.

We took the children to Terres d’Amanar (on the route to Asni, near Tahanaout, about an hour due south of Marrakesh) on the one dismally rainy day of our holidays. The Terres d’Amanar is a large natural reserve featuring a resort hotel and a number of rough and tumble activities such as all-terrain bicycling, tree climbing, hiking, etc. We had made a reservation, but upon arriving, found no one at the welcome desk. Apparently, they didn’t expect us to make it through the drizzle. The kids played for twenty minutes on the wet slides, etc., before returning to the car satisfied for having invested an hour of driving time to get to the destination. The kids’ park is rather small. This is more for people (especially adults) wanting to do a full day of outdoor activities. It looked nice enough, other than the rain!

Ouarzazate.

Another day trip was out on the much less frequented eastern route toward the oasis town of Ouarzazate. We stopped off en route at Aït Ourir where we were fortunate enough to hit the weekly (Tuesdays only) souk. Unplagued by tourists, the vendors were decidedly less pushy and cloying. We profited by picking up some local fruit (tomatoes, chickpeas) as well as a local [crushable] hat for 10 dirhams. We ate a savoury lamb tajine at a local pitstop for the whopping price of 40 dirhams. The route to Taferiate provided for a few pittoresque moments, but beyond, the road desintegrated in quality.

Some advice.

When you want to eat at the local restaurants, the key is to check the food before sitting down. That means asking to take the lids of the clay pots to make sure that the food looks fresh and smells good. Generally speaking, on food, there is not the same threat of having to negotiate. That doesn’t mean that you won’t necessarily get a little tourist taxation, but prices are often printed.

Twitter: Global Village or Recessionista?

Twitter, it seems, is making mainstream headlines daily these days. Yesterday, the IHT featured on page 2, an article “A truth renewed online: It still takes a village,” which begins: “Twitter and Facebook are, OMG, so last millennium”. The article, written by Anand Giridharadas, actually suggests that today’s social media are a modern representation of the old-fashioned [Indian] village, providing “ambient love.” Giridharadas writes that social media “maintain not your 10 key relationships, but your hundred semi-key mini-relationships. They are not about understanding or soul-baring, but about being simply, ambiently present…”. It is a well expressed point of view. In today’s ice cold economic climate, the ambient warmth of a Twitter or Facebook poke or birthday wishes are a welcome reprieve.

And, on another level, speaking of the economy, I read yesterday how Mr. Martin Schmeldon, a Harvard professor, correlated the rise in twittering to the fall in the stock market and, in a case of brazen marketing, said that Twitter was at fault for the current economic crisis. Read here: http://www.gaebler.com/Economist-Blames-Twitter-for-Down-Economy.htm.

As the article goes on later to say, however, the validity of Schmeldon’s research is a little curious. Pat Sooshisif, an associate professor of public policy at the Yale School of Management is quoted as saying, “I think an informed reader of this research paper should be able to determine that Schmeldon wasn’t engaging in serious statistical analysis of this data.” [From March 2009 issue of The Journal of Economic Perspective and Analysis.]

If you listen to MSM (mainstream media not to be mixed up with MSN!), you might be excused for concluding that the global village — via Twitter’s 7 million unique visitors a month — is running, if not ruining the world.

I maintain that Twitter’s ascension is reflective of a society that is in search of itself: a community that is communicating, without having found a greater meaning or sense of purpose (akin to the general chatter one can hear in the Indian village). It is certainly not a society that is creating value. However, even if 65% of twittering is happening at the workplace, Schmeldon may yet find a better field of research in measuring the twitterers and the performance of the companies for which they work. He might potentially be surprised to find these companies doing rather well, for being more online, more open minded and, potentially more plugged in to social trends. That is a mere supposition, but likely more plausible than pointing to Twitter as the fallguy for the current recession.

Luxury market on the decline in France — What deeper effects will occur?

A Return to Values

Recession brings luxury down to earth…but what of the more urgent changes needed?

The Herald Tribune ran a front page article entitled “A return to Values?” (15 Jan 2009) on the situation of the French luxury market.  What struck me about this article was the inherent contradiction about how France, the country that frowns heavily on the bling bling nature of the nouveaux riches, should also yet be the country of reference and, along with Italy, the leader in luxury wares.  Both the French and Italians have essentially got a wrap on the luxury market (at least in terms of reputation) through masterful craftsmanship, suave marketing and a culture of developing taste and sophistication.  The curiosity is that, in France (or in Italy), you really cannot be seen sporting too overtly any of the luxury items.  The socialistic veil would claim that all people should be made equal… But, beyond the impact on luxury consumption, the bigger question for me is whether this crisis will also have a deeper paradigmatic change in France in the way the economy is actually “engineered” for growth.

Decline PricesMajor luxury brands are talking of bringing prices down (some are even talking about discounting) and cutting back personnel.  End of November 2008, LVMH dropped prices by an average of 7% in Japan.  Many brands in India have announced major discounts (read here for the story from Business Standard India).  Chanel announced the cutting back of 200 temporary employees.  Champagne sales (with the proper appellation) were off 16.5% in the month of October 2008 versus the year before (having been -2.4% in the first nine months of 2008).  Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s designer, is quoted in the IHT article as saying “Bling is over.  Red-carpety-covered-with-rhinestones is out.  I call it ‘the new modesty.’”  Another IHT article in early December already traced the fall in luxury prices in the US.

The IHT article, written by Elaine Sciolino, writes that “only in hyper intellectual France could a sharp economic downturn be widely lauded for posing a crisis in values.”  The statement is inaccurate on two counts.  First, the hyper intellectual are a clique of people (a portion of which are often given the moniker “la gauche caviar”) which, by definition, is limited in number and therefore cannot also be “widely” praising such a crisis.  Secondly, the economic crisis that is hitting so many countries will also give rise to criticisms and rejection of the past “systems and values” that are at the root of the current situation.

For example, I believe that the USA, among other countries, is clearly reviewing its own value systems.  In coordination with the arrival of President-Elect Obama, there is a true opportunity for the US to revisit its values.  Hopefully, going well beyond the issues of financial liquidity, credit living and low savings rates, such a re-evaluation will look at the three biggest problems: (1) the lack of curiosity and poor general education levels, (2) the excessive consumerism and a reconsideration of the value of money, and (3) poor health levels, including poor eating habits combined with the terribly low medical coverage.

Great Depression: Jobless Men Keep GoingDuring the Great Depression, many people were no doubt forced to change their habits.  But, as the years went by, perhaps blurred by the impact of WWII, it seems that the Depression did not provoke any long-term change in values — at least not beyond the generation that was directly affected.  Will the countries hit by the current recession — assuming it gets deeper — truly change the paradigms on any long-term basis?  To talk of the need for a revolution is misguided in ambition; but, there will surely be enough people where the impact of this current recession will enter into their psyche.  As with the recession itself, you see that the psychological issues play a hard-to-overstate role in the duration and depth of the crisis.  But, what scar tissues will linger in the fabric of society?

In France and other mature countries, the removal of excesses [in the luxury market] and a return to values are seemingly upon us, at least for now.  Whether the crisis also cleanses the economies of its excessively inefficient components would appear to be the bigger question for France and its mature and less dynamic European partners (i.e. Italy, Belgium…).  The ability to restructure in down times–to help create a healthier base in the upcycle–will be critical for the future of France.  And, if there were such change brought to bear, then one could imagine that the luxury market will flourish with as great, if not greater fanfare in the next upturn.  If not, we might truly want to batten down the hatches.

What do you think are going to be lasting effects of this recession?

Finding a CRM Voice – The Right Values, Meaning & Frequency

Customizing your Real Message & Finding a CRM Voice?

As I mentioned in the prior post, I believe that the consumer world is in the midst of a true paradigm shift. In these dire economic times, there is a huge likelihood that the ongoing increase in the share of time and mind of the Internet is going to accelerate. The consumer will turn to the Internet even more because it offers useful new tools and services that cater specifically to the needs of people living in harder times. (Read here for more about why the crisis will push up Internet use).

The question now becomes how brands and companies want to take advantage of this. What posture will companies take to reach out to the consumer who is decidedly cautious, if not nervous about his or her future? The company that speaks to me in a way that makes sense is a good starting point. For example, if a company (ex Harrods) checks out my dopplr and see that I am going to travel to London on such and such a date, then drops me a pertinent offer for that date, would that not be a great idea? The chances are that I would be more than willing to view their mail (if they only they could make their creative a little more classy, too).

CRM Graphic Description

There has been much written about CRM (for basics, see marketingteacher.com), as in Customer Relationship Management. But, except for a couple of rare exceptions, I as a consumer have not been “feeling the love” from any particular brand or companies. It is not like I am not present on the Internet, or do not own any loyalty cards, or do not shop frequently at certain stores. There is certainly plenty of data on me out there to mine. At this point, for most companies, the mining has been, at best, superficial. There are some companies who have cottoned on to the idea of email campaigns as a cheap way to bolster traffic — to the web site if not the store. But that’s about it. But, I am looking for more. Companies need to tap into the data (which I volunteer) and capture my attention by knowing more about who I am.

Once companies have mastered dynamic customer knowledge (i.e. created a way to keep an up to date database), the question will then become to what extent (quantity and quality) the brand is communicating with its customers? There is a real risk that a deluge of irrelevant email campaigns will completely shut down the effectiveness of the email channel — broadening the definition of spam, increasing people’s intolerance to emails and making them opt out systematically or just delete with increasing revulsion on reception. If the average rate of opening an email drops down below the 2% level — a barometer for so many formerly traditional media campaigns — you may end up pissing more customers off in the process. While companies are still saving on the postal cost and on the CO2 with emails, they will be shooting themselves in the foot if they overdo it.

There is a golden opportunity to use the ‘net as a marketing tool. There are two important points. First, don’t abuse the opportunity out of laziness. Pouring out unpersonalized, non-customized emails is not the right answer; like cutting down rainforests, it is a very short-sighted approach. Second, mind the data (think “Mind the Gap” as they say in London’s tube stations). What is needed is to craft meaningful messages (in line with the brand’s values), with a customization that reflects some of the unique elements of the receiver.

Customize with Ease CRM

This all leads me to the main point: Brands endeavouring on CRM programs need to reflect carefully to find their CRM VOICE. There are three core ingredients to creating a CRM Voice. (1) A CRM Voice first means being getting in touch with the brand’s DNA, its core values. How is each communication refurbishing the identity of the brand and reinforcing the customer’s affinity with the brand. (2) It means knowing how to create messages that are relevant to the brand and to the receiving client. Does the brand have an interest in me? Does it know me (without the overtones of Big Brother). Does it know how to surprise me? To wow me? (3) Finally, it means getting the frequency right, knowing how often that person needs or wants to be contacted — including all the different channels of communication (TV included). A well-adapted, customized message becomes part of a well-oiled service.

LoveMarks Graph

In summary, brands need to find their CRM Voice: a Customized Real Message that is aligned with the brand’s core values. Brands that are high in love (lovemarks *****) and respect have a potentially greater starting point. But, every customer is looking for meaning and, in today’s difficult economic times, they will be more than likely spending more time online. I will be keen to see which brands or companies come through this vortex smelling like roses — for the times they are a changing, and I believe a paradigm shift is well underway. Which companies are going to capitalize intelligently on the accelerated shift in time on online that is bound to accompany this worldwide crisis? If you do what you always did, you may no longer get what you always got.

This Crisis will bring a Paradigm Shift on the Internet

Crisis, What Crisis? Bring forth the Internet

As we spin into the depths of this worldwide economic crisis, the opportunity for companies to move to more Crisis in Chinese Charactersefficient, effective and measurable marketing activities online seems perfectly obvious, if not natural. The time has never been more appropriate for companies to ramp up online activity because their consumer will be increasingly on the other end waiting for them. I identify below five main reasons why the consumer will be more than ever present on the Internet specifically because of the economic downturn.

(1) In this period of crisis, there is a very real likelihood that people will spend even more time online in the near-term because the web will offer a cheaper alternative way to spend time (watch YouTube or Daily Motion videos) and find entertainment (on a myriad game sites) than, say, going out to dinner in a restaurant or going to the flicks. Rather than going outside to buy a newspaper, free subscriptions will bring people online (or the news will be downloaded to their mobile phone). Doing banking/finances on line (a cost benefit for the embattled banks to save on bank tellers), paying your paperless bills (save on postal costs) and other administrative tasks will bring people to their computer.

(2) The internet is the most expedient way to do networking — especially important for those people without a job (linkedin, monster, etc.). The Millennials will need to have the “older” generations on board to hire them, but in general, the custom of business networking on line is beginning to build already. This notion reinforces a tenet I have long held which is that your presence online will become your most effective CV or resumé (see here for a prior post).

(3) There are plenty of new applications and sites that now make searching for a bargain substantially easier, specifically the price comparison machines, such as Kelkoo, PriceGrabber, Shopzilla… And this point goes beyond the notion that you can get better information from internet sites (and peer-to-peer reviews, etc.)

(4) In times when travel may be too expensive, there are now many virtual ways just to stay in touch with your friends and family (skype for face to face, facebook for group hugs or twitter, jaiku for group pecks). Essentially, the internet social media networks are intrinsically designed for harder economic times. Not all of them will survive, of course, but each will be forced to carve out its niche, its purpose and the likelihood is that the economic crisis will bring much needed acuity to each social media network’s positioning.

(5) And, finally, the truth is that items sold on line will be cheaper in fact and in perception. When you add the cost of getting in your car (time is money…), consuming fuel with the risk of traffic infractions to go to the brick & mortar (only to find a less informed salesperson) the chances are that the consumer is in effect going to find the Internet a cheaper way to consume. With people and companies forced to work harder and longer hours to survive, time for personal shopping will decline ipso facto. Retirees who have already shown a propensity to hit the ‘net, will do so even more (note to self: big business in keyboards will large keys). Driving to the store hardly eases with age. And, lest we forget that, with driving, there is the added nuisance of polluting the environment. Clearly, on the supply side, more and more companies will move to e-commerce platforms (expensive as they may be initially) because they offer a higher margin business model once the critical mass is reached. Moreover, having one’s own e-commerce site is a useful counter force for the brand/company against a distribution network whose strength in the balance of power has become hard to manage.

Vortex Internet

With the backdrop of the demographic and sociological surge of online traffic, plus the terrific growth numbers in developing countries, it all makes me believe that we are truly in the vortex of the paradigm shift. Beyond the crisis, we will come out different, truly changed in our behaviour and, specifically, our relationship with the Internet. With the oft mentioned Chinese expression (pictogram above), in times of crisis, yes there is danger and great opportunities. The danger lies in the fact that the crisis may be worse than expected and certainly the Internet will not solve everything. And the Internet has its own dangers in terms of potentially dehumanizing relationships or rendering us captive to the 17″ screen…  That said, nonetheless, it is worth noting that since the Internet and the e-companies have already experienced their own bubble-bursting and crisis, they have created more durable models, filled with more substantial content and purpose.  In the process, Internet companies are (perhaps inherently less fat and) potentially more resistant to the current crisis than many brick & mortar brethren.

All the same, the economic crisis presents a golden opportunity for the Internet. How to play it? That will be the subject of another post. 

UPDATE FEB 8, 2009: I found this article written by Le Monde on Jan 30, 2009, showing that clearly this idea above is gaining traction in France:  La Recession accélère la rupture entre le virtuel et le réel.

The Ultimate Way – Doing it in Slow Motion

A Search for the Ultimate “Way” in Sports, Business and Life

Wayne Gretsky, The Great OneWhen people refer to the Great One, MariO or COsby, or then again Michael JOrdan, BjOrn BOrg or Tiger WOOds, one would not be surprised to think that they all share a hidden talent. The hidden or invisible talent? Seeing things in slow motion when, for everyone else, the puck or ball is travelling at the regular speed.

If this is true in sports, I have to believe it can also be true in business. When great business leaders are in the vortex of a crisis, I believe they see things in slow motion, which helps to digest the torrents of complex information, synthesize with precision and decide with crystal vision.

Going a step further, I am inclined to believe that there are also those who actually llive their life in slow motion. While life hurtles by for most of us mortals, some have a special talent that allows them to manage their lives at a different level. Just as the Great One didn’t manage to make the perfect pass on every single occasion, nor did Jack Welch have strokes of strategic genius behind every decision, one cannot expect (nor want) to live a life of perfection. However, for the big decisions and manifest other major dynamic moments, such as what to say in moments of turmoil, some people have the gift, what I would like to call “the gift of O”, the great O, Ω or Omega because of the sense of harmony and equilibrium inherent in that letter. Whether it is knowing what to say to someone in grief, making the impromptu wedding speech or galvanizing support from a bunch of strangers, some people’s energy and mastery of language is just a step above. They manage to size up the situation faster and find the right words quicker. In another sphere, it is the person who grabs the knocked over vase, catches a falling leaf or anticipates the rain. For these people, they seem to be a step ahead as they see life in slow motion. I would characterize the gift as a superior sense of balance, equilibrium & direction, a sense of self, anticipation and a 360˚ vision. Somehow, the gift of O as expressed in Life, as opposed to sports or business, is a much more complete concept.

I started to think about this post when I considered the transferability of the “eyes behind your head” talent that certain great team players have. If you have the genius in one field (sports), how likely is it that you will exhibit the same talent in business or in life? Somehow, I get the feeling that having the gift in one area is as good as it may get. What do you think?

ADDED 22 NOVEMBER:  I was turned on to this NY Times article, “Generation O get its hopes up” (Nov 7) after publishing this post.  It would seem that we are indeed in search for the Gift of O!

Obamania Worldwide – The Dreams & The Reality

OBAMANIA & OTHER REFLECTIONS ON A SUNDAY MORNING

Barack & Michelle ObamaThe effect of the Obama victory overseas has been impressive. Much like the initial outpouring after September 11th, 2001, since November 5th, 2008, I have come across a newfound sense of support for the US from many different corners of the world, and the support is quite similar in intensity. For most foreigners with whom I speak, the sentiment goes along the lines: You, Americans (at least on the coasts), faced with the biggest worldwide economic crisis in a century, 2 long unfinished wars, an Osama Bin Laden still on the lam, the prospect of ecological disasters and the risk of more voter scandals (untested new urns), overcame the urge for a recidivist reactionary vote, to adopt and hail its base values by electing Obama.

What is driving this support around the world for Obama? In part, I detect an enormous feeling of hope, like the release of a good dream.Dream He represents hope that change is truly going to come. What is said can be done. That diversity is not just a buzz word. I also detect that many are putting their hopes on the shoulders of Americans to rebolster the world, a world that is increasingly rocky. Beyond the economic crisis and environmental concerns, the Western world is worried by the deeper, structural issues including the rise of China, the Russian renaissance, the continuing splintering of nationalities and ethnicities as well as the omen of global terrorism. I don’t mean to have visions of grandeur for the Americans, but we all need to dream and many people seem to have tied up their dreams with Obamania. Aside from the 66.7 million American voters, Muslim communities around the world, the African community (well beyond Kenya), even a town in Japan have identified or associated themselves with Obama. And in the “If the World Could Vote” site, 87.3% of the nearly 900,000 people (up from the 49,000 I wrote about in my September post) casting their online selection for Obama.

Few would doubt that Obama’s plate is eminently full. As a black Parisian radiologist, Maxim, said to me, “it is a poisoned gift.”

For Obama and the Americans, all the real work is now ahead and it will be important to observe (a) the level and effectiveness in the bipartisanship — I have been positively impressed by the effect of President Sarkozy had in bringing in several valuable Socialists into his government; and (b) how Obama manages against the oh-so-high expectations. If the Democratic party were to get a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate (3 seats still undecided) and with the strong House representation (between 255-259 seats), there is a chance that Obama will be able to put through a good portion of his vision. But, what happens systematically — it seems no matter the president, the party or the country — is that there is a boomerang effect some 12-18 months after induction into office. The dissatisfied electorate then “punishes” the standing leader, curbs his or her power and the result is a near lame-duck experience for the remaining years. I have started to think that this is just a natural cycle in democracy. More likely than not, an external and/or unexpected event will likely occur that will unbalance the apple cart and, whether or not his policies have had time to work, will have a material impact on his presidency. It does seem ironic that an unexpected event will be likely. But, this, too, seems to be a part of the natural cycle.

Four More Reflections

As I ponder this Sunday morning, there are four more things I would like to say about the past couple of weeks.

China Flag1/ Don’t you find it symbolic that the Chinese bailout plan at $586B is just below the US one in size ($700B)? Although, compared to its GDP (China’s is estimated at US$3-4 trillion versus $14 trillion for the US), the Chinese effort is far more seismic. You get the feeling that the turning point is around the corner. The burgeoning question for me is how will we, Americans, manage to alter our mania for consumption, so much a fibre of today’s US society?


Speed Limit = 50 mph 2/ Forty’s are in. Obama, at 47 years old, joins a healthy stable of “forty-something” leaders. Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili is the youngest I could find at 41 years old. Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev and Sweden’s PM Fredrik Reinfeldt are 43. Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, Ireland’s Brian Cohen and Spain’s Jose Luis Zapatero are 48. Canada’s Stephen Harper is 49. I am sure that I have missed out a few others — but these are all (with the exception of Harper) leaders born in the 1960s. [Note, among other notables, that Sarkozy (53), Merkel (54), and Putin (56) are, with the majority of other leaders, in their 50s.]

3/ Seeing that Obama is a Web 2.0 President-elect (he has his own Twitter, MyBarackObama blog, YouTube, etc), how far can he be a Sustainable Development-President as well? See here for a prior post on the relatedness of web 2.0 and sustainable development. Certainly, this article by Thomas Claburn at InformationWeek
would seem to back up the possible correlation. ADDED 22 NOVEMBER: I was turned on to this NY Times article, “Generation O get its hopes up” (Nov 7) after publishing this post. Obama communicated in a way that “spoke” to people. As the article writes, “Government under Mr. Obama, they believe, would value personal disclosure and transparency in the mode of social-networking sites. Teamwork would be in fashion, along with a strict meritocracy.”

4/ Did you realize that within two days of each other, Obama won the US Presidency, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won the Paris Masters 2008 and was crowned #1 for France, while Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever Formula 1 Champion? As both Hamilton and Tsonga are 23 1/2 years old, Obama at 47 is exactly double their age. And all three of them are métise (specifically a black father and a white mother). Rather remarkable, no?

Your thoughts?

Common Factors in Web 2.0 & Sustainable Development

Web 2.0 and Sustainable Development – A Way of Life

Via personal predilection and, as it happens, in my work, I am embedded in Web 2.0 functionality. When I take a helicopter view of web 2.0, especially as it applies to the corporate world, I associate the 2.0 mentality with the desire to interact, to listen and to engage. Words such as “open”, “collaborative”, “flat” (as in hierarchy) and “collective intelligence” feature regularly in 2.0 vocabulary. web 2.0 is, at its core, social — thanks to the many new functionalities and the spirit that comes with it. And with it, the internet has gone from cold and impersonal to warm and interactive. Furthermore, web 2.0 is entirely global in scope, like all things on the ‘net.

Web 2.0 Graph Interlinking Circles


In another vein, I am personally committed to Sustainable Development (SD) and, in my professional world, am also engaged in the process. When I consider the mentality of all those who are also promoting SD, I think of the spirit of collaboration, community, an openness to new ideas, and a readiness to engage. And, in case it were not obvious, SD is also a global issue.

As part of any SD philosophy, there is a need to marry economic and ‘social’ benefits alongside the protection of the world’s natural resources. I like the definition that sustainable development is about the people, profit and the planet.

Sustainable Development Interlinking Circles Chart


I have for quite some time believed that, whether it is the mentalities of those involved or the inherent challenges when applied to the corporate world, sustainable development and web 2.0 are intertwined, not to say interdependent. And, as it happens, both topics are very much high up on personal and corporate agendas alike. Those that are engaged in sustainable development and web 2.0 live it both at work and at home. Both entail a state of mind. Both are about individuals engaging in a community affair. And, typically, I have found that when you are into one, you are into the other. Going further into the analysis, the similarities are more than skin deep.

Web 2.0 is a State of Mind


Sustainable development has a natural outlet via the web because its acolytes tend to be very web-friendly. When one looks at sustainable development initiatives (even in a corporate environment), the web itself offers wonderful opportunities. The most basic option is email. Rather than sending letters by post (and paying for and motoring the mail van), the web offers the option to send a paperless email (and even if the email must be printed out, it is quicker and you save on the stamp and the snail mail costs). Sustainable development is also about engaging with your community and there are terrific ways for building on-line communities that transcend borders, age and company lines. Similarly, whether it is an individual, a brand or a company that wants to link in with its community, it has no better way to do so than via 2.0 functionality.

Need to find meaning

In today’s world, especially true for the Gen Y — but also increasingly true for all generations — there is a heightened attention to find meaning. We are all, in our ways, trying to find or give meaning to our lives — and this is true in work as well. Whether a new recruit applying for a job or a current employee, there is an inherent need to feel that one’s values are aligned with the company for whom one is working [notwithstanding the crisis which may impair one’s ability to act freely]. Increasingly, it seems that, in the search for meaning, the professional must be personal. Participating in one or other social media or even writing a blog (in most cases) is a personal act — and the lines are now completely blurred with regards to the corporate “friends” with ever growing corporate functionality in second life, Facebook, etc. Similarly, being committed to sustainable development cannot and does not stop at home.

Sustainable Development & Web 2.0 in the workplace

This all leads me to the notion of bringing web 2.0 or SD into a company that is not otherwise “there”. In a serendipitous way, I was talking with some French friends and realized that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Corporate Social Media actually have the same initials when translated into French: R.S.E. (Réseau Social d’Entreprise et Responsabilité Sociale d’Entreprise). But, whether it is sustainable development or web 2.0, implementation at the company level requires significant change management. And, there are drawbacks or risks to engaging in sustainable development or bringing a web 2.0 philosophy in the corporate world. In both cases, it is hard–if not incredible–to be half web 2.0 or just a little sustainable development. Being half-hearted about either leaves you exposed to having your ear eaten off. Implementing web 2.0 functionality necessarily means being able and wanting to listen because it is about two-way dialogue. If your client has something to tell you, you better have a plan as to how you plan to react. If not, the syndrome of the “fake blog” is quicky rooted out. Similarly, if a company trumpets its responsibility in sustainable development, but behind is wasting water (cf Starbucks nailed by the Daily Sun in the UK), the community bites back.

Taking on SD or implementing web 2.0 environments are neither invisible, innocuous nor tempora
ry actions. Both CSR, as it relates to sustainable development, and the implementation of web 2.0 functionality and systems ultimately require a complete company adoption — and senior management involvement. Anything less will become either dysfunctional or causes disconnection, neither of which are healthy. Meanwhile, if there were ever any question as to why a company should want to go down either road (SD and web 2.0), it is increasingly obvious that the spirit of innovation is inherent in both. Web 2.0 has bred open platform innovation — bringing a wider ranging community into the innovation process. SD, when taken on board fully by a company, has an ability to transform old “in growing” models into vibrant, community-based models that combine ecological benefits (planet) with ergonomic improvements (people) and economic savings (profit), if not growth. By evolving corporate culture to encompass these state of minds, companies will benefit from attracting a certain profile of candidates. Both SD and web 2.0 have engrained in their approach an acute attention to the economics and, moreover, they both provide concrete and measurable benefits.

Three critical steps in “How To…”

But, you don’t get there overnight. So how to do it? As I mentioned before, it takes change management. I have three sine qua non suggestions — whether it is Web 2.0 implementation or Sustainable Development actions we are talking about.

First, part of the recipe for success is having senior management total benediction, if not involvement, to help push through the inevitable sticking points (company culture, etc.). Secondly, actions and implementation need to happen in bite sizes, but as part of an overall plan — otherwise, you can get the callout of “greenwashing” or fake 2.0. And, thirdly, when a company wants to undertake active CSR or integrate web 2.0 functionality (whether in intranet, extranet or internet sites), the internal communication and adoption by its employees are absolutely vital. Notions of greenwashing and web 1.0 management are immediately picked up by employees, so the internal marketing and actions must be carefully aligned with the external communications. Meanwhile, here is a good recap (below) from Search Engine Land on how to bring social media into a company (concept from Elliance.com).


So, in sum, Web 2.0 and Sustainable Development have paths that are intricately related. Not that Greenpeace is all about web 2.0 (of course, their site has plenty of interactivity), but, in that both SD and web 2.0 are associated with a way of life, they share many of the same traits and, to some degree, the same challenges. I scoured the web for others blogging on this particular topic, and I did come up with t
his article by Thomas Claburn at Information Week. What I did find more commonly was that there is room to act on Sustainable Development in a 2.0 fashion, namely Sustainable Development 2.0. Here is an October 2007 analysis from Knowledge Politics of Web 2.0 and International Development NGOs. For more on the topic, read below.

* Policy Innovations – Can Web 2.0 revolutionize CR by James Farrar, Gerhard Pohl, Emily Polk, Steve A. Rochlin, Devin T. Stewart, Andrew Zolli
* Diario Responsable
* Weitzenegger.de – Consultancy services merging 2.0 and Development

What do you think? What similarities do you see? Or do you disagree? Thanks to bring your engagement with you as you comment!