Thursday, December 13, 2012

How to make a new year's resolution last longer than four months

A new year approaches, and with it, a new round of #95theses.

I've already invited you all to come join me in this festival of a blog series, so I'm not going to do it again. Instead, I'm going to muse for a bit about what we will see in the coming months.

First off, the first thesis: Markets are conversations.

Right there, we have the basis for a radical re-evaluation of what it means to be an actor on the market. And, with it, a re-evaluation of what it means to be an actor in what we tend to call human life. As the logic of capitalism and market exchanges encompasses ever larger areas of our daily life, so it becomes ever more important to understand how and why this logic has changed.

Only in the twentieth century could you get away with talking about the free flow of goods and services as if they had nothing to do with people. Suddenly, communication becomes that much easier to do, and suddenly you have to care about what you say to your customers.

Saying that communication has become easier is a backward way of saying that it was harder back in the days. Harder both in terms of getting the word out to the people, and in terms of getting the word to you. If you were a small business, you had to work like a dog in order to make people notice you - at all. And if you were a regular customer, chances were you went with your standard option (i.e. a big corporation) rather than attempt the complex task of finding things out the hard way.

Or, to put it yet another way: how do you find things without using a search box?

It can be done, to be sure. People made whole careers out of being able to find stuff that way. But most people didn't, and this tendency made it all to easy for the big established players to get away with not talking very well with its customers.

Why would they? They were the standard option, after all. Old faithful. Tested and true.

This changed.

This has consequences for our daily lives in two ways. First off, we do seem to have more choice regarding where to spend our money these days. We can easily find those previously hard to find places and give them the benefit rather than the doubt. We may not have more money, but we can do the research and determine if we are using it well.

Secondly, it wreaked havoc with the notion of getting a job and staying there for the rest of the career. As it turned out, the big, old, true and tested companies didn't know what to do when their customers suddenly started to talk back at them, and continued to talk badly. Too big to fail and all that. And suddenly, the customers went away and did something different. They still bought stuff, to be sure, but they bought them from someone else - because they knew there were other actors on the stage, and because these actors both walked the walk and talked the talk.

It could be argued that the dot com boom (and bust) were due to the fact that more talking than walking went on. That does not change the fact that markets - now more than ever - are conversations, and that this places other kinds of demands on corporations and on people than the old style standardization of production did.

I'm going to explore this theme (and others similar to it) in the months to come. If you want to tag along and be a part of the discussion on this, then by all means. I start out on January the first, going through one thesis at a time until I run out of them at the beginning of April.

It's going to be a fun ride. And I look forward to receiving your input along the way.

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