|| Conversation in New Economy
by Sanjay Trehan (12 December 2000)
Its amazing that in the complex web of computerese
and in the meandering lanes of technology, how often we forget that our
very raison detre is the human being- with flesh and bones, with
livewire emotions and razor sharp intelligence, with gifts and failings,
all very real. It is this human being that we need to constantly address,
not just a miniscule deconstruct of target audience. This being has real
concerns, gets tickled by the same stimuli as you and I, is keen to get
some real answers and is up to his neck with corporate doublespeak. This
human animal, be it in the urban jungle or in cyber village, is keen to
reach out and get touched in the process. Its in this reach lies
the most significant contribution of the Internet.
How I got on to the Net
When I got on to the net, the thing that attracted me most was the ease
with which I was able to connect to other human beings from different
parts of the world. It also reaffirmed my belief that people worldwide
are similar and, given an opportunity, are open to having a kinship with
other peoples. The felicity with which I made friends and shared the most
intimate secrets with absolute strangers was something unusual, yet it
came naturally. Despite the skeptics, it was as if I met several fellow
travellers going to the same destination, and surely the journey itself
became a reward. That was the power of the Internet. The spell it cast
was way beyond technology. It helped me forge relationships. And once
these relationships crystallised, we all grew. As people, as individuals,
as markets of one. We shared almost everything that was there to share,
we criticised, we mocked, we laughed, we read, we even wept together.
At a subliminal level, what was happening was mind blowing. We were getting
empowered by our exchanges, we were getting better informed, we were not
easily surprised, and we were growing in confidence.
We were together, we were one. Like Socrates, we were not Athenian or
Greek, but citizens of the world. We were being reborn, recreated in our
new role as the citizens of a wired world.
At the bedrock of our world was the art and science of conversation. We
were a terribly noisy society, we were terribly nosy too, but behind our
apparent madness was emerging a method that was working to bind us like
weed growing under the cracks of cement. It was a bonding that the traditional
world would find difficult to understand but, though conceived in the
virtual world, it was for real.
Even without the esoteric and the philosophical, dont you think
that we are but creatures of conversations, we are what we speak, even,
in some way, more than what we think. Because what we communicate externally
acts as a mirror to our persona. But hey, is this piece about the philosophy
or tautology of conversation or is it about human relationships that grow
like creepers in the surreal world of cyberia? Or is it about how the
Internet acts as a fertile ground for not only bringing people closer
but initiating unprecedented efficiencies in the way business is conducted?
As you will find out, its about a little bit of both, for given
to ruminations, I do tend to slip into the realm of the unexplored.
Sometime back I read The Cluetrain Manifesto and the book left an indelible
imprint in the recesses of my mindzone. The book makes a simple but cogent
point. Like an irreversible truth, it suggests: A powerful global
conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and
inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As
a direct result, markets are getting smarter-and getting smarter faster
than most companies.
More about that later. First, a part of its 95 Theses,
the new gospel for the connected economy. Savour the first 10:
1. Markets are conversations.
2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted
in a human voice.
4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting
arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural,
5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were
simply not possible in the era of mass media.
7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
8. In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked
employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.
9. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social
organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized.
Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.
Lemme not get carried away and take your indulgence for
granted. The point is that we all need to re-connect and speak in a language
thats shorn of technicality, hype, doublespeak and even downright
patronizing. Because in the wired economy the customer is empowered and
calling the shots, and even before you would realize, he would be having
the last laugh. If you have time for just one clue this year, this is
the one thats a must...listen to what people of earth are saying:
We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are
human beings- and our reach exceeds your grasp.
Markets as Conversations
If you are a corporate, you gotta find, my friend, new ways to deal with
this animated conversation. And you gotta do it fast. This is what the
veteran of a firm now free-falling out of the Fortune 500 says: The
clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never
took delivery." Pity, aint it? Do take a look at www.cluetrain.com,
or better still beg, borrow, or steal-- though I would prefer buy-- the
book written by the quartet of Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc
Searles and David Weinberger, for me, the messiahs of the new economy.
Gary A. Bolles, host of ZDTVs Working the Web hits the proverbial
nail on the head when he says: Like I'm mad as hell, and I'm
not going to take it any more, Cluetrain's clarion call - Markets
are conversations - will be shouted from the rooftops and worn on
t-shirts by Generation Z
Enough of digression, lemme pick the threads again.
Re-inventing Arthur Andersen
Even stuffy accountants, leave alone corporates, are changing. Take a
look at one of the Big Five, Arthur Andersens website at www.arthurandersen.com
and you would be in for a surprise.
No more hiding behind jargon, no more the cloak of cold-blooded professionalism,
no more attempts to mystify even the obvious and the predictable, but
a warm and sincere attempt to connect, to compete, live and grow. The
homepage opens with a flash demo. Bonjour, hello...welcome to the
New Economy, finally exhorting you to begin a conversation with
the pithy: lets talk. No prizes for guessing where did
the inspiration for the headline for this piece come from. There is this
wiry, black, balding man, and not a blonde bombshell in a grey business
suit, sitting on a sofa upholstered in the new economy colour of orange
trying to establish eye contact with you.
Thats the new face of Arthur Andersen and thats the kinda
face thats warm and approachable. Though I must say that it would
take sometime to filter down to the hoi polloi of AA. The accent is on
interactivity throughout. Are you solving problems? Or creating
them? the site asks and goes on to suggest that the the best
answers start with the right questions. Lets talk. The demystification
of AA is a welcome thing and a great leap forward from the days of being
a stodgy audit and accounting firm. Click on Contact Us on the site and
underneath the email box, which is search driven for the right category,
appears this: Your mail will be directed to the people who can best
respond to your inquiry. Thanks for dropping by! I repeat Thanks
for dropping by! AA, youve come a long way, baby!
The latest communication revolution seems to be heralded by a small and
unassuming application of messaging, the most underestimated of all software.
Welcome to the world of Instant Messaging. Log on to rediff.com chat or
my favourite yahoo! chat ( I am a yahoo! loyalist, so cant help
bringing it in), and if you are into 3-D avatars, cheeta chat, and you
would appreciate that from thrill-seeking teens to thrifty executives
on an instant gratification trip, IM is the latest mode of communication
that brings immense benefits in terms of cost, time and convenience, to
both home users and corporates.
More than Chatter
Admittedly, Instant Messaging started as free client-side software for
idle chatter. But in the economy of conversation, it is turning into a
serious business tool. Between Microsoft, Yahoo! and AOL IM systems, at
any given time, there are more instant messages shooting across the Internet
than e-mail messages, according to Forrester Research. What is remarkable
is that corporates that were initially wary, now together with e-business
and enterprise vendors, are pushing to improve standards for securing
and managing IM applications.
All this is not without a good reason. In December 1999, Forrester polled
50 Fortune 1000 companies about the products they use to keep in touch.
More than 36 percent said they were using IM products; that number is
expected to rise to 46 percent by the end of 2000.
Ross Bagully, CEO of Tribal Voice, another IM enthusiast, says "Instant
messaging is no longer about boy meets girl or a couple of teenagers talking
this is clearly the next edge on personal communications."
This personal communication is increasingly seeping into our professional
lives, as in the connected economy, the office as a place of work is no
longer sacrosanct. Executives find it easier to open the little window
at the top right of the screen and catch up with a colleague in another
city, an option thats getting increasingly preferred to starting
a mail trail that has the distinct disadvantage of downtime between response
and resolution. Also, it is easier to receive a new message alert through
a flashing icon on your desktop than dialing a five-digit code to access
voice mail from the telephone. Add to this, the fact that now, leading
instant messaging applications support voice transmission, and the proposition
becomes even more attractive!
Chat, and now webcam chat, has indeed simplified the user experience.
It allows users to communicate with their solution provider or helper
in real time, allowing them to fix a problem as and when it happens.
Its example time, I guess. When I was the Chief Operating Officer
with Indias largest e-tailing portal, Jaldi.com, I did use chat
effectively to communicate with my PR company, Text 100. They were always
on call and it was much more simple and cost effective than talking on
the land line that was at the perpetual mercy of erratic Gurgaon Telephones
or mobile, and it helped not only cut downtime but brought in new efficiencies
in our business. Surprisingly, it was Text 100s young account executive,
Garima, who ventured to open this medium of communication with me and
it worked wonders. Thankfully, the young are not loaded with excess baggage
and are responding to the call of the Cluetrain. Now at Razorfinish.com,
we are using IM tools to be in regular touch with our offices in New Delhi,
Bombay, Bangalore, Goa, Chennai and Ahmedabad. I need not go into how
cost effective and efficient it is! Remember somebody said the best things
in life are simple.
I am coming to the end of my long chat with you about conversation as
a potent new tool in the new economy, and I hope its been worth
your while to talk with me. However, no conversation is a one way process
and I look forward to your comments on this piece. As ever, dear reader,
you are the lodestar that guides me when I am groping for answers in the
Networked markets are beginning to self-organize faster than the companies
that have traditionally served them, and companies that wont talk
to their customers in an open and honest manner, and would insist on stale,
moth-ridden PR bull-shitting, will fall by the wayside and people wont
even stop to take a second look. Such is the ruthlessness of change.
And all ye people of earth, as the Cluetrain anthem so
eloquently says the sky is open to the stars. Clouds roll over us
night and day. Oceans rise and fall. Whatever you may have heard, this
is our world, our place to be. Whatever you've been told, our flags fly
free. Our heart goes on forever. People of Earth, remember.
More power to the Internet. And thank you WWW for helping us rediscover
If you have something to say, dear reader, we gotta talk, remember.
(The author is with Indias first reverse auction
portal for travel, Razorfinish.com and doubles up as an Internet columnist.
Talk to him at firstname.lastname@example.org for a stimulating conversation.)