In the age of the Internet, the crowd is in control of pretty much everything in a way that wasn’t possible just a decade ago. Wikipedia and Twitter are great examples of how we get our information in this new reality. Yelp and various other mechanisms of review give the crowd control in providing feedback. The traditional gatekeepers in nearly every industry have been ousted in favor of a more democratic flow of value and information.
And this year, we’re even starting to see a phenomenon emerging in which customers are accessing control over design and other decisions that shape the very products they buy. For example, fast food chains like Taco Bell and Domino’s are empowering their customers to custom-make their own meals from scratch (via an app) and share them with their friends on social media. This is beneficial for two reasons: it pleases customers to “have it their way,” and it helps the company stay tapped into what sorts of recipes their customers will like, thus improving their standard menu options.
Expect customer-designed items to show up on menus sooner rather than later—and not only that, but I think we’ll also start to see customers getting rewarded for their contributions (and not just with pizza). We could see the burden of marketing redistributed, so that standout customers, who act as brand ambassadors, eventually do the majority of marketing through their large networks. In addition, we may start to see customers making more significant decisions about the companies themselves.
The new trends with fast food got me thinking about other industries, and how they might succumb to customization and crowd control in the near future. My first thought was about the garment industry. I once traveled to Asia and had some clothes custom-made for me, and let me tell you, the power to decide the color, cut, material, and fit of your brand new dress is a luxury for which there is no real substitute. At what point will American consumers decide that mass-produced clothes and other products just aren’t good enough? At what point will we see the first J. Crew design that’s a brainchild of an amateur customer?
But there are plenty of other industries this could apply to, as well: Furniture. Cell phones. Packaged foods. Especially with the advent of 3D printing, I think for many industries, this time isn’t so far away, after all. So how do you get ready for the changes?
The first and most important thing is to realize that everyone has the capacity to be creative. Your people aren’t the only people who can have genius ideas. So your company needs to maintain adaptability by keeping an open mind about where great ideas can come from. Remember that sometimes the greatest insights come from folks who are a few degrees removed from the problem, because they have a fresh perspective. Think about ways your company might be able to empower customers to contribute, and how you might be able to reward them when they do.
Additionally, the internal structure of your own company must reflect the conditions of the outside world, too. This is why Undercurrent is always going on about the importance of the holacracy—if we live in a world in which authority is widely distributed, then of course it’s important for our companies to function similarly. Young people are especially unlikely to tolerate hierarchies and dictatorships, because they are accustomed to existing in a world without gatekeepers. By distributing authority, you empower your employees to exercise their creative muscles and run with it, which will ultimately yield much better results for you.
It goes to figure that you should probably keep all this in mind when you’re hiring, too. A certain percentage of young people on your team is going to be hugely beneficial for keeping the company responsive to these sorts of changes. You’ll also just want to be on the lookout for people who are extremely creative, but who are open-minded enough that they don’t always assume their idea is the best. You have to make room for new influences, and the only way to do that is to hire people who aren’t overly egotistical or possessive of their projects and ideas.