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Tradition and common practices are tough things to alter. While lots of people talk about and think about â€œchangeâ€ as a way to get things done. The fact is, most people avoid change like the plague. Change is disruptive. Status quo is easy. There has to be a significant amount of pain being felt for an organization or person to want to change the way things are done.
Or so it seems. Another way change comes about is â€œunder the radar.â€ Subtle change. Painless change. Or change so easy and so compelling that it just happens almost organically.
The world wide web is a good example of this organic like change. No one knew what they were missing before the world wide web. No one had really experienced anything like that, how could it be missed. Nobody was in pain without it before it happened. It just snuck up on us under the radar.
The Inverted Pyramidâ€”More under the radar change to come
Following the browser and surfing and shopping online, more changes are afoot that we didnâ€™t know about, didnâ€™t think about, and probably had no idea could occurâ€”at least not in our lifetimes.
One of these changes I refer to as â€œThe Inverted Pyramid.â€ Here is what I mean by the inverted pyramid. Think of traditional communications from organization to individual as â€œtop-down.â€ Like a regular pyramid. At the top of the pyramid are a few communicating information to many at the bottom of the pyramid.
Before I go on, let me explain what I mean by â€œorganization.â€ In this little essay, an organization refers to a group that isnâ€™t represented by just one individual. A company, are government, a religious groupâ€”you get the picture. When I refer to an individualâ€”I am referring to people who are not represented by a group.
Figure 1 shows the flow of information in the traditional top down model. I call this the â€œOrganizational Communication Model (OCM).â€ Organizations have used all sorts of mechanisms to communicate to individuals using this traditional top-down approach. The most common method we are inundated by is advertising.
Figure 1: Top Down Pyramid
Advertising isâ€”by necessityâ€”seldom targeted to the individual. An advertising message at best is targeted to some demographic like â€œaffluent teens between the ages of 12 and 14.â€
This impersonal approach of communication flow from organization to individual is less than friendly and many times annoying or intrusive and even sometimes abusive. SPAM is the worst case of top-down communication abuse.
Enter the CRM
Many organizations have sought to be more proactive about personalizing the OCM by creating programs that gather information about customers or potential customers into a management system often referred to as Customer Relationship Management. A good example of an automated CRM system can be experienced at Amazon. Amazon tries to be proactive about knowing your buying habits and predicting what you might like to see or buy next based on those habits.
While this is better than not being proactive, it also demonstrates some of the problems of CRM. Amazon only knows your buying habits when it comes to what you purchased from Amazon. Amazonâ€™s CRM system criticallyâ€”maybe not fatally but criticallyâ€”crippled by its ability to have only a small shapshot of practices on any given individual.
While CRM systems are better than nothing, they donâ€™t change the communication model between organization and individual much, and often times can make it even more impersonal and abusive.
The advent of a new modelâ€”The Personal Communication Model
For a long time, advocates of changing the status quo of the Organizational Communication Model have been striving to use the Internet and other medium to invert the model and make individual in charge of what is communicated to the organization.
The most well known advocate of this thinking is Doc Searls with his Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) movement. Doc has been so successful in promoting this thinking that he is now a Berkman Fellow and has some limited funding for doing research and producing some examples of VRM.
I refer to this individual to organization communication approach as the Personal Communications Model (PCM). The the PCM, the flow of communications is inverted to the top-down model. This â€œbottom-modelâ€ can be thought of as an inverted pyramid. Figure 2 shows this bottom-up communications flow.
Figure 2: Bottom Up Pyramid
Mutually Exclusive or Mutually Beneficial?
There are those that see the bottom-up approach to communication â€œreplacingâ€ the traditional top-down model. I see these two models actually benefiting each other. One does not need to go away for the other to succeed. They can both operate independently and jointly without damaging the other.
Think of this mutually beneficial coexistence as visually appearing like the inverted pyramid art piece in the Louvre. Figure 3 shows the inverted pyramid combined with the traditional top down pyramid. (Instead of using the Louvre inverted pyramid, I made my own with huge moon and everything.)
Figure 3: Inverted Pyramid
Information flow in the traditional model from the top down from organizations to individuals andâ€”at the same timeâ€”bottom up from the individual to the organization.
This dual model approach with give individuals more power and control about what they want to see and what they want to pay for and how they pay for it. At the same time, organizations can choose to know more about the individual without spying or invading privacy.
Beyond the existence of these two models coexisting is emerging technology that can automate and amplify the conjoin. Of course this will cause some change. Change we perhaps didnâ€™t know about or anticipate. But like the world wide web, once the change occurs, we will wonder how the world lived without out it.
Look for my next essay as I cover the technology infrastructure for the automation of the Personal Communication Model.