The Business Poet – Chapter 8

The Business Poet – Chapter 8

On Wellbeing

Next to chip into the somewhat strange emergent dialogue was a human resources manager, one of the guardians of the jewels in the crown of the company, as Merlin liked to think of his people.

“I’ve noticed that many companies treat employees as an expense,” she began. “Even if they say they are their greatest asset. In some industries, staff are seen merely as cogs in the machinery of business, a source of productivity. Yet people are miraculous, complex beings, not a wheel in some industrialist’s dreamed up clockwork universe.”

She paused, taking a deep breath and chuckling lightly. “Well, as you can tell, I’m passionate about this, so I’d better not get myself started. I want to know what you think about the importance of Wellbeing?”

She was so right, and Merlin shared her feelings. He rifled through his scribbled pages and found a reply:

“Wellbeing is the untiring journey in search of meaning, an adventure in self-discovery, and a path towards comradeship.

“Popular theories of human motivation confuse needs with wants and mistake means for ends.

“They hypothesise hierarchies, dangle carrots and wave sticks, as if people in the workplace are circus animals being trained to do tricks.

“Modern peddlers of job satisfaction confuse roles with personality and mistake props for reality.

“They psychometricise behaviour, rate attitudes and score values, as if people can be measured and are mere variables in formulas to be plugged into the productivity equation.

“We are all pilgrims treading the sacred trail of our life’s work.

“Salvation lies not in finding the Holy Grail or ascending the final summit, but in walking with awareness and gratitude.

“The redeeming sacraments surround and enfold us, if we can only drag our gaze away from the false promises of heaven on earth.

“The pilgrim recognises that the end, like all goals and aspirations, is simply a reason to begin.

“The sojourner knows that all the lessons of life and growth and death are part of the journey itself.

“Lasting satisfaction is less about personal achievement and more about understanding.

“And meaningful effort comes from seeing its connection to the larger story that is being told.

“No pilgrimage is without its trials and tribulations.

“The terrain may be difficult or monotonous, the weather inhospitable or extreme, the company irritating or arrogant, but these may be the very thickets that conceal the path to our own development.

“The secret of wellbeing in business is to recognise the value of the unseen and the unspoken.

“Think not the task itself, but how it changes you.

“Train your eyes not the target itself, but how it challenges you.

“Focus not the team itself, but how it binds you in friendship.

“Cling not the position itself, but how it allows you to make a difference.

“Think not, therefore, of employees, but of master potters honing their art.

“Think not of jobs, but of ceramic studios amply equipped.

“Think not of work, but of shapely vessels skilfully made, into which we can pour our personal and collective sense of meaning.”

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The Business Poet – Chapter 7

The Business Poet – Chapter 7

On Governance

Merlin had good memories of working with most of the people in the room, in one way or another. But one who held a special place in his heart was his Chairman. She had been a pillar of strength for him, and a wise counsel in times of need. She had bided her time to speak – always one to listen first – but now she stood and said, with affection in her voice:

“What of Governance?”

Merlin knew this was a hot button for some. The string of financial scandals and outrageous CEO pay packages over the past decade had ushered in an age of onerous risk management procedures and rules around how boards should operate. But he wanted to remind people of the spirit – rather than the letter – of the law of governance. In Notebook 5, he found the relevant passages:

“Governance is the precious gift of flight, a science in need of art, a structure in need of fluidity.

“The science of flight – like the principles of governance – is a ladder to the skies, but not a pair of wings.

“The structure of flight – like the procedures of governance – is a good set of wings, but not a bird in the sky.

“The art of flying is to dance with the wind and to sculpt with the currents, to ride out the storms and to reach for the sun.

“The quest of governance is to embrace society as a partner and to create meaning together; to hold fast to values amidst chaos and to take business to new heights.

“Do not underestimate the importance of ability in getting governance off the ground.

“Think of the eagle’s clarity of sight, the owl’s attentive listening, the swallow’s acrobatic reflex, and the weaver’s tireless work.

“Also, take heed – not all who dress up in feathers are masters of flight.

“Those who choose to bury their heads in the sand as accomplices to corruption and irresponsibility are ostriches that will never fly.

“And those that profess their virtues with loud honking while clinging to power and secrecy are maimed geese falling from the sky.

“Not all who take to the skies have perfected the art of flight.

“Those who control the buoyancy of their enterprise with hot air rewards and flaring punishments are balloons at the mercy of the elements.

“And those who manage the complicated jet engine machinery of procedural checks and balances know only the efficiency of mechanical flight.

“Rare are those who have learned to truly fly with natural grace and agility.

“Effective governance allows the organisation to flex the muscle and sinew of internal control, yet still to ride the thermals of individual initiative.

“Inclusive governance allows the organisation to angle the wings of directional leadership, yet still to rely on the feathers of an empowered workforce.

“Inspiring governance allows the organisation to battle through the turbulence of stormy stakeholder encounters, yet still to believe in the sunshine of transparent accountability.

“Seek not, therefore, the formula for the flight, but rather kindle the passion for flying – for governance is not a cage of rules and codes, but a responsible way of being free.”

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The Business Poet – Chapter 6

The Business Poet – Chapter 6

On Marketing

Merlin took a sip of water and gazed around the room. He caught the eye of his Marketing Director, who was shifting slightly in his seat. Merlin raised his eyebrows, inviting him to share his thoughts. He stood and declared, somewhat defensively:

“Stakeholder engagement is all very well, but at the end of the day, we are a business. And if people don’t know about us, or our great products, we will soon by out of business. How do you see the role of Marketing?”

Merlin was aware that Marketing often got a bad rap these days. It was seen as pure spin. But he disagreed. Marketing was vital, if it was done right. He found his writing on the subject and spoke in reply:

“Marketing is the art of making music: skilfully played, it has the power to move all who hear its sweet melodies; badly recited, it offends the ear and renders the intended listener deaf.

“The secret of effective marketing is resonance.

“Communication becomes a symphony when the information echoes with the clear ring of truth and honesty, when the message reverberates with the rich tones of meaning and relevance, and when the medium combines to strike a harmonious chord of reach and direction.

“The curse of poor marketing is dissonance.

“Exaggerated claims jar with the reality of experience, monotonous repetition dulls the battered senses, and disingenuous tricks sound the alarm bells of suspicion.

“The wise marketer is the master of music, while the fool is the king of noise.

“The wise marketer is the student of pianissimo, while the fool knows only fortissimo.

“The wise marketer is the conductor of an orchestra, while the fool beats only his own drum.

“The true purpose of marketing is matching genuine needs with tailored services.

“The corrupted practice of marketing is associating coveted emotions with generic products.

“The grand masters of marketing are jazz musicians, adept in the art of listening, practiced in the skill of blending, refined in the intuition of creativity.

“The false prophets of marketing are paid pipers, playing on people’s dreams and desires, calling the tune to suit their own pockets, leading the innocent children away.

“The market is a lively place of songs, but beware: though some are music pure and true, many are designed to cast their spell.

“Beware of melodies sweet and alluring, for many are those who have met a rocky end with the mesmeric notes of sirens still singing in their ears.

“Beware of rhythms pounding with calls to impulsive action, for many before you have marched to their needless graves to the deadly beat of a drum.

“And beware of the fevered pitch of inspiring summons, for many have suffered under dictator kings heralded by the passionate salute of trumpets.

“The most exquisite music of marketing is pure silence, played on the precious instruments of quality and caring, resounding with crystal clarity up and down the scales of human trust.”

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The Business Poet – Chapter 5

The Business Poet – Chapter 5

On Stakeholders

Merlin hoped he hadn’t ruffled too many feathers by challenging customer supremacy. But long years of business experience had taught him that they are only one stakeholder group – albeit a critical one. So he was delighted by the follow up question, from their social responsibility officer, who spent a great deal of time listening to the needs to communities in which the company operated.

“Speak to us of Stakeholders. Will we ever seriously challenge the corporate obsession with shareholders?”

This was a matter close to Merlin’s heart. He often wondered if, for all the good capitalism had done in the world, the power of shareholders could be its ultimate Achilles heel. He consulted his notes, and read by the flickering candle light:

“Business is the living manifestation of a complex web of relationships.

“Just as the body depends on the coordinated functioning of all its parts, so companies rely on the constructive interaction of multiple stakeholders for their continued existence and success.

“The dreaming logic of the head must listen to the yearning intuitions of the heart.

“The craving appetite of the stomach must heed the cleansing capacity of the liver.

“The eager strides of the feet must match the energising breath of the lungs.

“Companies that pander exclusively to the demands of insatiable shareholders risk acquiring a compulsive eating disorder, while those that neglect returns to capital providers may soon be staring anorexia in the face.

“Managers that place their own comforts and rewards ahead of the welfare of their workers are selfish cancer cells that threaten to destroy the entire body, while employees that make blind demands without regard for the health of the company may unwittingly be spreading a debilitating virus.

“Businesses that pollute the environment or fail to look after the community are poisoning the body and eroding its immune system, while civic and green organisations that attack rather than engage constructively must face the full force of the body’s self defence mechanisms.

“The needs of the private sector are many and varied, like the diverse requirements of the body, for water, food, rest and stimulation.

“An enterprise without a market of willing customers is a baby still-born, and a business without a stable, transparent government is a tantrum child.

“A company without reliable suppliers is a fickle teenager and a commercial venture without a record of good media relations is a staid adult.

An organisation without an incubator of creative innovators is a dying elder.

“A healthy body maintains a state of dynamic equilibrium, yet there is no single measure to diagnose this ideal balance.

“Temperature, pulse and blood pressure, all combine to paint a picture of health or illness.

“Likewise, the vitality and sustainability of a business cannot be determined by the satisfaction of one stakeholder group only, or even all stakeholders at one point in time.

“The stakeholder-sensitive company invests in multiple instruments and tracks diverse measures for continuous bio-monitoring and bio-feedback that signals the state of health of the corporate body.

“In reality, a body does not consist of separate parts at all, but functions as an integrated whole.

“Machines can be dismantled, but if a body is dissected, it means it is dead.

“Those businesses are most alive that are inseparable, even indistinguishable, from their stakeholders, for this is the way of the living organisms.”

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The Business Poet – Chapter 4

The Business Poet – Chapter 4

On Customers

Merlin was pleased to see one of his frontline staff had stood up to speak. He had always believed that these were the real heroines and heroes of the company – those dealing with customers, face to face, every day, exchanging pleasantaries and dealing with their complaints.

“What about Customers?” she asked simply.

Merlin thumbed his notebooks and cleared his throat to speak:

“Customers are the weather gods worshiped by business, as the mercurial source of creation and destruction, feast and famine, wealth and destitution, life and death.”

He looked up and saw her nod knowingly and smile, as she took her seat. Merlin slipped back into role.

“Legend has it that the Philosopher’s Stone of business success is religious devotion to customer service.

“According to this belief, entrepreneurs are the mystical high priests who have the uncanny ability to tap into the moods of the weather gods and to profit from their esoteric knowledge.

“They appoint directors as clergy who, having taken strict vows of capitalism, organise and lead their flocks in the ways of placating and pleasing customers with price sacrifices and product gifts.

“In reality, however, customer sovereignty is an expression of healthy stakeholder tension rather than a royal pronouncement of a commercial truth.

“For the goals of customers are not always congruent with those of business owners, managers, employees or other interest groups.

“Customers may want the highest quality for the lowest price, while owners may want the highest returns with the lowest costs.

“Customers may want the widest choice for the least inconvenience, while managers may want maximum standardization for the most efficiency.

“Customers may want unrelenting 24/7 service with a smile, while employees prioritise work-life balance with meaning.

“And customers may want ever more ‘stuff’ for unlimited consumption, while special interest groups want to reign in the damaging behaviour of corporate excess.

“Although most business devotees pray for fair weather, the enterprising trader turns all weather to their advantage.

“They know that the sun fuels the plants which can be cultivated as crops and forests to feed a resource hungry world.

“They know that the wind turns the windmill which drives the turbine to generate energy for a power thirsty people.

“And they know that the rain channels into rivers which circulate through the veins of industry, keeping it cool and clean.

“Fly-by-night commercial opportunists prey on unexpected changes in the weather, living as slaves to the boom and bust cycles of customer fads.

“Amoral mercenaries seek out the most destructive storms and make bargains with the devil, living as shadow people in the underworld of bloodthirsty customers.

“More sustainable enterprises seek to understand the underlying principles and patterns of the weather, living as students of human needs and desires.

“The natural scientist understands that the weather is Earth’s way of maintaining a dynamic balance between its complex living systems.

“The macro economist understands that customers are society’s way of structuring a reciprocal relationship between production and consumption.

“The business practitioner understands that customers are the market’s way of matching latent demand with tailored supply.

“The industrial psychologist understands that customers are suggestible subjects whose distinction between needs and satisfiers is easily confused.

“And the critical philosopher understands that customers are typecast characters in a scripted narrative which blurs the margins between fantasy and reality.

“Customer demand is not a reliable proxy for social good, nor is business success a sound indicator of desirable activity.

“Nevertheless, customers can be activists for ethical behaviour and moral causes, and businesses can be pioneers in the delivery of social justice and environmental protection.

“In our legitimate and worthy striving to serve the customer, know that there is a spark of the divine in all of us, for we are all simultaneously weather worshippers and weather gods.

“Therefore, let our service be respectful and responsive and let our custom be careful and considered.

“In this way, business and its customers will form a soulful pact of sacred trust.

“And let us never forget that, as customers, we carry the weather within us.”

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Ties that Bind: Experiments in Community Business

Ties that Bind: Experiments in Community Business

Blog by Wayne Visser

After graduating in business studies from Cape Town, in 1992 I started a 4-month management traineeship programme with the Royal Bank of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. During this time, I came across the inspiring research of Professor Greg McLeod from Cape Breton University, written up in his Community Business Series booklets (and later, in From Mondragon To America – Experiments In Community Economic Development). Having worked in community development for over 30 years, McLeod was concerned about rootless capital – the trend of companies funded by absentee investors with no stake in the communities in which the business operates.

This is when I first learned of the amazing experiment in community business that had being going on for decades in Mondragon, a small town in the mountainous region of north-eastern Spain. Here, based on the teachings and initiatives of a Roman Catholic priest, a business comprising one electric stove manufacturer with five employees established was in 1955. Today, the Mondragon corporation is a complex of co-operatives with €36 billion ($46 billion) in assets and €13 billion ($17 billion) in sales, employing 80,000 people – all of which actively pursue a philosophy of local community development based on the values of co-operation, participation, social responsibility and innovation. With companies operating across four divisions (finance, industry, distribution and knowledge), Mondragon is today the foremost Basque business group and the seventh largest in Spain. For those who are interested to know more, there is a great series of blogs about Mondragon by co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation, Jeffrey Hollender.

Of course, not all community businesses are large. A much smaller-scale venture that interested me at the time was New Findhorn Directions (NFD), established in 1979 as an umbrella body for businesses operating from the Findhorn Foundation eco-community in Scotland. As it happened, I visited the community after my traineeship in Canada, and again in 1996 when I began my Masters in Human Ecology in Ediburgh. The businesses in place at that time included the Wood Studio, Bay Area Graphics, Findhorn Bay Apothecary, Weatherwise Solar and Alternative Data. They also had a pioneering eco-housing project (which included houses made from whisky barrels). What united these diverse companies were that they were all trying to demonstrate a broader community philosophy of ‘spiritual management’ and ‘work as love in action’.

What can we learn about corporate responsibility from these somewhat eccentric experiments in community business? The first point to note is that these businesses exist within a different (some might say counter-mainstream) micro-culture. The common objective in places such as Findhorn in Scotland and Mondragon in Spain is community and environmental improvement, including through enterprise. They are not hungry for short-term profits; rather, they are pursuing long-term sustainable development strategies. The desire is to be autonomous and self-sustaining and, most of all, to promote local self-development rooted in history and tradition. These two examples serve to illustrate that success stories in alternative ways of doing business do exist. The details of exactly how they are different, however, still need more thorough exploration …

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-quest-for-sustainable-business”]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2013) Ties that Bind: Experiments in Community Business, Wayne Visser Blog Series, 10 July 2013.

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Meme-Splicing in the Land of the Rising Sun

Meme-Splicing in the Land of the Rising Sun

Blog by Wayne Visser

Kaizen, Sushi and Toyota

My career in sustainable business really got started in September 1990, when I attended AIESEC’s World Theme Conference on Sustainable Development in Tokyo, Japan. This was an opportunity of a lifetime. As a management student, I was all too aware of the rise of the Asian tiger economies, especially Japan. The West was spellbound by the revolution of total quality management (TQM), which the American statistician Edward Deming had introduced to Japan in the 1970s. The Japanese had perfected TQM through their kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement or ‘change for the better’.

The aim of the conference was to create a contribution to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit in 1992, which we called ‘A Youth Action Guide on Sustainable Development’. We also had study tours, most notably to the Toyota headquarters in Nagoya, where we met with the senior management team. I remember being served a sushi style lunch in square plastic trays, each morsel neatly and aesthetically arranged. Apart from glimpsing the highly automated production line, we had a chance to explore the company’s R&D display area. I was amazed by numerous eco-efficient and alternative fuel technologies already in the mature stages of development.

Having seen all this in 1990, it was no surprise to me that Toyota led the motor industry with its sustainability reforms nearly 20 years later, launching the Toyota Prius hybrid technology and RAV4 EV all-electric vehicle in 1997. With around 3 million Prius cars sold and the RAV4 EV relaunched in partnership with Tesla Motors in 2012, other automotive companies have been falling over themselves to catch up and introduce their own hybrid and electric models. This is one of those rare moments when we are seeing a ‘race to the top’ on environmental performance.

Earth Charter, Zero Waste and Fuji-Xerox

One of my great insights from the trip was that ‘vision’ is something the Japanese really understand. Shortly after my visit and ahead of most companies in the world, in 1992 Toyota issued its Environmental Guiding Principles and adopted its own Earth Charter. What is interesting is not that it has these principles (after all, many companies have flowery statements on their boardroom walls now), but rather the way they are expressed, which I believes conveys a qualitative difference in aspirations.

For instance, in its Guiding Principles it commits to ‘honour the language and spirit of the law’; to ‘enhancing the quality of life everywhere’; to ‘foster a corporate culture that enhances individual creativity’; and to ‘pursue growth in harmony with the global community’. And in its Earth Charter, it is already striving to ‘pursue production activities that do not generate waste’ and to ‘participate in the creation of a recycling-based society’. Note that it does not say ‘activities that reduce waste’; they say activities that ‘do not generate waste’. Hence, long before Ray Anderson at Interface conceived his much-celebrated ‘Mission Zero’ or McDonough and Braungart had popularised cradle to cradle concept, Toyota had understood and integrated the concept of a circular economy.

Of course, it is not just Toyota that has understood these principles. In August 2000, Fuji Xerox  …

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-quest-for-sustainable-business”]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

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Visser, W. (2013) Meme-Splicing in the Land of the Rising Sun, Wayne Visser Blog Series, 3 July 2013.

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Lessons from Africa’s Wild Frontiers

Lessons from Africa’s Wild Frontiers

Blog by Wayne Visser

Birthplace of blood diamonds

We start our journey around the world in Africa, in the country known today as Zimbabwe. This is the place where I was born and spent my childhood years. At that time, however, the country was still called Rhodesia – so named after the colonialist Cecil Rhodes in the late 1800s. Rhodes, an English-born explorer turned entrepreneur and business magnate, is the focus of my first story – a lesson in the abuse of corporate power.

In 1871, Rhodes joined the diamond rush and headed to Kimberley in South Africa. By 1889, he had formed an effective monopoly through a strategic partnership with the London-based Diamond Syndicate, which agreed to control the world supply of diamonds – around 90% at one point – and thereby maintain high prices. In the same year, Rhodes established the British South Africa Company, which was empowered under royal charter to trade with African tribal leaders, as well as to form banks; to own, manage, grant or distribute land; and to raise a police force.

In return, the company agreed to develop the territory it controlled, to respect existing African laws, to allow free trade within its territory and to respect all religions. Four years later, however, the very same company had recruited its own army and invaded tribal king Lobengula’s territory in what became known at the 1893 Matabele War. The troops and white settlers occupied the town and Bulawayo was declared a settlement under the rule of the British South Africa Company. Rhodes ordered that a new town be built on the ruins of Lobengula’s royal place.

For me, the lesson to learn from Rhodes and his British South Africa Company is clear: when companies have too much power—either political power or economic power – they will tend to abuse that power to enrich themselves. The fusion of private economic interest with public political sanction is the ultimate toxic recipe for corporate irresponsibility. We see it in all the classic cases of business crimes against society and the environment, whether it is through the regressive political lobbying of the oil industry in the United States (going all the way back to Rockefeller’s Standard Oil company), or the majority ownership of Shell by Nigeria’s former military dictatorship government.

Man versus wild

My second story from Zimbabwe is about how greed and exploitation is decimating wildlife on the planet. I have a childhood memory of visiting Hwange National Park (then called Wankie), which is

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-quest-for-sustainable-business”]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2013) Lessons from Africa’s Wild Frontiers, Wayne Visser Blog Series, 26 June 2013.

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The Life Story of a Global Movement

The Life Story of a Global Movement

Blog by Wayne Visser

This new blog series for CSRwire is based on my book, The Quest for Sustainable Business. The book, in turn, follows a journey – around the world and through time; a journey of discovery and ideas. In the blog posts that follow, I will give you some glimpses into the search that has taken me to over 65 countries in the past 20 years. The path begins in Africa and winds its way through Asia, North America, Europe, Australasia and Latin America.

Along the way, I will share what I have learned in my encounters with mega-corporations and small farmers; and in conversations with CEOs and social entrepreneurs. I draw on facts and figures about world trends, and interviews with thought leaders and activists. This is a tale that consciously weaves the personal and the professional, mixing anecdotes and case studies. It looks outwards and reflects inwards, and is both autobiography and the life story of a global movement.

My inspiration for the book came when I decided, in 2010, to leave the security of the University of Cambridge – where I had been developing a Master’s in Sustainability Leadership – and set out on a ‘Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) quest world tour’, which took me to 20 countries on five continents, travelling continuously for nine months. It was one of those great ironies of my life that I had to leave one of the world’s premier educational institutions in order to advance my learning.

Suffice to say I had an itch and I needed to scratch it. I wanted to reconnect with what was happening on the ground in countries around the world; and I was excited by the prospect of making new friends, seeing new lands, soaking up diverse cultures and discovering fresh case studies. More than anything, I needed to rekindle the passion that had started me on this career in sustainable business 20 years before.

My intention was always to capture my insights along the journey and share them with a wider sustainable business audience. One of the ways I did this was to conduct nearly 100 video interviews, all of which are shared on the CSR International channel on YouTube, and referred to throughout the text of the book.

The other way was to keep a diary and to write a book about my travel experiences—the book which forms the basis for this blog series. However, when I started to write, I repeatedly found myself referring to earlier parts of my career. Gradually, I began to wonder if there was a bigger story to be told. After all, my journey began in the lead-up to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and here we were, 20 years later, preparing for Rio+20.

In the interim, I had been fortunate to work, study, teach and research in the field of sustainable business, tracking its path as it emerged from a fringe concern to a mainstream movement and a global profession. There were stories to tell that ranged from hippie-like adventures in eco-villages and community enterprises to hard-nosed consulting assignments for big global brands. I had worked as a strategy analyst for Cap Gemini and set up and ran KPMG’s Sustainability Services in South Africa.

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-quest-for-sustainable-business”]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2013) The Life Story of a Global Movement, Wayne Visser Blog Series, 19 June 2013.

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Ten Web 2.0 Trends Shaping the Future of Business

Ten Web 2.0 Trends Shaping the Future of Business

Paper by Wayne Visser

What is Web 2.0 Really?

Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 as ‘web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing, inter-operability, user-centred design and collaboration’. The term owes its origins to a 1999 article by IT consultant Darcy DiNucci, which challenged programmers to adapt to the spread of portable Web-ready devices. The concept was broadened out in 2005 by online media pioneer Tim O’Reilly, who gave contrasted Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 using examples: DoubleClick versus Google AdSense, Britannica Online versus Wikipedia, personal websites versus blogging, publishing versus participation, directories (taxonomy) versus tagging (folksonomy) and stickiness versus syndication, to mention but a few.

In 2006, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams showed how Web 2.0 was set to disrupt how markets operate and how businesses are organised. They called this new paradigm ‘wikinomics’, defining it as ‘the effects of extensive collaboration and user-participation on the marketplace and corporate world’.

Wikinomics, they said, is based on four principles:

1)   Openness, which includes not only open standards and content but also financial transparency and an open attitude towards external ideas and resources;

2)   Peering, which replaces hierarchical models with a more collaborative forum, for which the Linux operating system is a quintessential example;

3)   Sharing, which is a less proprietary approach to (among other things) products, intellectual property, bandwidth and scientific knowledge; and

4)   Acting globally, which involves embracing globalization and ignoring physical and geographical boundaries at both the corporate and individual level.

Another Web 2.0 building block is Chris Anderson’s concept of ‘The Long Tail’ – named after the area of a statistical distribution curve where it approaches (but never quite meets) the axis. Anderson’s breakthrough idea was that, in a Web 2.0 era, selling less to more people is big business. The Long Tail questions the conventional wisdom that says success is about generating ‘blockbusters’ and ‘superstars’ – those rare few products and services that become runaway bestsellers.

Anderson sums up his message by saying that:

1)   The Long Tail of available variety is longer than we think;

2)   It’s now within reach economically; and

3)   All those niches, when aggregated, can make up a significant market; and

4)   The Long Tail revolution has been made possible by the digital age, which has dramatically reduced the costs of customized production and niche distribution.

Taking Tapscott and Williams’ four principles (openness, peering, sharing and acting globally), plus another principle derived from Anderson’s ‘long tail’ concept (mass customization), let’s take a look at the future of business through a Web 2.0 lens …

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Visser, W. (2013) Ten Web 2.0 Trends Shaping the Future of Business, Kaleidoscope Futures Paper Series, No. 2.

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