This is an extract from Martin Thomas’s new book Crowdsurfing: Surviving and Thriving in the Age of Consumer Empowerment, one of several that we’ll be running in the coming weeks.
There is a story, probably apocryphal, about an architect who designed a university campus. On the day of the grand opening, he was approached by the Head of the University, who commented that ‘the buildings look fantastic, but why haven’t you put in any paths to connect them?’ The architect smiled knowingly and replied, “I will come back in six months to put in the paths, once I have seen how the students have chosen to walk between the buildings.”
Rather than impose his own views of where the paths should go, or use some elaborate computer simulation model, he believed that an enlightened architect should respond to the behaviour of the crowd.
Welcome to the world of the crowd surfer: a world in which a new generation of business and political leaders have learned how to harness the energy, ideas and enthusiasm of today’s empowered consumers. They are not manipulators, demagogues or mere populists. They have been smart enough to recognise that people around the globe – emboldened and enthused by a new spirit of enquiry and self-expression, and powered by the internet – have changed the rules of the game. They realise that surrendering absolute control – giving their customers, partners and employees a greater say in the way that their businesses operate – is paradoxically, the most effective way to manage their corporate or political destiny.
Our crowd surfers are the people that concur with racing driver Mario Andretti’s maxim that: “If everything seems under control you’re just not going fast enough.” They are people such as Proctor & Gamble’s Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, A.G. Lafley, who describes how business leaders: “are operating in what is very much a ‘let go’ world.
Martin Thomas has spent 23 years running marketing communications agencies in PR, advertising, sponsorship, entertainment marketing and new media. The blog of the book is www.crowdsurfing.net