The Internet Changes Everything. Or does it?


Let me begin by crediting my source. Last week the e-G8 summit took place in Paris. There’s a great article on it in the Harvard Business Review – it’s by Rosabeth Moss Kanter and if you want to read the full version, here’s the link.

So who was there? President Sarkozy, Rupert Murdoch, Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt – just a few average Joes… But more to the point, what does a conference of the great and good in Paris mean for your business in North Yorkshire?

 

Well, let’s begin with some stats, courtesy of the number crunchers at McKinsey. They estimate that the economic output of the internet is bigger than Spain and that it’s growing faster than Brazil. Web-intensive SME’s grow twice as fast as SME’s that ignore the internet – and they’re more profitable.

 

Add in the fact that social media is largely credited for the revolution in Egypt. Throw in that 1.3 million people now make a living from eBay, that theKhanAcademy is revolutionising education and the message is clear. Whatever you’re doing, if you’re not doing it online then you’re doing something wrong. And quite possibly your business isn’t long for this world…

 

So the internet changes everything, right? Well…maybe not. You know that I’m fond of quoting from some of the foremost business thinkers of our age. Here’s one from Herman Hupfeld. Herman who? He wrote ‘As Time Goes By’ from Casablanca – and what’s the key line from the song? The fundamental things apply/As time goes by…

 

Yep, internet or no internet; whatever the pace of the digital revolution; however fast web-based businesses are growing, three key basics of business remain unchanged, and North Yorkshire or just-north-of-Silicon-Valley, we ignore them at our peril. Back toParis, and back to Rosabeth Kanter’s article:

 

With all the talk of revolution, disruption, and really big change, I was struck by the things that are not changing – at least, not yet.

 

Here are three fundamental things that still apply (as time goes by) – and they have a message for all of us.

 

A great customer experience differentiates the winners from the losers.

 

This was a point made by Andrew Mason, the positively middle-aged (he’s 29) founder of Groupon, possibly the fastest growing company in history. Yes, companies like Facebook, sites like Social Media Examiner, even old fashioned companies like Google have expanded at phenomenal rates, and they’ve done it with the help of technology. But millions of companies have had the help of technology. What differentiates those companies – and what should differentiate your offering to your customers – is that they’ve consistently delivered a great customer experience. What does your customer want? Fine. Go well beyond it.

 

However good your technology, it’s useless without people.

 

The spread of mobile and e-health services is bringing real benefits, particularly in the third world. But it’s being hampered by a lack of professionals. Rupert Murdoch made a similar point about education – there are tools available (please, if you haven’t used it, just go to khanacademy.org) that could achieve enormous progress in poor and disadvantaged communities. But there aren’t enough visionary leaders adopting these tools themselves and setting an example.

 

Don’t be the leader fighting the war with bows and arrows who was too busy to see the machine gun salesman. I strongly recommend that you set aside a couple of hours a week just to learn. Browse the internet; look at some of the new technology. You know the old saying – “if you always do what you’ve always done…”

 

If you’re the leader, then it’s up to you to lead. And sometimes leading means learning.

 

If you pay peanuts…

 

Should everything on the internet be free? Well, it’s undeniable that you can learn an awful lot for free – and you can find plenty of people willing to work for $4 an hour. So there’s a substantial saving on your staff costs. Or maybe not.

 

The initial reaction to the internet – that it was a freelancer’s paradise and everyone’s back office would be moving to the Philippines – has given way to an eternal truth. You get what you pay for.

 

The really good stuff – that can significantly impact on your business – costs money. And it always will. So do the really talented people. The key to surviving (and thriving) in the recession isn’t to pay as little as possible; it’s to surround yourself with the best people – and to create a company where they can do brilliant things. And more on that in a couple of weeks…

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3 comments

  1. Lorraine Ives · June 3, 2011

    Wow! Well that’s me inspired for the day! Had a great session with Dave Rawlings yesterday and we touched on this very subject, so the lightbulb had gone on, but now its burning brighter and I’ve found even more sense of purpose about being a leader who is innovative and genuinely interested in developing people to make our business stronger. Brilliant Ed – keep it coming.

  2. Douglas Adamson · June 3, 2011

    Of course the internet changes everything but it doesn’t obviate all the other channels of communication that we are familiar with. The trick is to understand how you harmonise on-line selling, social media et al with your existing marketing communications activities. You have to embrace both. The great benefit of on-line activity is that you can instantly measure effectiveness and quckly change tactics. Don’t forget all you have learned just apply your marketing nouse to a new way of working.

  3. jessica kemp · June 6, 2011

    Another great article Ed and i totally agree with bringing it back to basics. performance has always been about people and the fastest route to profit is clever thinking, time management, confidence to name but a couple…. and as douglas said quite rightly a new way of working and reinventing our selves with checking out the latest tools and techniques whilst being mindful of whether they will work for us, in the time that we have, should markets take a turn

    keep up the good work
    Jess

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