At some point in the recent past, there lived a CEO who cared so much for cutting-edge technology and unusual ways to increase market share that he spent a sizeable amount of his company’s profit on finding and implementing new ideas. One day, he realized that many of his employees had embraced the new “social networking” phenomenon, and decided to find a way to harness the power of this new technology to secure the future of his company. He instructed his managers to direct their minions on the appropriate way to represent the company in their off time. He made sure that there was no inexperienced addressing of product quality issues, and there were no online discussions that might expose trade secrets.
The CEO even got in on the action, and before long he had a login for every social networking site. He spent most of his time checking out the activities and connections of his employees and regularly changing his profile picture so that everyone would get an update and might see his handsome face and know that he was watching (and learning).
One day there came to the company two rogues who set themselves up as social networking gurus. They said they knew how to establish the company as a market leader while providing a venue for capitalizing on the social networking phenomenon and increase not only the bottom line, but also the position of the company in the global marketplace. The samples and statistics they showed were beautiful.
"I must have a strategy designed by these networking gurus," thought the CEO. "When I announce this decision at the annual company webinar, I will find out which of my executives and business partners are not fit for their positions. I shall know the brilliant minds and visionaries from the has-beens. Those networking gurus must be brought to me at once."
So the two rogues came to the Executive suite. The CEO asked to check out their profiles on a variety of sites, but they advised that was not possible, and their personal networking efforts and activities were relatively non-existent. They explained that only those who studied the space were able to help others understand it, and that participation in the space was something they “just didn’t have time for.” They noted that this information could not be understood by anyone who was stupid or unfit for his position within the company, but they assured the CEO that they could deliver results. The CEO gave them a vast sum of money so they could begin designing the company strategy immediately.
The rogues put up two cutting edge computer systems, with multiple monitors, and began building a closed social network that would allow the company to synergize the brainpower of employees across all divisions. They designed file-sharing systems that would allow multiple-user edits. They made sure that all who signed on automatically had the CEO and their supervisor as a contact, and they provided a recommend-connection mode that allowed supervisors to see who should be connected and communicating but was not. They designed policy that allowed for up to one hour per workday for socializing with others in the company, and encouraged employee access from home via VPN.
They expensed trips to remote locations and had lunch with some of the best and brightest strategists in the social networking space, charging the costs to the company. They worked steadily at the computers, building their own reputations on many of the largest and most profitable niche sites, and cruised the lonely matchmaker websites until far into the night.
Day after day, the CEO could hear the clicking of the keyboards. He became very curious to see the wonderful strategy these rogues were developing; and he decided to send someone to find out how the networking gurus were doing. But he remembered that no one who was stupid or was unfit for his position would understand their strategy.
"I will send my COO to the gurus," thought the CEO. "He is a very clever man, and no one is more worthy of his position than he."
So the COO went into the office where the two rogues sat working at the computers. The rogues explained the networking strategy that linked employees to one another, enabling them to capitalize on institutional wisdom and build on it – even on their own time. He stared and stared, and opened his eyes wide.
"I am in so much trouble!" he thought. "It looks like they are closing us off from our customers." He thought to ask the gurus how building a gated community would interface with the envisioned social networking strategy, but he said nothing at all.
"Step a little closer," said the rogues. "Check out these graphics! And the colors - are they not wonderful?" And they pointed to the computer screen.
The COO put on his glasses, and looked and looked at the computer screen; but he could not figure out how this closed environment supported his company’s outreach strategy.
"Oh no!" he said to himself. "Is it possible that I am unfit for my office? Certainly, no one must know it. Am I a complete idiot? I will never say that I cannot understand this strategy!"
"Well, sir, what do you think of it?" asked one of the rogues.
"Oh, it is exciting – wonderful!" said the COO, as he peered through his glasses. "The colors are gorgeous and the graphics are excellent. I shall tell the CEO that I am very pleased with your strategy."
"We are glad to hear you say so," said the rascals. And they continued talking of the design and vision for strategy implementation. They estimated the ongoing costs, and described the benefits. The COO listened carefully, for he wished to repeat to the CEO all that was said.
Soon the rogues began to ask for more funding for their work. All that was given to them they put into their pockets. Not a single dime was ever put into improving the company strategy.
The CEO sent another faithful friend, the CMO, to see the gurus’ work and inquire how soon the strategy would be ready, as the webinar was scheduled to happen soon. But the CMO fared no better than the COO. He stood before the computer screens, and looked and looked and looked, but he saw no useful strategy.
"Isn't this great stuff?" asked the two rogues. Then they praised the gorgeous colors and explained the design and its relationship to the current networking strategy, which was nonexistent.
"Oh, dear!" thought the CMO. "Surely I am not stupid. It must be that I am unfit for my position. That is very strange, as I have impeccable credentials and a resume that is very impressive. But I must not let it be known that I cannot understand this."
"Ah!" said he. "The strategy is most unusual; and the colors are marvelous. I shall tell the CEO what fine progress you are making."
Soon every one in the company was talking about the wonderful strategy that the two networking gurus were designing. The CEO thought that he would like to see the draft while it was still in the works. With a number of his executives, he went to visit the two rogues, who were working diligently, day after day, without really doing anything new.
Among the executives that accompanied the CEO were the two who had already visited the gurus. They thought that the others would see something in the strategy that made good business sense, so they began to cry out at once, "Look! Do you understand this insightful strategy? And the technology and design - are they not cutting edge?"
"What is this?" thought the CEO. "I see nothing new at all! Am I not fit to be CEO? Am I an idiot? If that were known, I will be terminated."
"Yes, yes, it is very exciting," said the CEO aloud. "I could not be more pleased."
He smiled and nodded his head, and stared at the computer screens. His executives, too, looked and looked, but saw no more than the others. Yet they all cried, "It is wonderful." And the rogues asked the CEO to provide some input on their draft design of his profile page, which they would roll out during the upcoming webinar.
The CEO put each of the rogues on his top connections list, and strongly recommended their work, calling them “Corporate Network Strategy Gurus.”
As the day of the webinar came nearer, the two rogues worked around the clock, inhaling energy drinks, and walking around the halls to keep their thoughts flowing. They were up the whole night before the webinar. They kept the lights on, their computer speakers cranked, and their plans for success empty.
Through the huge windows of the rogues' borrowed corner office, the employees could see they were hard at work. They edited and re-edited page upon page of code. They made drawings on whiteboards and sketched out designs on page after page of easel pad paper stuck to the walls. They wrote, revised, and re-worked; and at last, they said, "The strategy is ready."
The CEO, with his executives and board members surrounding him, went to examine the new strategy.
The rogues pointed to the computer screens as if there was something exciting there. "See!" they said. "Here is the website! Here is your profile! Here are your contacts! The company logo is watermarked in the cleverest places. You can drag-and-drop pictures, upload spreadsheets, interface with other internal corporate databases, and talk amongst yourselves as freely as if you were in a bank vault. That is the beauty of it."
"It is marvelous," said the executives. Yet the whole time they really understood nothing, for there was nothing to understand – this was all a (barely) new spin on an old business practice.
"Will you please provide us a quote for our press release?" asked the rogues of the CEO. "Then we will make a joint announcement, just in time to increase the excitement and attraction of the webinar."
The CEO deleted all his external networking website profiles, and issued a directive to have all his employees and company leaders to do the same. The rogues then showed each of the executives their new profiles. They had music and videos, and made a big deal about each one.
"How great an idea this is!" said the executives. "What a great strategy! What a wonderful idea!"
The CEO clicked on friend after friend, checking out each profile. He adjusted his top friends, posted on walls, sent instant messages, and even posted a few videos, and nodded his head enthusiastically.
"The webinar is about to launch," said one of his executives.
"I am ready," said the CEO. He gave one last click on his “about me” and prepared for the camera.
The two masters of ceremonies launched their browsers. They had yet to see the design of the site, as they wanted their own excitement to be expressed in their dialog. But they could not access the site, as they were not company employees. They assumed it was a technical glitch, and did not dare let it be known that they saw nothing. At least they could see the streaming video!
The CEO smiled at the camera, with the new site displayed on a 42-inch screen behind him, and all his executives stood beside him, with smiles on their faces. But those attending the webinar – the suppliers and partners, looked only at the screen behing the CEO, for they all wanted to see this wonderful site.
"How handsome the CEO's profile is!" they all cried. "What a great design! How well it represents him!" And they rushed to open a new window on their computer so they could check the site out in real time.
And they were all instantly depressed. None of them would admit that they could see nothing, for that would have proved them very stupid and unfit for a relationship with the company. No website strategy launch had ever been so widely announced or richly funded.
"But there’s nothing there!" said a customer in the chat room.
"Hush! Hush!" said a value-added reseller, “you must not have the new version of Java installed. Call Tech Support after the Webinar. Trust me, this thing is BiG! And, it’s revolutionary!”
But the customers, vendors, and suppliers began to private message one another about what the customer had said; "There’s nothing there! The customers cannot access the site!"
Soon all the suppliers were typing into the chat room, "But, we cannot access the site!"
The CEO saw what they said, and he shivered, for he knew that their words were true. He had agreed on the strategy because it was so familiar. Keep everything close-hold. Make it so contact with the company from outside is a privilege that is earned, not a natural response to an attempt to get information by a potential customer. But he couldn’t stop the process; and so he held his head up, put on his best fake smile, and continued his speech. And behind him, his executives smiled and nodded, and helped drive the company into the bankruptcy courts – even without a bursting bubble.
This contemporary portrayal of denial, rewritten from Hans Christian Andersen’s rewrite of an old Spanish story, was designed to provide a thought-provoking perspective regarding how social media (and other new technologies) can be seen by those entrenched in the status quo of yesterday’s business model. Will tomorrow’s successful companies apply the old rules in the relationship economy? Only time will tell!