“the word “reputation” is so 1990. today it’s all about relationships”
Maybe it’s the Calcuttan in me, but I guess I’ve always thought that way. For me, it’s always been all about relationships. Relationship before conversation before transaction. But as the Cluetrain guys so elegantly pointed out, that sequence had been lost in the West, and society had become more about Transaction First, Conversation only if it is going to help Transaction, Relationship only if it is going to help Conversation (and therefore Transaction).
No surprise then that when Customer Relationship Management systems came out, they tended not to be about managing customer relationships, but about managing transactions and exploiting the customer. Because they were deeply rooted in Transaction First.
Back to reputation and relationships. Thinking about what K D Paine said, I began to realise that the very concept of reputation differed between East and West. How? In three simple ways:
In the East, reputation was an aggregate of onymous statements. When people spoke about someone’s reputation, they said “According to Bharat’s uncle he is a reliable guy”, and stuff like that. It was tangible and lucid and, most importantly, related to real statements by real people. As against this, reputation in the West appears to have decayed into a collection of amorphous sayings by faceless disembodied ghosts, unattributed yet always quoted.
In the East, reputation was primarily about the good in a person rather than the bad. Sure, there were bad things said about people, but that was not the norm. “He comes from a good family, I know his father”. “She was a very good child at school, I remember her well”. You can rely on them in a pinch, it’s something that village is known for”. In contrast, Western concepts of reputation seem more to be about the bad rather than the good. In the same way as people say “Bad news sells”, there seems to be a bias in what passes for reputation, a bias towards weaknesses and criticisms.
The third difference is tied to this concept of good and bad aspects of reputation. In the East all reputation is shareable and gets shared. In the West, there is a tendency to hold back on good reputation things and share bad reputation things.
A common example is that of credit ratings and related areas. Banks tend to be willing to share “black” information, information about default, very willingly, but are much less willing to share “white” information, information about positive creditworthiness. [Yes I am aware of the racial stereotyping implied in terms like black information and black markets. But you know what? I have a life to lead, and tend not to waste my time worrying about minutiae like that. The sky could fall on my head. I could slip and fall in the shower.]
I’ve always wondered why this is, why people here are more willing to share “bad” information rather than “good”. One possibility, something I am kicking around in my head, is that it’s related to scarcity economics.
People who have a scarcity mindset are into hoarding, into information asymmetry, into secrets, into making things scarce. It is rare that people say good things about others. So why pass it on? It could have value by continuing to be scarce. Trade on it, execute a “transaction”. After all, that’s what life is about….. for people with scarcity mindsets.
Relationships are about abundance, not scarcity. Provided they are nonhierarchical, of course. That’s what the people who discovered network effects understood, that relationships scale differently, create value differently. Reputation is deeply intertwined with relationship, reputation is an embodiment of what your relationships say about you. So reputations should also be about abundance, not scarcity. And can enjoy network effects as well.
In the past, even in the West, this so-called “Eastern” concept of reputation was understood. Relationships did come first, then conversation, then transaction. It has been lost. Over the last twenty years or so, it is being re-found.