Neil Young, David Agus and the Social Enterprise

Admit it. I had you with that headline. Have I finally flipped? What could possibly connect Neil Young and David Agus to the Social Enterprise, and related topics?

I could just say “Marc Benioff”, since he personally introduced me to all three.  Soon after joining, I heard Marc speak about the concept while travelling with him through Munich and Davos last year; he gave me the opportunity to meet Neil Young, a boyhood hero of mine, in Tokyo last December; and he ensured that I had a chat with David Agus, heard him speak and read his book last week in Las Vegas. [Incidentally, if you have any interest in personal health, you should read David’s book, The End of Illness. I’ve just finished it, it’s an excellent read].

Serendipitous introductions, like the ones Marc made above, can be valuable; sometimes they’re valuable enough for me to write a blog post about them. And sometimes they’re a lot more important than that.

Let’s take David Agus and his book, which I will commend you again to read. It’s more than just a book, it’s a manifesto. A call to action built around some core (and radical) principles. A whole new way of looking at the very concept of health, or at the very least a renaissance of older ways, underpinned and substantiated by advances in medical research, technology and understanding.

Early on in the book, Dr Agus quotes JBS Haldane as saying, in Cambridge in 1923:

“The recent history of medicine is as follows. Until about 1870 medicine was largely founded on physiology, or, as the Scotch called it ‘Institutes of Medicine’. Disease was looked at from the point of view of the patient, as injuries still are. Pasteur’s discovery of the nature of infectious disease transformed the whole outlook, and made it possible to abolish one group of disease. But it also diverted scientific medicine from its former path, and it is probable that, were bacteria unknown, though many more people would die of sepsis and typhoid, we should be better able to cope with kidney disease and cancer.”

For patient read customer. That’s easy. And for disease read product/service; it may be a bit harder to strip negative connotations away from the word, but the principle is important so please try.

We used to be patient-centric, then found that we could industrialise processes better if we went disease-centric. Which was fine for some patients and some diseases. But overall it was a backward step as we stopped learning about the patient in a holistic manner.

Park that thought, and let’s move on to Neil Young. When we met in Tokyo, Neil spoke passionately about the parlous state of modern music. He’s been a harsh critic of the poor quality of MP3s, and has felt particularly aggrieved by the continuing deterioration of the technical quality of recorded music. As a result, he’s been working on ways to transform the music listening experience end-to-end, how music is recorded, how it is stored and retrieved, how it is played back, the devices used, the connectivity, the whole nine yards. You can read some of his views on this here and here. I was particularly taken with the way Wired UK reported on this, quoting him as saying:

My goal is to try and rescue the art form that I’ve been practising for the past 50 years. We live in the digital age, and unfortunately it’s degrading our music, not improving [it].

You could say Neil is putting forward a manifesto, a platform for change, transforming the customer experience end-to-end. It may be about his chosen art form, but the principle transcends that.

Which brings me to the Social Enterprise.

It’s a manifesto for radical change.

It begins with a holistic view of the customer; the entire process emanates from a 360-degree customer profile that is at the core of the Social Enterprise vision.

It then continues with a radical transformation of the business, end-to-end, connecting customers with the companies they deal with, their staff, their distribution network, supply chain and even their products.

And it focuses on making sure that technology is used to enhance the customer experience, not to degrade it. [Remember region coding on DVDs? That’s the sort of thinking that comes from being product-centric. No customer’s experience was enhanced even infinitesimally by that “invention”.]

And there you have it. How Neil Young and David Agus help me understand and explain the Social Enterprise.

I know, I know, you’re very tempted to say “To a hammer everything looks like a nail”.

But step back and think about it.

We have moved from being customer-centric to product- and service-centric in many contexts, sometimes to such an extent that we forget altogether about the customer. Think about what’s happening in education, no longer about the student or about learning; about what’s happening in healthcare, no longer about the patient or about being healthy; about what’s happening in government, no longer about the citizen or about her satisfaction.

There’s a renaissance needed, to a time when it was about the student, the patient, the citizen. And about the customer.

A renaissance based on using the tools of technological advance to improve the customer experience rather than to degrade it.

Thank you David Agus. Thank you Neil Young. Now, as I listen to my vinyl collection on my Linn equipment, and as I continue to approach my personal health and well-being holistically, I will also continue to learn about how the Social Enterprise works.

8 thoughts on “Neil Young, David Agus and the Social Enterprise”

  1. You use the term “social enterprise” very differently from its more popular use. That is radical as well as confusing.

    Enterprise being people centric-social is very different from enterprise being socialcentric for people.

  2. JP, Having had to endure some ‘interesting’ customer service experiences with both BT and Vodafone recently, I strongly endorse your observations about product and service centric processes. Sugata Mitra would have a lot of fun studying some of these interactions between the process and the customer – they are the best reason for gun control I can imagine.

  3. Hi Clive, excellent objective, but the myriad of parties involved and the ‘set in concrete’ ERP implementations used by a lot of manufacturing co’s make this a huge challenge. Converse may be the exception, but I suspect they are using a similar approach to Benetton regarding customisation, which does little to disturb any existing ERP implementation. But if the customer is happy, who cares how its done.

    I believe your vision will arrive sooner rather than later, and much sooner than many traditional companies would prefer. However, I expect innovation in this area to come from new enterprises who can establish more agile manufacturing processes, faster, cheaper and more flexible than any incumbent.

  4. Hi JP,

    Yes, the need of the hour is to move from ‘economies of scale’ thinking that degrades the customer experience to ‘economies of flow’ thinking that primarily revolves around social enterprise. Economies of flow requires people to be collaborative/social to ensure smooth flow of information/tasks across workers/departments. Sounds like a dream! :-).

    However, the market economy is centered around ‘economies of scale’ – organizations that has the ability to scale will be able to grow. So, For a renaissance to work, we will need changes not just within the enterprise, but outside the ecosystem as well. ‘Social enterprise ecosystem’?? – may be?

    Well, your post inspired me to write why the architecture function fails in IT?.

  5. JP,

    Yet another question. Would the social enterprise be scalable?

    One of the advantages (though it had several other unwanted consequences) of industrialization is it was scalable, businesses built on those models were able to service large set of people simultaneously.

    The question is – while the idea of social enterprise/economies of flow works excellent for a single customer in delivering a personalized, customer-centric experience, Will it work for hundreds or thousands or even more?

    While it does that, will that model also be cost-efficient, profitable and able to grow?. Only then, it will gain adoption.

Let me know what you think

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