Once, 11 years ago, I had the chance to meet Henry Kissinger and hear him talk about his years as both National Security Advisor and Secretary of State in the United States during the late ’60s and during the ’70s. My generation had fairly harsh criticism of him because of his role during the Vietnam Conflict. After he spoke for a while he offered to answer any questions that anyone in the room had. He was incredibly, and surprisingly, funny: “You can ask me anything, but I only have three answers.” The very first question was a sharp rebuke of his assessment of the Viet Cong fighting capability. And his answer is the point of mentioning Dr. Kissinger (aside from name dropping): He laid out all of the brain power that he had at his disposal – PhDs in warfare, diplomacy, Asian Culture, Generals, CIA, satellite surveillance. There were position papers on every possible scenario. But, he continued, it was his job to sift through the multiple overlapping, conflicting, sometimes ambiguous data, and formulate a course of action.
I have never forgotten the stark reality he brought to light: unless you are on the front line, in the field, responsible for the success or failure of a policy, you can’t really judge. There are so many pundits out there today, for example, criticizing the vision of others on trends as non-life threatening as Social Networks, at a distance and with impunity. Not running businesses. Not trying to make payroll or respond to share holders. Not trying to demonstrate success – nope: just schvitzing about the wonder of their clarity of vision.
So here is my weekend advice: Go with the advice of ’50s heartthrob Ricky Nelson – “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.” Social processes represent a profound and growing shift in the way in which consumers interact. They are willing to infuse their passion and intelligence into advice to others. We are at the forefront of a tremendous, and exciting, phenomenon. It is changing businesses. Yet it requires courage and insight and flexibility and commitment – just like a lot of previous initiatives. Right now it is the marketing folks doing the very cool and innovative stuff. They are also the best ones to tap as you extend this to customer support and sales development. Don’t worry about the naysaying and doubters and armchair experts – there are already fantastic role models to listen and learn from. We have a database of over 500 examples (it grows and shrinks, as I have mentioned) of great social initiatives. Let’s talk! We have support points on the metrics, benefits, and measurable improvements our clients are experiencing using social concepts, and we love hearing yours.