Monday, September 20, 2010

Authenticity in the 21st century Bazaar

My friend @DrewCarpenter sent over a link to this book along with a radio interview with its author Rajni Bakshi.  Bakshi presents a VERY interesting way to think about how commerce works across the spectrum of capitalism to communism, using the concept of the Bazaar that this article asserts we have been straying from for the last 400+ years...

Authenticity and transparency are topics scattered through social media discussions, and have the potential to be force multipliers to drive the efficient production espoused in the classic Atlas Shrugged, without the selfishness of greed and fear that can follow in its wake.  This NYT book review of a recent Ayn Rand biography does a nice job of considering this balance across economic, social and political planes.  After the market crash, do we still think Gordon Gekko was right in believing "Greed is good" and market externalities are the burdens of the weak...?

The truth is that in the beginning as in the end, "we the people" are social animals.  Efficient market theory doesn't account well for what it takes us to maintain strong and honest relationships between each other - it remains difficult to "price in" the value and the cost.  If anything, social media is forcing us to recalculate and calibrate those values and costs as they increase, since a bad choice today can be communicated widely across a network and the world like a single match can scorch a forest.

There are some great entrepreneurial examples of authenticity and total transparency emerging, but I have to confess that when I heard of I hesitated, just like others are transparently confessing themselves.  While Unvarnished lets people publish anonymous reviews of co-workers or friends/enemies, there is little to no control of our personal and professional image using this tool.  Our friend @AaronStrout is proving brave by appearing in their Beta leaderboard for Marketing.  Nice leadership!

It raises a huge paradox for those of us working to relinquish the tight control we have learned to manage of every aspect of our lives.  We seek to be professional and personal "trust agents", with forms of spiritual development to enjoy the fruits of faith and "pay it forward" to others.  After all, if we can't live by and succeed from our actions and our reputation, then what do we really have?

With 500+ million Facebook members alone, social media networks are here to stay.  Crowdsourcing and UGC (user-generated content) makes us more honest, less selfish and more accountable to each other.  Ayn claim she was transparent and authentic, but it was a mean and selfish transparency that she hid from people and made excuses for.  Sorry Ayn, but as opposed to the "Mad Men" marketing of the 60's, social media is making it suck to be selfish.

But the question still stands:  will embracing Unvarnished through Facebook Connect be like opening Pandora's Box and risk corrupting our image across the real-time digital networks we have been assembling for the last 10 years?  Ultimately, can we enjoy the higher plane of efficient social, political and economic market theory that Bakshi introduces, without bleeding the human relationship capital in the process that Rand's Objectivism selfishly continues to advocate?

I don't want to live and die sad, mean, lonely and angry like Ayn Rand.  I'll pay the authenticity tax and take my chances.


  1. Well said Mark. First, in keeping with the principle of transparency and trust--Rajni Bakshi is my sister :) so yes I bring a positive bias to your comments!

    Her message is super timely in so many ways. Take a look at the Gap logo fiasco. I'm sure they did some marketing research to see how customers would react and clearly they didn't do enough or the right type of inquiry.

    The best thing that can come of us this period of economic downturn is people and companies being truly who they are--fantastic when they get real with their strengths and stop trying to be something/someone else.

    Bobby Bakshi

  2. Bobbyb,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. After a year of hard work at Bazaarvoice tapping into my strengths and working to build in some new ones, your comments ring true in a new way.

    When things get tough, the tough get going, right? But on what? Well, more focus on our strengths to deliver results brings accountability and success. And sometimes, that's just the season we're in.

    Re: The Gap fiasco, while the public reaction to the brand was severe, at least they realized it was a mess and responded. That's the power of social media, when properly leveraged. In fact, with the right people, process, and technology, we can conduct a lot of the research we used to do through focus groups. Bad managers can't hide behind bad products, and bad people can't hide behind bad actions.

    I had the opportunity to read the Steve Jobs bio by Walter Isaacson over the Thanksgiving break, and it highlights how Jobs made a lot of choices just like Ayn Rand did: process over people, self over service. You almost feel sorry for them both - like they are missing an Empathy gene that we see in Autism Spectrum children (and adults). Did they decide to leave a wake of destruction behind them, or were they just incapable of realizing it? If it was ever pointed out and they were capable of change, then there's really no excuse other than selfishness and ego.

    Gotta love how social makes everyone accountable. In work, in life. From the Age of Reason, to the Era of Accountability.