It’s All About How You Do It

Thomas Friedman wrote yet another fascinating column for the New York Times, this time about the blogosphere, the Internet and the impact both have on one’s every day and professional lives.

Friedman argues that, nowadays, everone is a publisher: it is incredibly easy for every person to create a blog and to start writing and sharing. It is also very easy these days to make photos, videos, etc. This way, according to Friedman, everyone is a potential publisher and a potential paparazzo.

This means that one constantly has to check one’s behavior / mind one’s words. Whatever we do, we leave a digital fingerprint. Once you say something on a blog, it will be there to read for anyone and everyone for years to come. What matters now, more than ever, is not so much what you do (the Internet has made it much easier for people to simply copy what you do), but how you do it:

The implications of all this are the subject of a new book by Dov Seidman, founder and C.E.O. of LRN, a business ethics company. His book is simply called “How.” Because Seidman’s simple thesis is that in this transparent world “how” you live your life and “how” you conduct your business matters more than ever, because so many people can now see into what you do and tell so many other people about it on their own without any editor. To win now, he argues, you have to turn these new conditions to your advantage.

For young people, writes Seidman, this means understanding that your reputation in life is going to get set in stone so much earlier. More and more of what you say or do or write will end up as a digital fingerprint that never gets erased. Our generation got to screw up and none of those screw-ups appeared on our first job résumés, which we got to write. For this generation, much of what they say, do or write will be preserved online forever. Before employers even read their résumés, they’ll Google them…

But this also creates opportunities. Today “what” you make is quickly copied and sold by everyone. But “how” you engage your customers, “how” you keep your promises and “how” you collaborate with partners — that’s not so easy to copy, and that is where companies can now really differentiate themselves.

“When it comes to human conduct there is tremendous variation, and where a broad spectrum of variation exists, opportunity exists,” writes Seidman. “The tapestry of human behavior is so varied, so rich and so global that it presents a rare opportunity, the opportunity to outbehave the competition.”

How can you outbehave your competition? In Michigan, Seidman writes, one hospital taught its doctors to apologize when they make mistakes, and dramatically cut their malpractice claims. In Texas, a large auto dealership allowed every mechanic to spend freely whatever company money was necessary to do the job right, and saw their costs actually decline while customer satisfaction improved. A New York street doughnut-seller trusted his customers to make their own change and found he could serve more people faster and build the loyalty that keeps them coming back.

It is something all bloggers should be aware of (and every person for that matter): whatever we write, it will be there, it will be online for the rest of our lives and, if write something bad, it can and will be used against us in the future. Most bloggers are relatively old – in their 50s, but bloggers like myself (in their early 20s) have a long life and career ahead of them and this means that they (we) should be aware of the fact that what we write will never go away.

I seldom let this knowledge influence my writing, but I sometimes – admittedly – do. I do not wish to be confronted ten years from now, with something I wrote in 2006, which is taken out of context and then used to greatly damage my credibility / reputation.

Remember: big brother is watching you. We thought that Big Brother was the government, but it now seems that the true Big Brother is the Internet (and especially Google).

Author: michaelvdg