If you only find time to read one business article this month, you may want to make it Scott Cook’s piece in the Harvard Business Review (October 2008) The Contribution Revolution – Letting Volunteers Build Your Business. Cook, a co-founder of Intuit has done a solid job of outlining the whys and the ways to build a user contribution system which will play a part in the growth and value of businesses ultimately benefiting customers and shareholders alike. They are what you and I call volunteers. As Cook points out there are a surprising number of business models that rely almost entirely on user contributions to add value to the product—think E-Bay or Facebook for starters. Essentially, E-Bay opened a store on the Internet that relied on its customers to fill the shelves and create an inventory. Wikipedia blew up the 200 plus year old model of encyclopedias by creating a volunteer led expedition into knowledge capture and the thing that makes Facebook most valuable–the profiles of its users are all created by volunteer labor.
Cook ponders a number of other user contribution systems at work today and offers a range of constructive ideas about how companies can more effectively engage users in enhancing the value of their products and services. The article reminds us about the importance of creating truly meaningful user contribution experiences and leveraging those contributions. Small victories matter and while organizational resistance is to be expected there’s value in ramping up to embed the process organization wide. In an era when many not-for-profits struggle with volunteer engagement Cook reminds us of the high value propositions user contribution systems make to organizations. For association professionals, this article is a fresh reminder of the importance and high value potential of volunteers. It’s also a solid source of fresh ideas for renewing your association’s engagement toolkit yet again.
If the last few days on Wall Street and in Washington haven’t debunked the truth about complexity, it’s hard to imagine what could. The masters of the universe with the winds of hasty deregulation and arcane derivatives of derivatives financing schemes at their backs claimed to have uprooted the laws of economics. Why does someone who wants to borrow $500,000 for a home mortgage have to prove they actually have an income or can pay the money back? According to the economic wunderkinds, the new rules of money magic spread the risk around so no one need ever worry. That, by the way was $2.8 trillion dollars ago which is the amount Bloomberg Financial Markets calculates was lost in the market value of global stocks over just two days last week.
The New York Times reports the US Government is seeking to provide over $985 billion financial guarantees on top of an estimated $500 billion budget deficit projected for next year. In the off chance you’re calculating how much this bail-out might cost you and your family it’s roughly $2,000 for every man, women and child in the country. Whether you think we should be bailing out financially reckless investment houses, banks, and insurance companies along with their shareholders or not is great topic for a long and undoubtedly fascinating discussion.
The lessons for those of us in the association profession and our Boards alike is this. Complexity costs money. Lots of it. Not only does complexity raise costs, it also hinders growth. By some estimates the least complex organizations have growth rates 30 to 50 percent above organizations with average levels of complexity. Finding ways to simplify offerings using the Aldi principle (which suggests you remove a product every time you add a new one) is one of the ways your association might find balance. Simplification works when it comes to strategy too. Most often associations tackle too many initiatives at once and stretch themselves thin. Having three really urgent and important priorities receiving the “full on” attention of the organization before moving on to a fourth or fifth will increase your chances of success on every initiative. Look for opportunities to reduce costs, enhance your relationships with customers and members and for ways to build upon your inherent strength and competitive position. With simplicity and transparency as your watchwords, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll be searching for a government bail-out any time soon. And thanks in advance—that would be very good news for all of us in these difficult economic times.