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Five Questions for Barry Libert – Co-author of “We are Smarter than Me"

Barry_libertthumbBarry Libert is the co-CEO of Mzinga. He is also the co-author of WE ARE SMARTER THAN ME: How to Unleash the Power of Crowds in Your Business (look for One Degree’s review later this week!) Drawing on their own research and the insights from an enormous community of more than 4,000 people, Barry and co-author Jon Spector wrote about what works, and what doesn’t, when you are building community into your decision making and business processes, and how to profit from the wisdom of crowds.

One Degree asked Barry Libert Five Questions about building a successful community, how crowdsourcing can lead to profitability and how businesses need to adapt to this new collaborative environment.

One Degree: How did the book get started?

Well the book got started for me in 1995, when my wife and I were sort of talking about what was wrong with business.  And the answer she had was, “Businesses don’t care.” … The bottom line was that they gave “lip service”, she used to say, to employees, to customers and to investors, but really leaders didn’t have a real relationship with their people and with their customers  …  And her analogy was, “Can you imagine going to a party, Barry and you didn’t know the names of your relatives?  That’s business."

And I really thought about how business leaders didn’t care about relationships and that’s why the original book title was: “My Wife’s Right”.  Because she was arguing that in a world in which people did care, profoundly care, businesses would be far more successful.

One Degree: Your book focuses on businesses who employed crowdsourcing (mostly) to great profitability.  What is essential in building a successful community?  Does it need a “leader”?

Communities really don’t run on their own. Just like in the physical world.  They [community leaders] don’t have to work for the company, they can basically just be facilitators, people who really care … There has to be a party coordinator  to make sure there’s food for everybody, there’s dance, there’s music, there’s chairs, there’s a table.  Somebody has to be caring for the community and tending to all of its needs.


So we found the most successful communities not only used today’s technology – in fact, that’s a second level concern. The best communities had real community facilitators, people that really, really care about the community. They care about how well they’re doing, how often they’re interacting, are their needs being met?  And we found that with all of our clients, such as with Goldcorp, which built a community buying new gold ore or Trip Advisor, which had community managers who made sure there was lots of vibrant user-generated content on the site.

One Degree: P&G did an excellent job in terms of "harnessing the hive", in this case, of Moms.  Could you explain that concept a bit?

Proctor and Gamble has always had a great franchise, the brand franchise – but they didn’t really connect with their customers. Some connected P&G with their soap opera ads or through the products they sell. But those aren’t connections – those are just transactions.  P&G built a community called Vocalpoint  and they essentially enlisted the help of 850,000 stay-at-home moms to help them create new products and new services, like Dawn Direct Foam  If you think about it, think about how profoundly different it is that Procter and Gamble now gets 25 to 30 percent of its product ideas from stay-at-home moms. That’s a far more profound type of interaction than advertising on one of their daily soaps.


One Degree: I was really surprised to see that some companies had, in fact, allowed their customers to provide customer service.  In particular, I loved the example of what was done with Cookshack.  What did you think about that one?

Cookshack is a very neat one, isn’t it? They basically outsourced customer support.  They got people who used their products to basically create different recipes and different ways to use their cooker to produce a better smoked product in their backyard.

But you know, I think you see it all the time.  My example is my son who drives a Mazda RX8  and every time he would go to the Mazda service department they would have no idea how to do things he wanted to do with it. So he went on the Mazda RX8 forum, which is not affiliated with Mazda, and found out from the users, the fanatics, the fans of Mazda (who basically are extending the Mazda brand, but Mazda doesn’t understand it this way)… He went into a private label Mazda RX8 club and found great new products and offerings from other members of the “fan club” who had designed it for his RX8 and he would buy from them.


One Degree: How do you think businesses are changing, or need to change, because of this collaborative environment?

People don’t realize that the difference between business and community is that community has a recurring nature to it.  Business mostly has a transactional nature to it: "I want to sell you something.  As long as you buy it from me, I can go sell something to the next person.”  I don’t really think that really works in a place, in a world, where anyone can buy anything from anyone.  They can get cars from tons of manufacturers, they can get appliances from any manufacturer.  They can get information from any number of distributors.  You name it.


So what I really think going to happen is that people in business are going to realize they’re really just competing for peoples’ attention, for people’s emotion.  And business will realize they have a very low emotional quotient around how they interact with humans.  And if they don’t interact with them in new ways, I think customers are just going to say: “I’m not interested in what you have to sell me anymore.  It’s a global world I can buy from anywhere – so if you’re not the lowest price, I’m not gonna buy.”

More than ever now, people want to have their emotional needs met – not just their transactional and financial needs.

One Comment

  1. only 1 question
    only 1 question December 10, 2007

    i don’t know maybe im the only one in the world, but i find the Titles of all posts that start every time with the same prefix “FIVE QUESTIONS” to be Extremely boring and stale, makes me think “omg not another five questions, make it 4 or 6 questions this time, PLEASE”. The questions themselves may be excellent and answers insightful/inspiring … but if you insist on Five questions, for the love of the reader please put it at the end of the title. After all isn’t the Questionee the most important part of the title anyway? and if so than shouldnt it go first?

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