I am astonished by the fact that business leaders still constantly want to engage with me in a discussion regarding whether or not social networking is anything beyond a toy or a distraction with no real application to business.
I sit here at my desk watching live as Hosni Mubarak desperatly clutches at the power that is visibly slipping through his fingers. The split screen shows Mubarak speaking as a bureaucrat on the left, and a crowd of tens of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square on the right.
The crowd obviously wants the page turned and Mubarak is speaking in platitudes and legalities. There is such a clear contrast between what the people are demanding and what the establishment is offering that it is astounding that the Egyptian government cannot see the handwriting on the wall.
I am struck by the parallel of businesses when they are confronted with a seachange that demands fundamental changes in the business model. One of the most important lessons I learned during my graduate studies was that businesses will cling to an old, broken business model; often preferring the death of the business to the wrenching changes that are required to thrive and grow. I fear that Egypt is bound for a period of pain and suffering before the obvious changes are finally accomplished.
The New York Times today published an article that pulls back the veil somewhat on how the revolutionaries have organized, communicated, market tested, field tested, conserved their assets and kept ahead of the government. The amazing thing is that only around 15 people were at the core of this group – and they used social networking tools (Facebook, Google-chat, Youtube) to get their message out, communicate, coordinate and mislead the government as to their plans and intentions.
Time was that he who controlled the communications controlled the country (or the business). The problem is that people can now talk to each other, without the need for the intermediary.
How are you exposed in this way? How much of your business is based on the fact that your customers can’t find a better, cheaper, faster product? Look hard at your business – if your value proposition is based on the fact that your customers are uninformed about alternate products then you are at huge risk right now!
These changes happen with startling finality – if you start reacting when you first see the impact in your revenue then you will be too late.
Mubarak ultimately has the choice of attempting to use the military to enforce his wishes (and it is very questionable whether the military will back him at this point). Last time I checked business leaders couldn’t order an armored division into the streets to ensure customers kept buying their products.
Your choices may be much more limited than Mubaraks.