Doc Searls: Business as Morality

In the middle of an email conversation with Doc Searls, I mentioned that I was having trouble with the whole “Web 2.0” concept. A laundry list of features or concepts doesn’t encapsulate the real change for me: the real key to success is treating the person on the other end of the HTTP connection with respect. Doc, a co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, sent a deeply thought-provoking piece in response, and with his permission I post it here. Over to you, Doc:

[Doc Searls writes] It’s a matter of morality. That’s my current take on it. We can approach everything through one of three moral systems:

– Morality of self-interest
. This gives us “owning”, “domination”, etc. The Old School. Industrial Age shit. Still prevails in many business plans that are just for killing other companies.

– Morality of accounting
. We balance everything. “Paying debts”, “owing favors”. This is our system of justice, by the way. It’s all about accounting. (Note the scales of justice symbol.)

– Morality of generosity
. We give. We are open. We love without expectation of reward, or even accounting. (In fact, when you bring in accounting, you compromise it.) Think about how we give to our spouses, our children, without strings. It pays off, too. But that’s fundamentally not what it’s about.

I think some of what we see in Web 2.0 (a term I’ve never liked, much as I like Tim, who has done the most to promulgate it… I think it’s what we’ll call the current bubble and the next crash) is the morality of generosity. At eTech, I saw a preview of a browser-based Photoshop/Album organizing/print product front-end service. The biggest thing the creator wanted to show was how generous Flickr is. “Watch this,” he said, before using Flickr’s API to suck all 6000+ of my photos from Flickr into his product. All the metadata, all the tags and associations, were intact. His point: Flickr isn’t a silo. Their closed and proprietary stuff doesn’t extend, not is it used, to lock up customer or user data. It’s wide open. Free-range. Most of all, however, it is a “good citizen”. It is generous where it counts. Nurturing. The same was clear in Cal’s tutorial at eTech. People love Flickr because Flickr loves people. The good guys finish first. In this case, anyway.

These three moralities also map somewhat to the market model that looks like this:

  • Relationship
  • Conversation
  • Transaction

We need transaction, but can’t reduce everything to it. Although there are whole B schools that have been doing that for 100 years.

We need conversation as well. Which is why we wrote Cluetrain.

But relationship is what actually makes markets. I’m talking about real markets here: places where we do business and make culture. Relationship takes the passions we put into creating businesses and makes them work in the social context we call a market. (Did anybody ever go into business because they were looking for a way to please stockholders?)

You have to be generous in relationships.

I learned this from a Nigerian theologian named Sayo Ajiboye, by the way. Way back here.