Cast for two

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Public broadcaster : Starbucks for media?

From the moment I read on his blog that Dries Buytaert (the Drupal guy) was reading a book about tribal wisdom from Starbucks, I intended to examine the book and eventually buy it to read. The book subject triggered me because two people pointed in the direction of tribal mechanisms. The first one is Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, professor at Insead and author of very good books on leadership. Recently he studied organisations by traveling to countries where pure tribal societies are living (read “High Performance Teams: Lessons from the Pygmies”, Organizational Dynamics, 27 (3), 66-77. Kets de Vries, Manfred F.R. (1999)). I think his experiences with those tribes leads up to the arguments for the authentizotic organistation (dutch link). The second pointer in the direction of tribes comes from the social scientist Ilka Tuomi (the author of the book Networks of Innovation). In his presentation titled "Social Forces and the Broadcasting Revolution" he forecasts the rise of groups, clans, tribes , typically based on gift economies, in the next generations of internet-based societies. So I was wandering if the success of Starbucks had something to do with gift economies like in open source or commons-based peer production.

In the beginning of March '07, during a transit in the Heathrow airport on my way to the Game Developers Conference in San Franciso, I walked into a bookstore and found a book about Starbucks. Because we were in a hurry, I bought it without much further ado and started to explain to my colleagues what I tought Starbucks is about and why I tought it could learn us something about the future of broadcasting. During the flight I discussed what I read in the Starbucks book with them. Visiting a Starbucks rose high on the list "things to do when arriving in San Francisco". So this was the first Starbucks we visited in our life:

Of course, our high expectation where not met at all. We had to cue up in a long line. Since we where new we acted to slowly and felt as obstructions. No personal treatment by the baristas who could hardly understand why we had such a difficulty in formulating our order. And in contradiction with mental picture build by the book, the place was not clean. To sum it up, far from amarvelous experience at all. Luckily, the lathe was indeed very good! (So it is a good strategy to be really good at one thing, see Principle 2 of BBC's 15 web2.0 principles)

Later I found out that the book I bought was the wrong one. In a nutshell, the book goes as follows: it states that Starbucks is a successful company, it presents a list of principles of the company that boils down to "if you know your costumers you can give them a great experience". (That the service industrie would develop to experience industry is also long predicted). If you apply this principle to your business, your business will also become successful. A bit to simple for my mind.

To me, the Starbucks principle resembles a lot to the style of Flemish pubs we (used to) have. Just substitute coffee with beer and there you go. So nothing very insightful or revolutionary. Hence, I still intend to buy "Tribal Knowledge: Business Wisdom Brewed from the Grounds of Starbucks Corporate Culture". Luckily I understand now that I can study it by having a good beer in a Belgian pub (even beter would be Café Tabor in Heverlee) Cheers!

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