Trippi, Wipperfurth and Hayek: feel the love

Today's theme, class, is on decentralization. It's about the power of the individual to collect disparate pieces of information, perform independent analysis, and develop individual opinions and positions. It's about bending, folding and mutilating - ignoring the rules. Forget the suggested serving size! How hungry are you? We're going to bounce around today, landing softly on several different ideas. I just finished Joe Trippi's book (I know, I'm slow. I did read the TNR coverage) on the Dean campaign for president - a giant amorphous "open source campaign", which essentially ceded tactical control to the previously apathetic, the newly energized and the true believers. As the Dean campaign discovered, these new acolytes brought energy and ideas - but demanded their voices be heard and reflected in the campaign itself.

A new book, Brand Hijack, pushes a similar idea: consumers are your greatest supporters and possibly your greatest detractors. They form an opinion about your brand even as your event team rolls out its latest sticker campaign or sampling program. They're acutely aware of any effort to sway their opinion and their purchasing decisions, and are almost self-consciously independent.

Alex Wipperfurth, the author, warns marketers that their old world of command and control is fading: the traditional and intensive marketing campaign may not drive customers to the stores anymore.

    "How do you market to an audience that rejects marketing?"... "Scrap the focus groups, fire the cool chasers and hire your audience."

    "Carefully plan every step, but be totally open to having the story rewritten along the way. ... Free yourself to seize sudden opportunities that only last for moments."

(Full disclosure: Penguin sent me a review copy of Brand Hijack. I still like it, and think Wipperfurth's observations and ideas in many ways parallel and supplement existing public relations tactics)

I've also stumbled across a recent piece on Friedrich A. Hayek, who may be familiar to the more libertarian-minded among us. Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom" challenged a 1930s fondness for centralized economic planning.

Bruce Caldwell, his biographer, told Reason last month:

    But the mistaken notion that we can plan social structures and social realities and social institutions in the same way that we can accomplish goals like putting people in space is very, very seductive. ... Hayek’s critique ... attacked what he eventually called “rationalist constructivism,” the idea that we are able to reconstruct or correct society along rational lines.

    He argued that you can’t easily improve on what he called “spontaneous orders.” There are many situations in which an order has arisen by individuals following rules. They often can’t articulate why they follow the rules, some of them are moral rules, whatever, and this has lead to a certain amount of coordination of people’s activity. To the extent that it’s done, that it’s allowed, groups that have followed those rules tend to prosper. ... Language, the market, money, and more reflect this.

I know what you're saying. "Colin? What's with the economics lesson?" Let me throw a name out that you will recognize: James Surowiecki.

    “Hayek was a true prophet of what we now call self-organization, making clear how and why order and intelligence can emerge out of the interaction of myriad individuals, even (or especially) without a planner or boss in charge. ... The most interesting question is whether organizations—from government agencies to corporations—will start to take Hayek’s ideas seriously and recognize that by tapping the knowledge of their decentralized, locally informed workers, they can (just as markets do) produce a whole that’s significantly better than its parts.” (Reason, 01/05)

You HAVE TO LOOK AT Hayek's "Road to Serfdom" in cartoons, originally published by General Motors and republished in Look magazine. Not very subtle, nor intellectually forthright, but a startling look at how some major economic players viewed state economic planning.

Of course, Public Enemy had their own take on mass-market attempts to convince and coerce:

    "It's a start, a work of art To revolutionize make a change nothin's strange People, people we are the same No we're not the same Cause we don't know the game What we need is awareness, we can't get careless" Public Enemy- Fight the Power

One last pragmatic observation from Things Magazine:

    "Perhaps it's the realisation that however edgy, ironic and out there you think you're being, there's always someone ready to recycle your authentic angst into just another sales pitch. The resulting pitch just makes other people madder and even edgier, and thus the cycle begins all over again... "