Whose business?

Welcome back!

At this point, if you missed yesterday’s post, then what on earth are you doing here? Go back and read it immediately!

Yesterday i touched on the sort of business model that Philip Rosedale advocates – a model that also appears to form a deep-seated part of his approach to everything, not just business. He departs entirely from the traditional bureaucratic style of management and later ideas of systems thinking and instead concentrates on a community-based style of business that is also reflected within the virtual world of sl. In yesterday’s post i also looked at the means by which sl encourages its participants to establish their presence through both social interaction and practical, hands-on activities, empowering even the introvert to become a willing and competent member of the sl community.

All very well, but does Philip really have anything to offer us, other than a few revolutionary concepts which, to some degree at least, have been tried and tested – and for all i know, are still order of the day – at Linden Lab? You may also be wondering how Mr Rosedale’s wisdom can possibly be of relevance to the average sl resident – after all, we’re not all developers and CEOs of hi-tech companies, are we? Well, yes, some of us are! – there’s a decent number of readers of this blog, for example, who could count themselves amongst that group; there’s also a fairly large number of adherents of this blog from the San Francisco area and, if i rely on Philip’s metrics, logic dictates that a decent proportion of them will fall within the IT sector too, (isn’t technology wonderful?).

Quite obviously, i’ll be focussing on Linden Lab, although everything applies equally to any other business, and not just in the technology sector either; this gives rise to an interesting conundrum – if LL are already using Philip’s tools and ideas, then what the heck else is there that they should be doing? Surely everything is rosy?

Here is where i have to draw a distinction between Philip’s tools and Philip’s thinking, (i know how that sounds, but it was the best way i could think of putting it!). Simply using tools like the Love Machine, transparency of process, the Tau of Linden and the Worklist – highly effective though they may be – is not the same thing as thinking like Philip. i may dress like a biker, listen to biker’s music, talk like a biker, even get biker tattoos and a bike – it doesn’t make me a biker: To be a real biker, i need to mix with other bikers, go on rides with them and be accepted into their community – i need to live the biker lifestyle – only then am i really a biker. Similarly, running a business according to community principles is only half the battle.

There’s one simple way in which Linden Lab have lost the plot and the key to regaining it lies in adopting the Philip Rosedale mentality. Remember how yesterday i mentioned the way that he refers to the business as Second Life and not as Linden Lab? Consider that the business is not the coding, programming, server maintenance, board meetings, marketing and so on – rather, the business is Second Life… Essentially, Second Life is what justifies and gives meaning to all those other things that happen in the background. When considered from this point of view, you can gain a whole new insight into what the company should stand for, what it should be doing and how it should be going about doing it.

i can just imagine Rodvik spitting his morning coffee all over his keyboard at that suggestion, (sorry Rod, i’ll buy you a new one! – incidentally, do computer boffins drink java?), and coming up with a couple of what seem to be pretty valid arguments against it…

1) That’s no way to run a business – we have overheads and post-it notes to buy and stuff like that; you can’t run a business by focussing on the product – the business comes first, then the product… if you lose sight of the business, there won’t be a product, period!

Cobblers! It’s a perfectly valid way to run a business – ask anyone working in the service industry. Are you seriously suggesting that you’d frequent a restaurant that focussed on having the most comfy chairs, the most attentive service and the most up-to-date kitchen equipment, only to be served cold, unappetising and badly cooked food? A company’s reputation – and therefore its profit – lives and dies on the quality of its product and if you don’t understand it, never use it and never try to understand it from the perspective of the person who does use it, how on earth do you know it’s fit for purpose? Ask yourself, why does the chef taste the soup before it reaches the diner’s table?

2) That’s all very well if you only have one product, like Linden Lab used to, but we’re diversifying… doing mobile stuff and text games and possibly themed energy drinks. We don’t have the resources to invest all that time and energy into Second Life.

Cobblers! Do you think our restaurant chef doesn’t put the same amount of effort into every dish on the menu? Besides, isn’t that the whole beauty of the Worklist and the Coffee and Power style work ethos that Philip advocates?

You have multiple products, so what… farm them out – listen to what Phil said in the video; contract the work out, give people small, manageable chunks of stuff to do, let them collaborate in their own way. That way you can have a zillion projects on the go all at once, with no adverse impact upon the business.

3) It’s all very well for you – you have no idea what it takes to run a multi-million dollar, international, cutting-edge business. It’s a very complex beast.

Cobblers! It’s not rocket science – you start with a great product, invite talented people to contribute towards improving it, market it shamelessly, act on feedback to make it even better… rinse and repeat.

Perhaps i’m mistaken, i don’t after all happen to run a multi-million dollar, international business, (heehee, that’s what you think… maybe i do!) – but there are people in sl who have a very good idea of what that involves. Here’s a challenge; let’s apply Philip thinking again and think of Second Life as the business, and therefore sl residents as an intrinsic, necessary and valuable business resource. Did you know that there are people in sl – housewives, mechanics, chefs, waitresses, CEOs – who’ve built their own multi-national businesses inworld, (and maybe in the real world too), and are making a real-world living from virtual currency in everything from fashion design and programming to building and consultancy? Don’t you think they might have something of value to bring to the company?

What about all the artists and people with bright ideas, those with expertise in marketing and networking – surely they have something to offer too? And don’t tell me it’s been tried with the guest bloggers and similar efforts, when all you got was abuse and accusations of getting stuff done for free – try treating them as valuable resources and rewarding them just as you’d reward any other consultant, service provider and contributor and i can guarantee you’ll see a significantly better response. Make them feel valued, part of the process and show them that the Lab thinks that they, and sl are important, and you may get a big surprise.

Whatever objections there may be to extending the Linden Lab community to embrace the wider Second Life community are going to be far outweighed by the benefits. What you will find is that sl is full of people who are doers; hands-on, innovative problem solvers, who are able to produce results whilst working under their own steam and usually for far less reward than you might expect – there are few things more rewarding than knowing your work has made your world better for everybody else, (isn’t there something along those lines in the Tao of Linden?). Right now, i reckon there must be several hundred thousand potential contributors to the work of Linden Lab Second Life who would leap at the opportunity to make a difference and relish the chance to improve it because, you see, we already understand exactly where Philip is coming from… we’re living it!

s. x

Into the light
It’s hard to believe
It’s always been ours to give
And to receive
Sol Seppy – Enter One

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