Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Quote to remember

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They’ve [music industry] had these ten years to develop new business models. And they failed. Instead, the new business models have been developed outside of the legacy industry — and they’re working. Let them be. Don’t give this tool to the legacy players, who failed to innovate. Let them go out of business, and let a new, and much more creative “creative business” industry take over.

You’re being played for as a fool by a legacy industry that wants to squeeze every bit of money it can from a dying business model. Putting up three strikes isn’t giving them space to develop a new business model. It gives them time to squeeze more out of a corpse.

- Michael Masnick on Techdirt in Peter Mandelson Defends His Sudden Conversion To Kicking People Off The Internet

Aroxo – say what you’ll pay.. and get higher price offer

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A couple of weeks ago I signed up for Aroxo, which is a new site for matching buyers and sellers. One description says it’s like eBay but for both, the seller and the buyer. I liked the sound of that so I tested it by creating a request for a camera – an upgrade of my existing one – Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40.

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I set the price at lower than best retail price as found at Google because I wanted to a) test the system and b) was prepared to settle for less than perfect packaging etc. A few days later I got an ‘offer’.

lumix_aroxo_offer.png

I was suprised to see that Aroxo thought £209 plus p&p was a match to my £170. Fair enough, as I can negotiate the offer, and so in preparation I googled the camera and found out that £209 plus p&p is nowhere near the lowest price around, let alone an offer I can’t refuse. What I didn’t expect to find is that the seller made an offer on Aroxo that was higher than the price offered on their site!

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So I contacted the seller:

Date: 18/05/2009
Subject: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40

I guess, thank you for your response though puzzled about something. UK Digital’s price (which seems to be you judging from your email: sales@ukdigitalcameras.co.uk) price on their site is £205. So why is your ‘offer’ to me higher at £209?
http://www.ukdigital.co.uk/panasonic-lumix-dmc-fx40-camera.htm

Also, FYI Amazon sells it for £204.99 free delivery.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Panasonic-Lumix-FX40-Digital-Camera/dp/B001T0H062/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1242650694&sr=8-1

More importantly, I am interested in buying the camera for well below the quoted price. I am testing Aroxo’s ability to connect me with sellers who need to move stock at discounted price and/or have unboxed cameras (but still new). I am not interested in Aroxo as another ‘marketing’ channel for sellers who offer prices higher than on their sites.

Caveat emptor is still valid. And Google is still your (shopping) friend. :)

UPDATE: Shortly after posting this I received a reply from the seller:

Date: 18/05/2009
Subject: Re:Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40
Click to view Offer
Hi Adriana,

Yes we are UK Digital Cameras, (but the link you gave was to another company UK Digital). We are also at £204.99 plus delivery on our site: http://www.ukdigitalcameras.co.uk/__4_prod3_asp2_1_i4_53661_126_Panasonic_Lumix_FX40_Black8.html

The price on our website has dropped since we sent the offer – hence the difference. Feel free to send me a negotiation and see what happens!

Also – let me know if you want a quote from me about Aroxo on your blog post.

Cheers,

Andrew

So I stand corrected and kudos for willingness to engage i.e. quote for my blog post. Will negotiate and update the post if anything interesting happens.

Quote to remember

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When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.
- Gordy Thompson, manager of internet services at the New York Times in 1993 quoted by Clay Shirky in Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable

Brands are not good for your health

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Two paragraphs explaining why (brand) websites are dead:

Look at this. It’s a Bovril website. With a breath-taking circularity of irony (or perhaps secret plea for help from a web designer), the site’s strapline (and perhaps the brand’s slogan) is ‘give me strength’. And, indeed, what on God’s earth is the point of all this? And who thought it was a good idea (apart from the agency that created it)?

Don’t get me wrong, once you’re there, it’s quite nicely done, graphically interesting etc. But why would anyone ever go there? Even if it wasn’t difficult to use, I still wouldn’t treat it as my number 1 source of information about Bovril itself (that would be Wikipedia), Bovril recipes (is that a thing?) (I’d start in Google and since the site isn’t search engine-friendly, it doesn’t show up), outdoorsiness (ditto, you’d never get there and if you did you wouldn’t stay long because of the thiny veiled comtempt for this audience), or even gurning cows. It’s just bizarre.

Come to think of it, brands are bizarre too. This is what Tom Hopkins has further to say about brands:

But they are a method of communication not an issuer of communication. They are talking points, they are social tokens, they are items of self expression.

I disagree. There is a lot of earnest talking – mostly by marketing and advertising people – about how people want to engage with brands. I certainly don’t want to engage with brands.

I want to talk to – not ‘engage’ with – the person I may be buying things from, or someone who can help me learn more or get me more information about product or service I am interested in. And that is invariably not the brand, with its useless websites, ad and marketing campaigns that interrupt and annoy the hell out of me.

I want to talk to an expert who’ll educate me about food, wine, travel, fashion, cameras, plumbing, perhaps even washing powder, if that’s what I am interested in. And agencies just get in the way of such interactions. Just look what they have done with websites – a pandemic of branded flash-ridden monstrosities, eating load time and bandwidth, with a graphic designer’s wet dream splashing across your screen. Grrrr.

I want to talk to and possibly relate on an ongoing basis with people – individuals, not departments! – within organisations that I might choose to supply me with products and services. My advice to them is know who you are and what you are trying to do, then understand what people – individuals, not consumers! – do and want, and then treat them with respect and understanding. You will get the same in return. That is far more valuable for the long term health of your business (and customers!) than any brand campaign.

Brand as identity and branding as behaviour

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I have been thinking, again, about branding and its role in business strategy. I have been known to wear my attitude towards branding on my, er, chest.

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However, the word ‘brand’ is being used to describe something that matters to me and needs to be understood. That something is very different from what the term brand currently means. Rather than banish the word entirely, I’ll treat it as a sort of category error and work my way to an alternative meaning of brand.

A person can have various represenations, a photograph or a portrait, which give others an idea of what he or she looks like. It is an image, a projection of likeness. Everyone knows it is not the real person and that often such representations may look rather different or even mislead.

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Branding is the art of creating an image of a company. Like a photograph that is carefully staged and edited. As technology progresses, branding gets clever and innovative. Still, the best it can do is a ‘hologram’. Rich media, marketing campaigns, reputation management, PR, advertising and now online and social media ‘engagement’. A vast range of projections enabled by media and technology. And just like with holograms, the more realistic they look, the more shocking it is to discover you can’t talk to them or shake their hands, any ’social’ gestures go right through it. This is because it is a projected image, there is no person made of flesh and blood.

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Most branding is about image and its projections. When using the term branding, I prefer to think about it as identity and behaviour. Because identity of a company and its behaviour existed long before branding was invented as part of business. That kind of branding comes from the other side of the reality fence. It is driven by behaviour rather than projection.

John Dodds who writes interestingly on such matters has this to say:

It refers to nothing more and nothing less than reputation, reputation you earn by your behaviour or, more realistically, reputation which other people (customers or not) confer on you because of that. It’s not something you impose on others.

The reason for image branding was the nature of distribution of the brand projections. There were channels, mass media, who mediated what companies wanted to communicate. So identity became an image and behaviour and communication messages.

The web has created, unwittingly for most part, an alternative to building what in industry circles counts for a ‘brand’. It resurrected the ‘old ways’, warts and all, of creating reputation by behaviour. There is one major difference between the old times and the web times – before my identity was determined by others and my behaviour was often judged out of context or in a context that was hostile to the individual.

The brand as identity perspective has two major implications. One has to do with the relationship of company with its employees. The other with business strategy.

First is the Who – the balance (or lack of it) between the corporation as legal entity, its management and employees, its structure and culture. These pulls and pushes within the company will determine its identity and its behaviour. Explicit knowledge of this can help companies understand who they are and why.

Then it is the What – the actions, behaviours, based on the raison d’etre of the business. A common mistake is to talk of strategy when meaning tactics. Strategy is the question of what to do and whether to do it in the first place. Tactics is about how to get to where strategy points.

This is all very well but what is a humble communications or marketing person to do? They can’t start reviewing or changing the company’s strategy. But they can start thinking less about projections and messaging and more about identity and behaviours. A hint: One-way communication is messaging, two-way communication is behaviour.

To sum up, the bad news for the branding folks is that messages and projections are not what they used to be. The good news is that a company can define its identity and behave according to who they want to be. That sounds like a good trade-off to me.

CRM, CMR or VRM

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The acronym galore notwithstanding, the indefatiguable David Tebbutt has come across CMR (customer managed relationships):

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My immediate reaction was, hey, that’s a better way of naming something that is meant to give control to a customer. CMR started from the same position as VRM, which is flipping CRM:

Who invented the term “Customer Relationship Management” or “CRM”? Who cares I hear you mutter in response. Well for those of you who think you invented the term it probably matters. For those of you trying to make CRM work you might like to get hold of and strangle them!!

I second that motion!

Just imagine if all the marketing spend that went into getting CRM onto the board’s agenda had gone into CMR instead. For those of you who believe in neurolinguistics (i.e. something along the lines of “the words you use show what you are thinking”) using the term CMR would mean that the board actually thought the customer was in control, that the customer managed the relationship.

But what is Customer Managed Relationship? CRM Today article explains:

CMR is three things:

  1. An ability to rethink, to reshape your organisation and its knowledge so that it is at the disposal of your customers
  2. Internet enabled management tools which customers use to get what they want
  3. An ability to react to the information being generated and used by customers in order to increase profitability

So far, so good. And the benefits?

If executed well CMR generates three major benefits over CRM:

  1. It is easier to implement because the customer is doing the complex stuff
  2. It creates lock in since customers having invested their data with you will not move easily
  3. It allows you to move faster than your competitor since you are in a trusted relationship with your customer

This seems at least halfway to what VRM is trying to achieve. The benefits are spelled out only from the vendor side, given the audience of the article not surprising and there are examples of how a customer would benefit from having his tax done via a CMR system. It also gets the ‘why not outsource data management to customers’ bit right, again from the company perspective.

The catch is in the benefit no. 2:

“It creates lock in since customers having invested their data with you will not move easily.”

One of the VRM principles is that a free customer is more valuable than a captive one (scroll down to the bottom of the page. Alas, Project VRM site is down so can’t link directly. Will remedy as soon as back up again). So it seems that CMR hasn’t really moved from lock-in as the holy grail of customer management and retention. Be that as it may, so far, I’d give CMR from vendor perspective 8 out of 10, from customer perspective 5 out of 10, for the insistence on customers owning their data:

… customers should own their own information including their profile, transaction history, and any inferred information such as marital history and even behavior.

Two further issues leap out.

  • It’s all on vendors’ side and as a customer I am not meant to be independent of them.
  • There is no incentive for companies to implement and change the balance of power. They may want the benefit of data management and its complexity ‘outsourced’ to the customer but giving up any control goes against most companies instincts and systems.

The first is where CMR differs VRM at the first glance already, the second is often raised about VRM as a criticism.

And now for the vision:

I’m now living in a CMR world. I have tools with which to manage the big picture of my finances. I get best offers all the time. If service levels are not good I get to know before I buy by asking other customers of the companies concerned. These financial services companies are now wholesalers or manufacturers or advisors. The whole clearing system is a subset of this system. Banks do not do that anymore. Of course I need some cash sometimes but that’s getting rarer because my PFA (personal financial assistant – Laura) can’t track it for me, so I have to enter stuff manually. That will never die out though since lots of people still want anonymity for many things. Financial service always was an oxymoron!

I must say, this sounds awfully like most of the VRM ideas I hear from people hanging around the project, namely, various matching services, automation or aggregation, platforms for customers communicating with other customers, clearlng systems etc. They usually set off my lock-in detectors fast but this gets my warning alarm blaring full blast:

The system networks all the relevant knowledge, process and contact I need. It is regulated and government backed. For the moment government owned. They’ve made more money out of online tax collection and the equity value they have in than the national lottery and the G3 licenses put together.

The hardest part they had to play was to persuade all the vested interests to set up the new system and to select smart, sharp operators who could build and operate such a scaled up system in the new technologies.

Apart from the glaring ‘government-owned’ issue, there is another major problem I have with this approach, and with many other VRM implementations. It is the assumption, explict or implicit, that the individual-customer-user has to be provided for. And that this can or should be done by a third party service, system or platform. And that in order for us as individuals to be able to do anything sensible and useful with our data, or in order to be secure, or private or whatever else we might want, we have to turn to the ’supply side’. And finally, among those subscribing VRM vision, the assumption that solutions will come from the vendor side or that vendors will have to be sold on this first, in order to reach users and make VRM happen.

I see this assumption not only around CMR or VRM but everywhere other than the social or live web. It is a place where the demand side can and often is supplying itself, where ‘users’ can and often become ‘creators’, audience have become distributors, and intermediaries are melting away in decentralised networks and direct connections of all kinds. Alas, even on the web, it’s not all P2P roses. My online existence gets scattered across many platforms, google, wordpress, flickr, dopplr, twitter, and many more.

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I have reached the limits of usefulness for apps that give me nice functionality but take away my ability to manage data across my entire ‘identity’. As I said elsewhere, the collection of tools should be clustered around the user, not around platforms or applications. It all starts with the individual. And as an individual user, I want a range of applications to manage my data, metadata, identity etc so I, and hopefully other similarly motivated users, can get on with learning how to control and manage our ‘identity’.

Individuals with independent tools, networked and informed, will be able to capture and manage information about themselves and about vendors. Once people can do that – manage their data, relationships, identities, purchase histories, their records, locations and god knows what – then more cool things will start to happen. And it will be those cool things that will ultimately determine the direction vendors should be looking.

To sum up, the article on CMR hits a few of the targets VRM is aiming at too. It calls for giving greater control to customers over their data as well as proposes that businesses arrange themselves better around customer needs. In order to achieve this laudable goal, it looks to businesses for solutions and implementation, assuming third party providers, intermediaries and closed proprietary platforms to build the CMR world. There is nothing about individuals’ sovereignty over data rather than access to it, no room for user-driven tools, only managed on my user’s behalf or user-centric at best, or user’s privacy and security policy.

One of the fundamental building blocks of VRM is the ability of individual users to take charge of their data instead of managing them via a platform and ‘trading’ that data for the functionality that the platform might provide. Once I have it in my hands, I can manage, analyse and whatever else I wish to do with them, applying various functionality directly*. And share and interact with others in ways richer than platforms currently allow. It might be messier to start with but closer to human affairs in its complexity. And that is a Good Thing.

I want to be able to connect and create relationships without lock-ins (other than the ones that some relationships bring with them naturally :) ). I don’t believe I will be able to do that unless the tools are built around me, for me and eventually by me. Blogging took off when people could set up a page and start publishing in a way previously available only to geeks with HTML skillz. Today I can do more things with my blog than just publish – tag, add videos, plug-in more functionality etc. with the underlying technology invisible to me now. So I want tools and applications that will help me do all that for transactions as well as relationships. Eventually.

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* My contribution to this aim is the Mine! project set up to equip individuals with tools to take charge of their data (content, relationships, transactions, knowledge), arrange (analyse, manipulate, combine, mash-up) them according to their needs and preferences and share them on their own terms whilst connected and networked on the web.

Learning to speak human

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A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk to an audience of communications professionals for a large corporate client of mine. Here is the presentation.

There are notes for most slides, visible and accessible in the dowloaded version. Don’t know how to make slideshare show them.

Quote to remember

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I don’t think change is difficult. Control is what’s difficult. People and organisations are changing all the time, just not in the ways that some of us want.
- Johnnie Moore in Change or control?

Whose data is it anyway?

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Follow up on previous thoughts on data and ownership… as cross-posted from VRM Hub.

Talking about ownership of data online in terms of control is fairly pointless. Once your data is out, it’s out. So instead of delving into the meaning of ownership and what it means in a decentralised, distributed and open network where sharing and transparency are default, let’s look at how the data is generated by the individual and shared through interactions with others.

Data as generated online is akin to a positive externality for the vendors and platforms that capture our data. Positive externality* is something that is not part of the value traded in market exchanges. It is something one of the parties in the trade benefits from, without having to pay for it. For illustration, pollution is considered a negative externality as it is

a) a by-product of manufacturing processes and,
b) is not included in the cost or price of the products.

So, when I am buying something from Amazon or Virgin Atlantic site, the explicit value exchange is the goods they provide and the money I pay for those goods. My data is external to that value exchange – the vendor is not paying for it and I am not being paid for it. In the current set-up (no pun intended), the vendors benefit by using the data in ways that help their business, from mining to selling it on. I, on the other hand, have scant legal protection against that and even with all the laws in place such as Data Protection Act and other restrictions on those who capture my data, a large portion of data collected from me is for marketing purposes.. and usually way above the threshold of legally required data to complete transactions.

The advent of the ‘free’ web has mightily confused the distinction between data as part of a value exchange and data as a positive externality – simply because most platforms with web services have turned what is essentially an external benefit from other exchanges to foundations of their business models. The ‘free services’ I receive are ‘paid for’ by my attention and/or my data – both eagerly gathered by various platforms. Advertising is a way to monetise my attention aka eyeball and the race to monetising my data (short of crude selling on) is still on.

In this context I own my data (in a way I own my attention) and neither should be considered a payment for the (free) web services unless it is specified in the terms of the exchange or service. It is merely a shift from one business model – online retail such as Amazon – to another where data becomes the value exchanged tacitly and without clear understanding. This is another reason why privacy remains an issue with such web services and platforms. As long as I have to depend on a third party to protect my privacy, it will be exposed by accident (incompetence), force (authorities) or abuse (marketing & advertising).

The tensions between the data created and managed by us and the tools we use belonging to someone else, are becoming obvious on the social web. Mike Arrington’s outrage a few months back when Facebook was turning its back on FriendConnect is justified.

The fact is, this isn’t Facebook’s data. It’s my data. And if I give Google permission to do stuff with it, I’m damned well within my rights to do so. By blocking Google, Facebook has blocked ME. And that, frankly, kind of frustrates me.

Let me put this another way. How dare Facebook tell ME that I cannot give Google access to this data!

Arrington also condemns Scoble’s early attempts at ‘data portability’:

Scoble has been on the wrong side of this issue before, when he tried to scrape his friend’s contact information out of Facebook and export it to Plaxo. In that case, it wasn’t his data and he didn’t have the right to make it portable. It’s MY data, once again, and only I should be allowed to make that decision. He thinks his new position shows that he gets the importance of privacy, but once again he isn’t thinking in terms of who really owns the data and should be allowed to make decisions around it.

Here we go, ownership of data again. So when I add someone to my network, together with his photo and other profile details, I do not ‘own’ that data. It seems pretty pointless to debate that as whenever I sign-up to a social network platform, I am agreeing to the terms and conditions of their relationship with me and to what happens to my data, privacy etc. All my agreements are with the platforms and the way I enter those agreements is definitely lacking in balance of power. We do live in the early days of individual empowerement… but even so, there is a distinct lack of tools that will allow me to be a node in a network independent of someone else’s silo or a platform. I have the same question as Danny O’Brien:

When you want to make a private picture or note available only to your friends, why do you hand it over to a multi-national corporation first?

Moreover, within social networking platforms, there is no corresponding agreement with other users. The terms of service are between me and Facebook, me and MySpace, me and Twitter, me and Flickr, me and Plaxo, me and LinkedIn, me and the socnet du jour… but they do not extend to my relationships with other individuals on the same platform. Relationships are pre-defined, much the same way terms & conditions are, from the point of the platoform, not from the point of the individual. So ironically, social networking platforms designed to help me connect with others, to create and maintain relationships with them, are not allowing me to define those very relationships…

In other words, there is no way to interact with others within the silos based on what I call P2P terms and conditions. These could be privacy agreements, if we so wish, ranging from simply not-bothered-about-what-happens-to-my-contact -details-in-your-social-graph all the way to granulated preferences for different people in my contact list. So just like in the real world – there are people I’d trust with my address book and there are some I wouldn’t trust with my address. Instead of building complicated systems and using technology to make such nuances in relationships explicit, I need tools to help me manage the complexity of human relationships. I need tools to reflect what is already in my head implicitly and defines me as a social animal. Do not tie me up in legal pretzels over various policies, creating permissions and access management nightmares in the process. In the words of Kevin Marks as paraphrased from his Social Cloud talk at Lift08:

Software cannot match out ability to sort out our friends and contact, establish how much we trust them and how we arrive at that trust. No software can fully map the relationships, let alone replace our natural ability to create and maintain them The implication is that therefore software should support the kind of cloud abstraction we have around the internet, also around our social relationships. You can feed it (the social networking app) relationships that are in the ’software in your head’, feed the stuff related to people in your network to software online. Users will assume that your software (this is aimed at developers) will be able to see the information that they have already fed into the software and be able to use it.

Indeed! By I digress. To recap, my data is a kind of externality to purchasing transactions, just like attention is an externality to my reading, watching or listening to something else. Marketing lives off my data, advertising lives off my attention. My data (and by extension me) is not respected because companies can trade it as a commodity without paying for it. The way to address this is not to make them pay for the data (and create many snake oil intermediaries in the process) but to make it possible for companies to enter into relationships with the true owners of the data.

So what is to be done? How to internalise the externality? How do I regain control over something that originates from me and is used in my transactions with others? This is the stuff of VRM.

Broadly speaking, it is about finding tools & technology to give the individual sovereignty over his data, so he can exercise choice over who gets to see it and under what circumstances. This will change the balance of powers and eventually demonstrate to companies that respecting people’s data (and by extension them), they can make more money.

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* Definition of externality: Economic theory considers any voluntary exchange to be mutually beneficial to both parties, for example a buyer and seller. Any exchange, however, can result in additional positive or negative effects on third parties. Those who suffer from external costs do so involuntarily, while those who enjoy external benefits do so at no cost. Data is an externality without the third party, where the afffected party is also participating in the transaction. So not an exact theoretical match, but perhaps still helpful in understanding how we got to the point where ‘free services’ feel entitled to their users data.

Quote to remember

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Organizations will work tirelessly to de-personalize every communication medium they encounter.
- Seth Godin in The first law of mass media

CRM

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Sums it up really.



CRM, originally uploaded by Matthew Gidley.

On committies, agendas and rocks

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In anticipation of a VRM workshop and upon reading this in a mailing list this morning, I give you timelessly revelant Douglas Adams and his take on formal procedures and structures. May his words reach the minds of ‘management consultants’ and ‘marketing people’ of this world. Or better yet, may his words make us follow common sense rather than ‘modern business methods’.

“I bring you news,” he said, “of a discovery that might interest you.”
“Is it on the agenda?” snapped the man whom Ford had interrupted.
Ford smiled a broad country-rock singer smile.
“Now, come on,” he said.
“Well I’m sorry,” said the man huffily, “but speaking as a management
consultant of many years’ standing, I must insist on the importance of
observing the committee structure.”
Ford looked round the crowd.
“He’s mad you know,” he said, “this is a prehistoric planet.”
“Address the chair!” snapped the management consultant.
“There isn’t a chair,” explained Ford, “there’s only a rock.”
The management consultant decided that testiness was what the
situation now called for.
“Well, call it a chair,” he said testily.
“Why not call it a rock?” asked Ford.
“You obviously have no conception,” said the management consultant,
not abandoning testiness in favour of good old fashioned hauteur, “of
modern business methods.”
“And you have no conception of where you are,” said Ford.
A girl with a strident voice leapt to her feet and used it.
“Shut up, you two,” she said, “I want to table a motion.”
“You mean boulder a motion,” tittered a hairdresser.
“Order, order!” yapped the management consultant.
“Alright,” said Ford, “let’s see how you are doing.” He plonked
himself down on the ground to see how long he could keep his temper.
The Captain made a sort of conciliatory harrumphing noise.
“I would like to call to order,” he said pleasantly, “the five hundred
and seventy-third meeting of the colonization committee of
Fintlewoodlewix …”
Ten seconds, thought Ford as he leapt to his feet again.
“This is futile,” he exclaimed, “five hundred and seventy-three
committee meetings and you haven’t even discovered fire yet!”
“If you would care,” said the girl with the strident voice, “to
examine the agenda sheet …”
“Agenda rock,” trilled the hairdresser happily.
“Thank you, I’ve made that point,” muttered Ford.
“… you … will … see …” continued the girl firmly, “that we are
having a report from the hairdressers’ Fire Development Sub-Committee
today.”
“Oh … ah -” said the hairdresser with a sheepish look which is
recognized the whole Galaxy over as meaning “Er, will next Tuesday
do?”
“Alright,” said Ford, rounding on him, “what have you done? What are
you going to do? What are your thoughts on fire development?”
“Well I don’t know,” said the hairdresser, “All they gave me was a
couple of sticks …”
“So what have you done with them?”
Nervously, the hairdresser fished in his track suit top and handed
over the fruits of his labour to Ford.
Ford held them up for all to see.
“Curling tongs,” he said.
The crowd applauded.
“Never mind,” said Ford, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
The crowd hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about, but they
loved it nevertheless. They applauded.
“Well, you’re obviously being totally naive of course,” said the girl,
“When you’ve been in marketing as long as I have you’ll know that
before any new product can be developed it has to be properly
researched. We’ve got to find out what people want from fire, how they
relate to it, what sort of image it has for them.”
The crowd were tense. They were expecting something wonderful from Ford.
“Stick it up your nose,” he said.
“Which is precisely the sort of thing we need to know,” insisted the
girl, “Do people want fire that can be applied nasally?”
“Do you?” Ford asked the crowd.
“Yes!” shouted some.
“No!” shouted others happily.
They didn’t know, they just thought it was great.
“And the wheel,” said the Captain, “What about this wheel thingy? It
sounds a terribly interesting project.”
“Ah,” said the marketing girl, “Well, we’re having a little difficulty there.”
“Difficulty?” exclaimed Ford, “Difficulty? What do you mean,
difficulty? It’s the single simplest machine in the entire Universe!”
The marketing girl soured him with a look.
“Alright, Mr Wiseguy,” she said, “you’re so clever, you tell us what
colour it should be.”
The crowd went wild. One up to the home team, they thought. Ford
shrugged his shoulders and sat down again.
“Almighty Zarquon,” he said, “have none of you done anything?”

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