Being on the cutting edge can be scary. I know. I’ve been there.
Personally, I’m not an on-the-edge kinda guy. I’m afraid of heights and I have had the same haircut since third grade.
But, when in 2008 my company was considering stepping out into the world of wiki, I saw the cutting edge up close – and it was fascinating!
I was in the marketing department at Kindermusik Intl., a company that produces a music-based curriculum taught around the world to families with children up to age seven. This music and movement curriculum helps develop a child’s brain in ways proven to better prepare them for learning in kindergarten and beyond and the trained educators who teach Kindermusik to families are musicians and/or child development experts. I could fly that flag all day!
The president of Kindermusik is a very forward-thinker and wanted our team to seriously research and consider putting the music, lyrics, and teaching curriculum online in a wiki format so that Kindermusik’s team of 3,000+ educators worldwide could develop and build on the existing material to create additional songs, lessons, and maybe, come upon developmental breakthroughs.
Half of us in the home office thought it was innovative to put product enhancement and potential development in the hands of the thousands of music and development experts who were already bringing our product to thousands of children each day.
The other half of us shared serious concern that the product could be devalued and inconsistent. These were the people who for 20 years had carefully crafted these lesson plans and written songs from scratch to provide the developmental learning lesson within the song and its accompanying physical activity.
Songs and lessons that had always been the same from San Diego to Schenectady may now change at someone else’s hands if we put them up for “enhancement” by the community. And how would we monitor one contributor’s suggestion and mandate it across the program? If current songs were reconfigured, would we need to go to the expense of re-recording and distributing?
That’s when it got scary because it got real.
It’s just like the way Steve Fisher, VP of Salesforce.com, described using a wiki technology to allow his customers to decide and prioritize which program upgrades the home office should be doing. Steve described that as, “real debate about real issues” because it acted upon decisions made by actual customers who were using his product out in the field.*
We weren’t ready yet for that at Kindermusik.
We were actively training our educators to market through Facebook and Twitter to reach the new young mom of 2008 who had a baby in one hand and her cell phone in the other. We trained many to market their business online and operate web sites where parents could enroll for classes online. Many others were steps ahead of us and had already built well-designed e-commerce sites. The social marketing of this brand had a strong momentum by 2009. But wiki just wasn’t going to be one of those pieces.
Wiki works for so many online groups. Dell and TiVo use wiki to allow customers to answer other customers’ questions. DelMonte used it to engage customers in the pet food category to help create and improve a new brand of dog snacks, “Snausages”.*
As I read about those examples in Groundswell, (Li & Bernoff, 2011) and then was asked to write about challenges and risks linked to bringing a brand global, or not, those great ideas and smart questions we asked at Kindermusik instantly began swirling in my head and put a smile on my face. My time on the edge.
* Li, Charlene and Bernoff, Josh (2011) Groudswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies. Boston, MA: Forrester Research, Inc.