Last month I met up with Tara Hunt at the Drake Hotel in Toronto. Tara was in town for business for Intuit, had her friend’s wedding mixed in and the pending launch of her book. It was nice that we had enough one on one time for a pint and some of that amazing food at the Drake.
Last week a signed copy of Tara’s new book, The Whuffie Factor, showed up in my mail box. That is appreciated all the more because I know Tara probably had to personally buy and ship this copy. I heard the whole story about how she and her publisher were having the Duncan Watts influencer sminfluencer debate about how to spread the word.
Tara Hunt is a case study on personal branding. I should know because I have included her case in the course outline for the first year social media course at Humber’s new BA-PR program. Through a combination of personal risk taking, hard work, experience, intuition and smarts Tara has arrived at the intersection of business, social media, social capital and community with a quality contribution.
The Whuffie Factor is not only a compilation of Tara’s own experience. It pulls together hundreds of headline stories that we are seeing all around us about companies like Dell, Twitter, Threadless, Vonage, 37Signals, PayPerPost, Last.fm and brings them into focus with a critical eye, in terms that are designed for everyone.
A pint at the Drake
From time to time I have found myself defending the “Whuffie” approach on Twitter and in blog comments. The basic arguments that I have seen against the term “Whuffie” come from a couple of directions. Firstly, there are more buttoned down business types who think that “Whuffie” is a term that won’t cut it in the boardroom.
I bet there are more Boardrooms within 100 km of Tara’s house that would be down with the Whuffie than there are stodgy ones. Even the old boys will tune in when it comes to making Whuffie (unfortunately for all the wrong reasons).
Then there are the academics and intellectual “knowledge management” types who go to great lengths to carefully choose the words that they want to associate with. In academic circles, I have come to understand that this is a fairly big concern. I have noticed that even the term “social capital”, where there is an academic tradition to build upon, has been steered around by some for a variety of reasons. I have virtually stopped following one google group where I respect the knowledge and experience of the members because it seems that more than half of the dialogue is an attack on this way of describing management or that way of describing a community. Even the value of profit comes under attack.
I recognize that different words are useful for different applications. I think that we are living through a time where we are still coming to understand our networks as the primary factor of production. As common understanding evolves, meaning will build behind certain words. Some will emerge as the dominant labels some won’t.
I also have made it clear that a “conversation” that is designed for everyone needs to be complimented with terms that are designed for investors and senior level managers. As Tara points out in the book, “Who are metrics for then? Investors. Journalists. Outsiders. People who want a number to tell the whole story because they are not part of the community itself and it is really hard to explain the impact of a great community to an outsider.” (p. 237)
Personally, I think that the terms “Whuffie” and “Social Capital Value Add” each have memetic qualities because they both come from fertile idea habitats (to borrow a concept from the work of Chip Heath & Jonah Berger, see p. 20 of my ebook). But that is another post.
I usually conclude my defense of “Whuffie” with a one liner, “It doesn’t matter what you call the dog, as long as it fetches the bone.”
In 1979, Deng Xiaoping put to rest ideological naval gazing in China with a simple phase:
“It doesn’t matter if a cat is white or yellow, as long as it can catch mice.”
There was no mistaking the common mission of the people of China while I lived there from 1995 to 2000. In fact since 1979, China has averaged growth rates in the 10% neighborhood. How much does it matter that most people think that he used the word “white” instead of “yellow”?
America has the opportunity to unleash a new era of healthy, sustainable growth from break throughs in productivity and innovation made possible by management methods designed for the network age.
During a period of phenomenal change, I think it is best not to take issue with words or symbols that may seem fleeting from deep in the silo of your particular area of expertise.
In a Beginner’s Mind there are many possibilities. In an expert’s mind there are few.
Whuffie is involved. That is indisputable. Let’s catch mice, dog.