Slightly edited to protect the innocent...
Greg (my customer) tells really good stories, stories I've head before, but stories with such passion, that they seem like new stories. So we were talking about why we need to allow people to blog via email. He tells me a story about a district manager for a retail chain who is visiting a store the day before a 3 day weekend. As he is wandering around the store, he notices that the store manager has assembled a display to help drive increased sales for the expected holiday traffic. It's perfect. So the district manager pulls out his flip phone and proceeds to write and email to his blog which includes a photo of the display. He sends this email, blog system does it's processing magic, and the entry is live on his blog. Story ends? Not yet. My first response was to pull out the trusty Blackberry and login to my blog and start to create a new blog entry to show that we don't need email to blog capabilities. Apparently the flip phone in this story doesn't have a browser. Hmm... So right about when I was thinking about suggesting deploying Blackberry phones to district managers, I stopped myself. What would it take to do this, and why has it not been done already, I mean this is 2010. It's about change. Some people embrace change. My next thought was a cost factor involved to compensate for the unwillingness to change for a very small percentage of management. My observation at this point was that in this organization, the top 5% of the population (middle management) contributes 90% of the information, and we are talking about changing people.
So then Greg begins to describe the organization. Their organization is made up of mostly tree choppers and axe sharpeners, and their organization has been chopping away in the same forest all along with the middle management preaching chop faster and sharpen better. Business is great, trees are getting chopped and axes are being sharpened, all is well. One day, a tree chopper decides to climb up the tallest tree he can find. He observes that the forest they are chopping in is almost gone, there is a cliff just through the trees in the direction they are chopping. He also observes that about 10 miles in the opposite direction is a fresh forest ready for chopping. He also sees a billboard for a chainsaw. So the tree chopper comes down and locates middle management, explains his story - they will be out of forest in a few days - they could chop much faster if they changed to chainsaws and chain sharpeners. Middle management responds firmly that tree chopping and axe sharpening is what they do, why change, it's been a great business.
So in a few days, the competitor comes in with chainsaws in the new forest and the tree choppers fall off the cliff. The end.
If you are thinking that I’m going to start talking about privacy, you are way off; I will actually digress to high school. I recall giving my phone number to a select few in school, even fewer in college. I remember getting my first cell phone, a Motorola StarTac and freely giving my phone number out. Those days were prefaced with handing out my pager number and I would return your call from a landline when I found one. The story was always the same, though - “847-xxxx.”
I made a phone call the other day to schedule an eye doctor appointment; they asked me to verify my phone number and reminded me to bring in my insurance card. That same evening, I called the magic pizza car (pizza delivery) to order dinner. Later, again, the same evening, I sent my phone number in a message to a friend on FaceBook who wanted to talk. Next, I was thinking about when I was in the grocery store the other day, and I forgot my “Ima Frequent Shopper” card, so I entered my phone number on the key pad in place of the card. In the same manner, at an electronics store a week ago, I entered my phone number to retrieve my information for an extended warranty. I get my haircut and to check in at the front desk, I provide my phone number. The story has changed now, “919-710-xxxx.”
So I have a phone number now, and I had one then, that’s great, so what’s the point? The point is the subtle change that happened without much controversy. In all of the examples that I have just described, I have been conversing and collaborating with individuals locally, we are all in the same area code. I was giving out my phone number then, just as I do now. The subtle change is the addition of three little digits. These days, when I reveal my phone number, it is always prefaced with an area code. I have never complained during this almost transparent change of wasting energy to speak three extra numbers. In fact, I really cannot recall when this change happened. I do remember many years ago, the news would highlight that 10-digit dialing would become necessary, but never do I recall seeing headlines like “Woman divorces husband over 10 digit phone number” or “Senator withholding the truth, only reveals 7 digits.”
What really happened is that adoption of the telephone had exceeded the expectations of the infrastructure, we started running out of phone numbers; hence area codes started to become a little more important. Sure, you can still make calls locally dialing 7 digits, in some areas, but what happens if you are out of town and dial a contact from your cell phone? You are reminded by a sweet sounding operator (recording) reminding you that you need to dial an area code to reach this number. I have never yelled at her, I simply hang up and re-dial. What I noticed is that over time, I have started storing all contacts in my phone using a 10-digit format. The important thing here, though, is not the number of digits you will dial or the fact that there was an infrastructure “upgrade” needed, it is about how the consumers adapt to the change. In the end, it was the people that had to change; or not use the telephone.