The Learning Curve

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They say that everything old is simply something that is brand new all over again — but that certainly is not proving to be the case in the new world online ecosystem.

The virtual business world is a case in point.

You spend hour upon hour researching how to strategically launch or pivot a business.

You make a business plan and set about forming strategic partnerships.

You source or — heaven forbid — write proprietary code to enable your company to interact with customers or deliver goods and services virtually and bravely embark on your new venture.

And for a little while all goes well.

But just when you are starting to feel like you might have things under control, one of your online service providers — or social media sites way down the supply chain — completely changes their protocol without warning, throwing everything (including your little enterprise) to the four winds faster than you can knock over a row of dominoes.

This all happens without any form of pre-warning because in the virtual world, the way you demonstrate your size and market dominance is to take a stance that you are beholden to no one. The more radically you can change the game to your own advantage by making subtle, unannounced changes, the more likely you are to do so — leaving your competition, and especially your customers, scrambling to figure out what just happened while you fortify your own position and (hopefully) increase market share.

Similarly, you view the data that you have collected during the course of your daily operations as a cash commodity to administer as you see fit — trading, sharing or selling it to anyone willing to pay your asking price, and covering up your own security breaches for as long as it suits you. It is your position that you “own” the data that was taken and it is therefore your prerogative to decide whether or not to inform anyone — particularly if your firewall has been hacked and the customer data stolen.

At the present time this unconscionable behaviour is largely deemed to be a legal business practice because in theory, the virtual business world is a “free market” in that any participant technically has the ability and prerogative to change direction on a whim and with a simple key stroke.

In theory that is fine, but even if you are a multi-billion-dollar company, if your online customer base relies on your security and integrity to protect their information and you abuse their trust, then you are cheating them — and in time this behaviour will have consequences.

Conversely, the smaller your business is (and the thinner your profit margin) the less likely you are to behave unethically because alienating even 10% of your customers or followers with these underhanded business tactics might be enough to collapse your entire enterprise.

Furthermore, not only do you wind up reeling from being blindsided by soulless tactics of these supply chain and social media giants, but you also wind up having to apologise to your own customers for the inconveniences that their actions have caused — a fact that can be extremely difficult to convince your customer base is not your fault.

Will this behaviour persist in the near-term?

I expect that it will.

Will it persist indefinitely?

It seems unlikely. As history has repeatedly demonstrated, when the rules of engagement in a free market are unsound the market crashes and no one escapes.

The phrase caveat emptor has taken on a significant new meaning in today’s online business world, and we must all be prepared to endure a phase of increased volatility until the rules of ethical commerce are more definitively established in the virtual world.

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Chief Operating Officer of The Olderhood Group Ltd - a journalist, podcaster and thought leader focusing on life transition & change management.

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Robin Trimingham

Robin Trimingham

Chief Operating Officer of The Olderhood Group Ltd - a journalist, podcaster and thought leader focusing on life transition & change management.

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