I was given the honor of reviewing Lethal Generosity, the latest book on communication and technology from Shel Israel, before it is released next week. I spent the time to read it through twice (and it is quite readable so that took little effort). I’ve come to the opinion that it might be the most important book a business person or professional communicator could read this year. But before I explain why, let’s weed the field a bit.
If you have no plans to sell your products of services to people under 30, ever, don’t read this book.
If you plan to retire or shut your business down in 10 years, don’t read this book.
But if you are struggling to understand how to grow your business; if you see competitors using social platforms and technology making money while you are not; If you want to sell your business to someone for a good price in the next 10 years. READ THIS BOOK!
Israel has written several books on how to effectively communicate with today’s marketplace. This particular book is a sequel of sorts to his most recent, The Age of Context, that he co-wrote with Robert Scoble. I saw that book as a description of the kind of technology that was available to reach audiences and grow businesses. But it was a little light on the application. Lethal Generosity picks up from that point and talks about how some companies are using that technology effectively, why it is working and who is most influenced by it.
Here is a short description of those three areas:
- Very few companies are actually using the technology and even fewer are using it properly
- It works for those few companies because they understand it is no longer about reaching thousands of potential customers in hopes of attracting a few dozen, but reaching those few dozen who in turn will attract even more through electronic interaction.
- It is most effective at reaching the Millennial Generation than any other.
Starting with the audience, Israel describes a generation that is as visionary and energetic as the Baby Boomers, but is as pragmatic as the Greatest Generation that fought WW II (This is my description, not Israel’s). They relish collaboration and want to change the world, but see it as a process not a revolution. One step at a time rather than all at once. As a Boomer, I participated in the Civil Rights Movement, The anti-war movement, feminism and politics and like most of my compatriots I am pretty disappointed in what we accomplished. It was a revolution but the product is still kind of half-assed.
The Millennials I watch today, and as Israel points out, look at fixing problems one at a time and in cooperation with other problem solvers. They personify the story of the boy tossing starfish back into the ocean after a storm because while he might not be able to save all, but he can save some. They do this in groups, or as Seth Godin describes them, tribes. They are less competitive than my generation, more charitable and more community oriented. They listen to each other more than they listen to corporate messages. And they are more in tune with generosity as a social requirement. That brings me to the title of the book.
“Lethal generosity” is about doing things that seem counter productive to my generation. It’s about recommending a customer go to a competitor because they actually have what the customer needs. It includes unrestricted warranties on products and services. It gives back to the world as an automatic reaction to a sale. Most importantly it obliterates barriers to sales by facilitating them through technology.
In the “lethally generous” world Israel describes, a customer can find a store on a mobile device, find what they are looking for in the store, get instant feedback from friends on the product and the company that makes it, and then make the purchase, all before the customer enters the store and picks up the product.
It’s not just about sales, though. It’s about building communities. Midway through the book, Israel tells the story of Summit, an entrepreneurial organization that provides mentoring, resources, funding and other forms of support to new businesses. It includes some of the most influential people of the 21st Century as well as thousands of members. But you probably don’t know anything about it because they operate exclusively through invitation by current members. The organization is highly connected through social media and electronic communication.
Some people, mostly my generation, think that this dependence on technology is actually fracturing the social contract between us; building barriers to communication that we have come to rely on. Yes and no.
Our current paradigm of communication is to talk at people until they give in and do what we tell them. It is minimally effective and actually more divisive. The new paradigm allows people to listen to a conversation before entering it. It allows them to vet potential relationships and thereby set appropriate expectations. Finally it builds relationships probably more effectively that any form of communication we have had since the oral tradition. Israel describes observing Millennials meeting people face to face for the first time, after they had known each other for years electronically. They are as close to each other as they would have been if they had grown up together.
This book, Lethal Generosity, describes how technology makes that happen by greasing the skids, blowing up barriers, and building real communities for business, rather than just spreadsheets. It’s available on Amazon next week in both print and electronic forms.