The Importance of Being Human

Andre Eikmeier

I read a book a few years ago called The Thank You Economy, by Gary Vaynerchuk. I have to credit that book for sending my mind in this direction. This is something I wrote a while ago and have spoken of in talks, to try to explain the role social media has played in shaping the way we do business.

Anyone who knows me will be chuckling that I’m professing to say anything about social media — this is strictly only human behavioural stuff. I’m shit at actually using social platforms.

But nonetheless, Gary V is significantly less shit, and I think this idea is still valid, and helpful.

So here you go…

The world and the way we communicate has changed, and it’s changed for the better. Because people have a voice again.

You think back two hundred and fifty years ago, when production, distribution and communication were localized.

You had a village, with a few hundred people. If there were only two bakers, for instance, then Jim the Baker had to be nice to Aunt Martha, and he had to stock what she was after, or she’d go next door for her lamingtons and she’d tell all her friends that Jim the Baker was a very rude man, and Jim the Baker would find himself with no customers, and Jim the Baker would go out of business.

That was a good customer era.

Then along comes the industrial revolution, and Jim the Baker has upped his operations, expanded his distribution, and he’s now selling Jim’s Lamingtons to all the nearby villages, and pretty soon he’s selling them across the whole country. Jim’s Lamingtons Incorporated is born.

Suddenly it’s not so important what Aunt Martha back in her little village says. She can complain to all the friends she knows, and Jim can tell her to go and get stuffed, because he’s selling plenty of lamingtons. He doesn’t need her business, and really, how many people can she complain? A dozen? Who cares? Jim’s selling thousands of lamingtons!

That was the death of the customer era. Production and distribution went global, but communication stayed local.

And that’s unfortunately pretty much the way it was in the world of business until quite recently, when along came social media.

Now if Aunt Martha complains about Jim the Baker, she’ll tell her 450 facebook friends, and those people will share it with their friends, and other people will come forward with their complaints, and millions of people might hear about how rude Jim the Baker was.

And Jim the Mighty Baker might soon find himself with no customers after all, and Jim the Baker might go out of business. So Jim the Baker starts looking after Aunt Martha again, he starts listening to her.

Starts being more human.

It’s called social media, because it’s exactly that. It’s social. It’s a personal medium. People aren’t on there interacting with corporations, or brands, they’re interacting with people. Humans.

For us marketers (and if you’re in business in any way, you’re a marketer — product, sales, customer service — it’s all marketing) — this is exciting stuff!

Because now we have a chance to really communicate with people. Have conversations. We have the ability to listen to our customers, not just shout at them.

We can do more than just sticking a billboard on a highway with a pithy slogan, or blasting an ad on TV a thousand times.

We can connect. Build relationships. Real ones, and it’s scalable. You have to work on relationships, of course. You have to care.

But I think this represents more than just a new way of communicating. I think we’re at the dawn of a new way of doing business. I think we’re glimpsing the end of towing the company line, and entering an era where people are valued as much for the character they possess as the skills.

An era where it’s not only permitted to be yourself at work, but required. Imagine the freedom?

An era where people aren’t managed, but inspired, by the purpose and the values of the organization with whom they’re aligned.

Where people want to add what value they can to help that company reach its goals, not because it’s their job, but because they believe in what that company stands for?

I think of my 13 year old son and 11 year old daughter, going for a job, with the confidence to just be themselves, knowing that is what ultimately will be valued. How incredible.

I don’t understand when people say business isn’t personal. Everything is personal. If you don’t think it is to you, it sure as hell is to the person on the receiving end of whatever it is you’re being “not personal” about, you can bet on that.

And it should be personal. Life is personal, and work is life. I don’t want to spend 50 or 60 (or 90!) hours of every week being detached, hiding the real me behind some sort of impersonal mask. What sort of life is that? And yet we all just accept it, because it’s what we were taught work is all about.

“Be professional.” Fuck that. I say “be personal”.

But you can’t get too close, managers say. You’ve got to remain detached, so you can make the hard decisions when you need to.

Sure, you’ve got to be able to make those hard decisions that are going to hurt at least somebody, for the greater good of the company or whatever the reason — I’ve had to do that a lot, no doubt most of you have too.

Suck it up. That’s just a part of leadership. It’s not all glory. That’s the burden. You have to care about the people you’re leading.

So be human about it. Feel it. Sure, it might upset you to crack that shell — if you can’t take that, don’t lead. But take it, own it, and it’ll make you a better leader, and a better person.

So keep it real. Be human.

Andre Eikmeier

Written by

To put on an old record and cook food for people I love, with a good wine — this makes me happy. And — this is my purpose.

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