Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka opens the doors of his factory to a select group of children, who have the privilege of exploring the insides of the place that produces their favorite candy. Forgive me if I ruin the charm of the story, but it occurred to me that what Wonka did was something similar to an act of business 2.0 transparency on a small scale: a company reveals to a reduced group of customers its production processes and therefore ends the obscurantism of many years (Willy Wonka’s factory had been closed to the public for a long time). And, surprise, surprise, in another fit of unwitting and anachronistic 2.0ism, the peculiar Mr Wonka shows the kids one or two ‘products in beta phase’, such as the 3-course meal gum that Violet Beauregarde, world record holder in chewing gum, can’t resist trying. The problem? Wonka’s factory belongs to a world that doesn’t know about beta culture and where a product isn’t launched on the market until it is ‘perfect’. The moral of the story, in this context, gives a surprising result: After eating the experimental gum, Violet turns into an enormous blueberry.
Nowadays, the story seems to have changed. Beta culture has expanded and, in the real world, the idea that products are never entirely finished and that talent and ideas aren’t only in the hands of brands is gradually becoming more and better accepted.
Many companies offer their customers the chance to test experimental models with the aim of improving their prototypes. With regard to the development of products, today, consumers have a lot to say (hopefully without running the risk of becoming giant blueberries!).
An example of this is the American company TCHO, a case described by journalist and blogger Jeff Jarvis in his book Public Parts, as a paradigm of a transparent company dedicated to promoting crowdsourcing, convinced that its value doesn’t lie simply in the product it produces and sells, but also in the quality of its relationship with its customers. Just like Willy Wonka’s factory, TCHO manufactures chocolates, but as a rule this company in San Francisco shares its formulas and manufacturing processes and encourages its customers to be co-creators of its products, providing their opinions and advice about the ‘beta versions’ of each new chocolate. These versions are altered thousands of times before becoming 1.0 versions, in other words, sold, but even then they are considered products with room for improvement.
When a company like TCHO launches unfinished products it is calling for collaboration and also recognizing something that until recently was unthinkable for many businesses: that its clients’ ideas could be much better than those of its own team. This is an interesting point:
Transparency in the 2.0 environment means, to a certain extent, naturally sharing our inadequacies, openly asking for collaboration and breaking with what Jeff Jarvis calls ‘the tyranny of perfection’.
Even though we may find ourselves in a world with more wrinkles to be ironed out, I think that freeing ourselves of the ideal of perfection is healthy and necessary at times like these, when action and innovation are essential, not only for companies but also in the lives of many people. When we take excellence as a sine qua non condition for jumping in to play, we run the risk of ending up at a standstill, watching from the sidelines. Nothing is perfect enough. On the other hand, when we overcome the fear that people will see the stitching, we are laying the foundations for action, learning and continuous improvement.
I believe this is something that can be applied to both companies and individuals. Living in ‘publicness’, as Jarvis would say, means living constantly in beta. Feeling comfortable in this context means not obsessing with ideals of perfection and learning to enjoy and share our process with all its ‘faults’, trusting that everyone else is there not to judge but to accompany us along the way.