On a recent trip to England, a group of us took a hike up a hill past a flock of sheep. Sheep are so charming: pleasant to see on the side of a hill, not terribly wild or boisterous, and very compliant when it is time to get their wool sheared. At one point, the farmer pulled up to a corner of the very large field the sheep were occupying and they started bleating and running toward the truck. They clearly were trained that this was feeding time, and responded with the enthusiasm of my 19-year-old son under similar circumstances. This was, without meaning to sound too trite...so stick with me here...an example of when it's a good idea to follow the flock. However, we all know that sheep are, in fact, too compliant for their own good, and can walk willingly to be slaughtered. That's an example of when following the flock is not a good thing, at least for the sheep.
Now, some of the readers of this blog are aware of the problem my wife and I have with geese in our back yard. I am often amused when I chase the geese away from my grass at how little it takes to get the whole flock moving. I have not seen even one goose stop and think, "Gee, should I follow everyone as they run away from Heffernan's place or should I really assess the danger first?" Never. What they do we'll call "flocking." Geese do it. Sheep do it. And, unfortunately, humans do it.
A good brand is not necessarily the right solution for your business
We see flocking in business. We've run into it in several areas, and it is rarely a good option for people...it is best left to other animal species.
For example, we sometimes hear from Advantage clients that at internal meetings about new directions or changes in business someone will say "the system can't do that" and everyone will go flocking along without stopping to question whether or not the statement is true. We are often consulted later and countless times have had to inform the client that, in fact, Advantage can perform the function that was being discussed. (A wonderful argument for reading the documentation and feature lists of our monthly updates!)
Another area is in technology. We are often baffled by some of the ways that technology professionals attempt to justify their flocking to certain solutions or platforms. In one case, a very large, respected company attempted to engage a trendy technology company to provide them with a complex solution, in an area in which the trendy technology company had no experience. The large, respected company learned this after just three hours of detailed discussions with the trendy technology company. They had been led to believe by all the hype (and excellent branding) that this trendy technology company could do it all, and were shocked that, in fact, the company had very limited capabilities.
Why do people flock so easily? Are we too busy to check the facts? Are we seduced by the hype of the latest and (supposedly) greatest thing to come along and believe it is the answer to everything? Do we want to jump on the new technology bandwagon, afraid we'll be left behind?
Platforms vs Solutions
I'm not sure what causes this phenomenon, but it makes very little business sense for an organization to drop a good solution for a platform that can "do anything" when, in fact, the platform is just a platform and can't do anything on it's own, but requires applications to be built on it. For example, AdvantageCS has invested thousands of hours in improving our customer service features to better handle contact centers' requirements. Contact centers want software which is intuitive, easy-to-use, and something a rookie can learn with as little training as possible, and Advantage provides this. Advantage is a solution, not a platform. In a conversation with a large organization recently, it became clear that this company wants to have a platform be the source of everything about the customer, including complex subscription management functions and customer service calls. Why, I ask, when you can have a solution (Advantage) already built which can do this for you?
Okay, enough of my little rant. Some humans are followers and will flock no matter what. But leaders? They should be leading, not flocking, and going with what's trendy is often a mistake. We've certainly seen companies make costly mistakes by trying to implement something trendy instead of something that is proven to work.
Let's not act like sheep or geese. Let's assess best-of-breed solutions with proven track records. Yes, let's ask our colleagues what is working for them. But let's make informed decisions about new solutions that are based on more than over-zealous branding.
Do you agree?