Lethal Generosity book by Shel Israel

Power Shift

Every now and again a book about technology innovation and business comes along that I’m eager to recommend to my coaching clients and business associates. But after a couple of such recommendations in recent years that fell flat, I’m more selective now.

So  I’m pleased to say that Shel Israel’s latest book Lethal Generosity: Contextual Technology and the Competitive Edge definitely makes the cut.

One of the main reasons for that is Shel Israel’s storytelling skill.

He provides just enough technical information for non-technical people like me to get the drift, then moves quickly and fluently to illustrate, with many examples, the impact of the technology on people and businesses.

Lethal Generosity is the sequel to Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy, which Shel co-authored with Robert Scoble and published in 2014.

Age of Context described ways in which the “five forces of context” – mobile, data, sensors and location – are “changing your experience as a shopper, a customer, a patient, a viewer or an online traveller”.

Age of Context was a real eye-opener for me and in a blog post at the time I wrote:

(Age of Context) gave pattern and direction, with real life examples and stories, to what I think of as the future we are in right now – exciting for some, scary for others, and a bit of both for everyone in between.

Lethal Generosity has been for me not so much an eye-opener as an ideas-opener and a set of important alerts about business challenges and opportunities.

It has also provided me with an up-to-date framework for speaking confidently with business leaders about the broader business dimensions of contextual technologies.

In the Introduction to Lethal Generosity, the author summarizes what the book is about:

Lethal Generosity explains why the interplay of technology and social changes is causing companies to lose control of their brands just as their customers gain control of them. It argues that this power shift will be good for the businesses that adapt to it faster than their competitors.

More than an update

In Lethal Generosity Shel provides fresh examples of contextual technology at work. But this book is much more than an update of Age of Context, especially in that it provides a fresh, contemporary and forward-looking framework for businesses wanting to invigorate or refresh their strategies to meet the new digital realities.

My paraphrase (using freely some of the author’s phrasing):

  • Social change and technology innovation have created or enabled a power shift, from sellers and brand efforts, to buyers who use social media to influence each other
  • By being kind to your customers at every touch point  you prevent competitor attempts to hijack them through traditional marketing (thus lethal, to your competition, generosity)
  • The key group is Millennials (Gen Y), the first generation of digital natives, who value a culture of sharing and collaboration
  • The mobile device (smartphones etc) is “an essential, omnipresent part of who Millennials are – as shoppers or employees”
  • Technology enables “pinpoint marketing”, customer-centric, highly personalized and at the same time highly scalable

Millennials and Why They Matter

The most significant chapter for me in this book, in relation to my professional priorities of executive coaching and helping business leaders navigate digital disruption, was Why Millennials Matter.

The Millennials, or the Millennial Generation or Gen Y, refers to the generation following Gen X. Millennials birth dates range from the mid 1970s to the late 1980s, or if you believe Wikipedia from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

In brief, Millennials matter (for business) because:

  • There are a lot of them – it’s estimated that in 2015 there will be more Millennials than Boomers
  • Most Millennials make decisions based on peer influence, not brand messages
  • As digital natives, they have an unusually close relationship with contextual technologies
  • They have a more collaborative attitude to business.

This is not a flash in the pan. As the author says:

If you are a business decision maker, then Millennials are likely to be the dominant portion of your customers, employees, and competitors for a long time to come…

A workforce with strong Millennial representation? How would that work?

For employers of an older generation who are interested in the possibilities and challenges of deliberately recruiting Millennials, a couple of interesting examples are provided. Incidentally, I couldn’t help wondering how such a decision might be implemented in some jurisdictions which prohibit age discrimination in employment: a nice challenge for the HR department, no doubt.

And More

There are also the fascinating chapters, with illustrative stories, on the sharing economy (“Uberize Some Things”), location-based technologies (“Location, Location” – “Wherever you go, someone or something knows where you are.”), sensors and location technologies in retail (“Beaconing Customers”), mobile devices and the changing face of transactions (“The Contactless Marketplace”).

And being always interested in having a heads up on “next new things” in business-related technology, I enjoyed the chapter “Beyond the Lighthouse”, about “soon-to-be-offered technologies” which hold out a promise to accelerate the shift of marketplace power towards the customer.

Then in “The Road to Pinpoint” there is an explanation of the fork in the road businesses are now facing (whether or not they realize it), and interesting stories of a process of redefining public relations (PR).

Privacy, What Privacy?

Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of PrivacyNo doubt like many others, when I finished reading Age of Context I wondered seriously whether we might be on a downward slope in the loss of any real privacy. Indeed, the authors, under the heading Privacy is Subjective, observed there that “In the Age of Context we seem to be unnecessarily performing risky tasks without a safety net.” (p 168).

In Lethal Generosity, we are informed that for the Millennials, that key group of customers and employees for the new age, privacy seems to be, relatively speaking, a non-issue. Commenting that “there seems to be a paucity of commentary related to privacy issues” the author observes that “Millennials often consider this issue something to be filed under so what?”

What I Missed

Because I work a lot with professional services companies, I would like to have found some examples of initiatives in that sector.

The key arguments of the book clearly apply to professional services companies, for example about being generous at every touch point with customers and employees, and about acknowledging and working with a “Millennial viewpoint”. But when I think of speaking about technology-enabled lethal generosity with firms of lawyers, say, or financial services companies, or engineering or management consultants, I would love to have some related industry-specific stories of success (or failure-with-learning) I could share with them.

Maybe there are no examples. Maybe such firms are still working on old paradigms. But I suspect there could be some firms doing interesting things in terms of contextual technologies. I’m keen to know more.

Summing Up

As I said at the outset of this post, I will be recommending Lethal Generosity to clients and other business owners.

Because:

  • It’s an absorbing, informative and – in a good way – challenging read
  • The author is a long term commentator on the technology sector and how it affects business, and an accomplished story teller
  • The overarching narrative, of the shift of power from companies and brands to employees and consumers, is clearly delineated and expertly illustrated with real world stories
  • Without preaching or in any way condescending, the author makes a convincing case for every business leader to take time to assess how ready his or her business is to meet the present and impending challenges of the changes documented here
  • If for nothing else, it’s worth reading for the insights and examples about Millennials and their relationship to technology, and what that means for those who want to build relationships with them as consumers or employees, or both.
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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).