My good friend Michael Tiffany once joked that the Golden Rule (treating others the way you'd like to be treated) is myopic and flawed. As he put it, "Why should we assume that others wish to be treated the way we do?" Instead, he argued, we should treat people the way THEY want to be treated. We call this the Platinum Rule.
So the implications of this rule in 1 on 1 interractions are interesting, and I'm guessing, fairly frequently utilized. I ask you whether you'd like to have dinner, I let you order what you like to eat, etc. I buy you presents according to your tastes, not my own.
Where things get complicated is when the relationship is not between two individuals, but instead between groups of individuals. At Second Life, a 3-D online world, we recently launched a radical experiment that highlights some of the interesting features of the Platinum rule. The specifics of this experiment are laid out in Philip Rosedale's Blog, "Vote", but the short version is as follows. Instead of proceeding with development as usual, laying out the product roadmap as we, the experts, see fit, we decided to test some of the hypotheses laid out in James Surowiecki's, "The Wisdom of Crowds'. So we asked our 26,000 users what they thought we should do next.
The results were fascinating. Each user was allocated 10 votes which they could cast as they wished. Users could create new proposals or simply vote for existing ones. Additionally, there was no "Vote Against" feature. In the five days since its launch, 1568 users cast 12,560 votes for 240 proposals. Many things about the results are amazing -- for me the most overwhelming is the absence of trivial/joke proposals and the relative ranking of the proposals. Many of the top 50 were on our roadmap, but a few in the top 10 were not. And just seeing the grass-roots support and being able to quantify it is enormously valuable.
So now we can extend the investigation of the Platinum Rule a little bit. Typically, companies follow a sort of Golden Rule (when they're good. . .). They strategize, do focus groups and sort of guess what their customers want next, weighing those features against their relative financial benefit. And then they build them, releasing the results into the marketplace for the forces of economic Darwinism to decide whether or not they've been clever or stupid. So the Platinum Rule in business shortens the time between guess and result, between hypothesis and result by removing the "company" from the vaunted position of expertise. Instead, you poll your users and rely on the wisdom of the crowd.
Now anyone contemplating such a move towards "giving the people what they want", can attest that this is a gut-wrenching, humbling and somewhat fear-filled process. Why is that?
Without directly answering the question, I will swerve towards the darker underbelly of the Platinum Rule, using as illustration the work of Republican Party master pollster Dr. Frank Luntz . What Luntz (and the pollsters and marketers he's influenced) does is hook get a politician to give a speech in front of a camera. Luntz then assembles a sample audience that resembles the target market. The audience has knobs which they are instructed to toggle to the right or left in real time to indicate postive or negative response as they watch the video. The result is a realtime graph that is superimposed over the video. From this, Luntz and his clients analyze what words or phrases people like and don't like. But the scary bit is that they then either a) find nicer ways of saying things or b) simply change what they say. In short, it's a method for spin and message alteration that is terrifying in its implications. Conviction and credibility go out the window and a politician simply becomes willing to say whatever is necessary to get elected.
So it seems to me that you can divide this into the following categories:
Marketing -----> Corporate Strategy
Politics ----> Governance
And the question really becomes, what happens if companies do exactly what their customers want? Do these companies prosper(I know this sounds so simple, of course they prosper, but why?). What about politics? Shouldn't elected officials be the ones that say they'll do what the majority of voters want? (It's almost a tautology, right?) And shouldn't they do what they've promised?
That's the mystery of the Platinum Rule. . .