— 14 September 2004 —

Put 100 Pairs of Pajamas in Front of 100 Keyboards and Eventually You Will Get Burned

There’s an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (the online edition at least) which uses a very interesting quote (emphasis added).

A watershed media moment occurred Friday on Fox News Channel, when Jonathan Klein, a former executive vice president of CBS News who oversaw “60 Minutes,” debated Stephen Hayes, a writer for The Weekly Standard, on the documents CBS used to raise questions about George W. Bush’s Vietnam-era National Guard service.

Mr. Klein dismissed the bloggers who are raising questions about the authenticity of the memos: “You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of check and balances [at ’60 Minutes’] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.”

Not here to debate the veracity of the documents, nor the fact that Bush is AWOL. What I think is interesting is this idea that one should not trust the feedback from multiple sources that are saying the same thing. Trust is an interesting word here, though for the moment I’d say follow this maxim: Something is true until it’s proved wrong. Then that new thing is true.

Now this idea of listening to feedback and not disregarding it out of hand is something I am familiar with. It’s called usability. No matter what someone says about your product, you respond with, “Thank you for your feedback, we will look into it.” At the point you are receiving feedback during usability, it’s never a lie to say this. It’s just that if only one of your usability participants remarks on something that no one else has a problem with, you may decide to change your mind and not follow up on their issue.

However, when you notice that quite a few participants are giving you feedback on a particular issue, you probably want to look at what you did wrong in the development of the product. Because chances are you did do something wrong. Again, not saying 60 Minutes did anything wrong or right; I am just using this as an allegory of sorts.

While Mr. Klein doesn’t still speak for 60 Minutes, nor CBS, he and CBS exec’s should strongly think about responding to criticism of their product by saying, “We want to thank those in the blogosphere that have written about the quality of our product. We are looking over our development process to quality at all points of production.” Use the word blogosphere because to those in it you will sound a bit more credible. Even if it is one of the crappiest. words. ever.

And so if only one web-based pundit says that you suck, you can decide later to say, “Yeah? Well you suck, too.” No organization should be above playground politics when it is warranted. But when you get quite a bit of feedback from varying sources, it should be a clue to look into the quality of your development processes. And if you really want to earn the trust of your customers, and respect of your peers and competitors, you open up the process to full disclosure.

If you were wrong, you get to point to where the process failed, then show what you will do to make sure it will never happen again. If you are right, you have essentially bitch-slapped the opposition, while increasing the trust level of those who believe in your company and your product. Don’t think being wrong is a failure. This in itself is a failure to understand that a successful company must continuously iterate itself toward a better solution. Being wrong is an opportunity to improve your reputation, mitigate future risk, and just plain ol’ learn.

Perhaps 60 Minutes could stand to have a business log. Sometimes you just can’t wait a week to do a follow up response, nor should you rely on someone who’s no longer with the company.

Initially, I thought I would say something like, “Let this be a reminder?” But I think it is still too soon in the evolution of personal publishing smart mobs to say “reminder.” Instead I will say, “Let this foreshadow?”

Let this foreshadow things to come for antiquated companies that refuse to listen to the feedback of a thousand guys in pajamas (even if one of them wears Bugs Bunny™ slippers). If it helps, think of them as telecommuters who you don’t have to pay.

8 Responses to Put 100 Pairs of Pajamas in Front of 100 Keyboards and Eventually You Will Get Burned

  1. commenter's gravatar.   Martin eloquently responded with:

    Amen.

    You know what ? I think (people in the position of) CBS could just be too proud. Maybe proud is the wrong word… I’ve also had that feeling (and the subsequent urge), when some teenager does something better than I can manage, to say : “Hah, he’s just a little punk who can’t possibly be that good. I get paid for this stuff, I’m obviously better.”

    What I should have been saying is “Wait a sec, this guy’s got something… Let me relook and recheck what I’m doing, I might just be able to improve.”

    No one knows best. Everyone does.


  2. commenter's gravatar.   Matthew Oliphant eloquently responded with:

    I am a “maxim” kind of guy. No, not the magazine. :)

    Something my dad used to say: There’s always someone out there who can do it better than you, in less time, for less money.

    And it never matters what “it” is.


  3. commenter's gravatar.   Phoat eloquently responded with:

    I understand where you are comming from and you are absolutely right. The problem here however is somewhat unique. Bloggers and particularly the internet aren’t considered a very credible source of information as anyone can publish anything. So when CBS has paid a crap load of money for expert opinions and hundereds of hours of research, who will you believe, the man in the pajamas of the person you paid to perform your analysis.

    Its not about what everyone is saying it’s where they are saying it from.


  4. commenter's gravatar.   Phoat eloquently responded with:

    oops should read:

    …who will you believe, the man in the pajamas or the person you paid to perform your analysis?


  5. commenter's gravatar.   Matthew Oliphant eloquently responded with:

    The point where you say that “it’s where they are saying it from” I agree with, but frankly I don’t trust any published source of information completely. With some things I have no choice but to trust (the world is a wobbly sphere of sorts) because I do not have the means to find out for myself, and trusting it doesn’t hurt me (that I know of). With other things I have a choice about trust (like the words that come out of any news reader’s mouth) because I do have the means to find out for myself and because it could hurt me.

    I think the uniqueness of this situation will become much less unique very quickly. There are countless sites that fact check articles written by most of the major news organisations. Theses sites have their bias as much as the news organisations do. The difference for me is that the sites don’t want to sell me anything except their opinion. News organisations want to sell me everything and their opinion.

    To me, it doesn’t matter how much money someone is paid or not paid. I guess my stance is that you can pay one or two people thousands of dollars to tell you something that thousands of people will be able to tell you in probably less time.

    Should CBS have put the docs on their site and said, “Go to it people?” Well, probably not. Based on how they run their business, they did the right process. But the process failed. And I think many news organisations (and business in general) should always look at ways to improve their processes.

    Involving the people that consume your product is a decent, often cheap way of getting to a better solution. Cheap on the wallet, and cheap on the money spent to manage the reputation after a disaster.


  6. commenter's gravatar.   Matthew Oliphant eloquently responded with:

    I think my comment should have been a post. For some reason I have Led Zepplin’s Ramble On in my head. :)


  7. commenter's gravatar.   Eric Lorraine eloquently responded with:

    I think the real point here is that the major media need now watch out for a burgeoning new watchdog: Internet bloggers.

    Previously, should someone have found this discrepancy, he or she could only have alerted the “proper” authority (news media) and the story probably would never have been carried.

    Now, the fact that bloggers have a significant audience (and thus, “pull”) has catapulted this story to the mainstream.

    It’s the same thing we all saw with the Swift Boat Vets, which sort of forced the mainstream media to look at their blogger counter-half.

    Viva la blog.


  8. commenter's gravatar.   Eric Lorraine eloquently responded with:

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