The Economist's big conference the Big Rethink was certainly big on presentations (a series of them from 9am to 5pm from the stage) and fairly big on ideas. But the idea which left the lasting impression was the importance of 'small.'
For 'small' read: close, intimate, in-touch, trusted. Even with presentations coming from senior representatives of global companies, such as David Butler, VP Global Design for Coca-Cola, and Christian Hernandez Gallardo, Head of International Business Development at Facebook, the message which resonated was the importance of understanding the local, the need for a "direct" relationship with the customer, and even the value of "meeting people". Or, as this other blogger at the event put it: the importance of the 'social individual.'
Vinay Gupta and Tom Wright from Whipcar stole the show, with their very simple and understated presentation on their fast-growing business which helps people make money by renting out their car to neighbours. (As one of the tweets on the day put it: turning every car-owner into an entrepreneur!) The neighbours might have a car of their own -- but what's to stop them borrowing your faster/bigger/smaller/more luxurious car for the weekend? Whipcar have just appointed a 'designer-in-residence' to help them refine their service offer, which relies on knowing your customer and face-to-face contact, with a strong sense of the local: all cars for hire are within a mile or two of your home.
The other star of the show was Neil Taylor of The Writer. Neil's message was 'keep it simple.' Clear away the jargon -- "imagineering," "ideation," "ahead of the curve" -- which prevents you from saying what you really think and setting out very clearly the risks and opportunities for your client. Short, sharp, clear and direct communication is what people want. Now.
Other speakers who left an impression were Cory Doctorow, science fiction writer, blogger and co-editor of BoingBoing who bemoaned the way in which the information society is becoming dominated by people who "do things without your approval, behind your back" -- and, in so doing, constrain opportunities for self-managed creative exchange.
Arthur Potts Dawson, from The People's Supermarket (for the people, by the people) riffed on 'trust' and 'listening to people,' and included an interesting insight that: "the person who's complaining about your business, might be the one to give you its solution."
All-in-all, a fascinating and challenging set of presentations, from companies large and small, personal and impersonal, with a consistent message: build your business out of local transactions, modeled on trust and understanding.