Enterprise 2.0: The Customer is the Company

A recent article on the innovative company Threadless in Inc magazine highlights out:

But Nickell is at the vanguard of a new innovation model that is quietly reshaping a host of industries. Whether it’s called user innovation, crowdsourcing, or open source, it means drastically rethinking your relationship with your customers. “Threadless completely blurs that line of who is a producer and who is a consumer,” says Karim Lakhani, a professor at the Harvard Business School. “The customers end up playing a critical role across all its operations: idea generation, marketing, sales forecasting. All that has been distributed.”

This idea goes against a basic principle that has been taught in business schools since the invention of mass production: Employees make stuff, and customers buy it. But this notion seems anachronistic in a marketplace of ever-narrowing niches and nearly unlimited consumer choices. Meanwhile, a generation of so-called Web 2.0 companies has succeeded by encouraging customers to contribute to, and in some cases create, the product being sold. Not only do we have instantaneous access to countless television programs though video websites, but anyone with a YouTube account and a digital camera can create a show of his or her own. Professionally edited, dead-tree newspapers are besieged by digital news sites that are produced and edited by their readers. The 240-year-old Encyclopaedia Britannica finds itself eclipsed — at least in terms of readership — by Wikipedia.com, which pays its writers nothing and requires that they possess no expertise at all.

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