In the last Millennium, the tallest man-made temple tower (216 feet) on earth was supposed to be Tanjore Big Temple, now a UNESCO world heritage monument, located in Tamil Nadu, India. The 1000th birthday of the temple, built by Chola emperors in 1010 A.D, was celebrated just last month. And an exhibition was organised, as part of the celebrations. However, the star attraction of the exhibition was a model depicting Kudavolai, a free and fair election system, introduced by Chola rulers 900 years ago. As per the system, citizens elected their village leaders by writing the names of their nominees on palm leaves and dropped them in a big pot. Either a lot was conducted or counting was done to elect leaders. Kudavolai was perhaps the first “free and fair election” conducted in the recorded political history of the world, and possibly a forerunner of democratic elections and democracy itself.
The momentum of voting, which has its roots in several of such historic political settings, is now entering the domains of business to make money making a democratic process. Not that vote is new to businesses – there are shades of voting in shareholder and board meetings. But with the emergence of social media-led co-creation, voting is used in everything from what goes into a product to what goes into management. Dell’s IdeaStorm is a great example of companies directly seeking votes from their customers to decide what to produce. At Ideastorm you can not only contribute new product ideas but also review and vote the product ideas for Dell to produce. Dell has recently won Altimeter Group’s Open Leadership Award for “continually pushing the boundaries of social business by pushing engagement into all areas of their business practice.”
As envisaged by Professor C K Prahalad, a great management thinker of this century, who coined the word “co-creation”, we are witnessing “the democratisation of the industry”, where “companies are built for, by and of people”. And the system of seeking the votes of consumers (and stakeholders) is already proving to be a competitive advantage of businesses. McKinsey calls this trend “Big Data” – “the process of collecting and using inputs of every customer interaction and transaction”. To quote McKinsey, “Web-based companies, such as Amazon.com, eBay, and Google, have been early leaders, testing factors that drive performance-from where to place buttons on a Web page to the sequence of content displayed-to determine what will increase sales and user engagement”.
Thus votes are sought indirectly too – from the consumers verdicts in the form of their buying decisions and transactions too. And hence, “vote leadership” should become the focus of companies that are till now thinking of thought leadership, if they are to co-create using social media.