Feedback, Education and the Experience Economy: Can business educate?
Feedback is essential to how nature and business operate. Feedback relates to two or more interconnected systems sharing information to maintain a two-way, symbiotic relationship. Take the human body which relies on cell feedback to achieve homeostasis and survival. In order to maintain a steady concentration of glucose, the pancreas secretes insulin, directing excess glucose to the liver for storage. By way insulin, the pancreas tells the liver that it’s time to go to work. Feedback occurs over and over in the natural world and also in business.
If businesses took advantage of the experience economy and adopted education as a means to foster deeper, interdependent relationships with their customers, could business drive social evolution? Daniel Katz provides some insight to this important and timely question in this guest blog.
Neal’s Yard Remedies is a London based purveyor of organic health and beauty products. Upon entering any of Neal’s Yard’s 40 shops in the UK, you will experience the soothing mélange of aromas wafting throughout the store. You’ll find browsing shoppers who sip on free samples of herbal teas and bi-lingual clerks eager to explain the all-natural ingredients found in their products. Neal’s Yard’s success can be largely attributed to delivering a stimulating and holistic, well-being focused experience.
Neal’s Yard also understands that their success hinges on a society which understands the benefits of a preventative, holistic approach to health-care. Therefore Neal’s Yard does not only generate well-being through in-store and product experience. Since its inception in 1981, Neal’s Yard has offered courses in Natural Health Care such as “Introduction to Herbal Remedies” and “Nutrition for well-being”. These courses enrich the Neal’s Yard experience and empower its customers. In return the company benefits from brand exposure, customer feedback and loyalty. This type of symbiotic relationship not only helps change the nature of business but also creates a more conscious, participatory society.
Coursera is an international consortium of 33 premier universities (Brown, Stanford, Duke, Columbia to name a few), which offer standard semester long courses online for free. In August 2012, after the first four months of operation Coursera reached one million users (faster take-up than Facebook or Twitter) and acquired $22m in venture capital. Of course, Coursera is shaping the future of education but their early success also proves how fruitful investing in education can be for society and social ventures as well as for traditional businesses. Everyday Coursera creates opportunities never before imagined for anyone with an internet connection.
Even corporate giants, Nike and Natura are investing in education. Nike has recently partnered with the UK’s Department for International Development to promote equal athletic opportunity for adolescent girls in developing countries. Natura, Brazil’s leading cosmetics company maintains a plethora of partnerships which promote education, including ones with Brazil’s Ministry of Education and Khan Academy. By making education central to the evolution of their business, it is clear that Nike and Natura believe in a mutually reciprocal approach to developing the community and their brand; a more participatory approach to business.
Grameen Danone is yet another company which uses education to empower the community and in the process develop its brand. A spin off of Groupe Danone, Grameen Danone sells a vitamin enhanced yogurt called Shokti Doi or Strength Yogurt to malnourished children in Bangladesh. They market Shokti Doi primarily through village meetings and events to promote nutritional education and awareness. Shokti Doi strategically employs women who sell Shokti Doi in the same villages in which they live. This opens Grameen-Danone to feedback and the serving customer needs.
These companies show that leveraging the experience economy and investing in education can garner trust and create open feedback loops between society and brands. It is not enough to connect with society by simply selling a product or service. We are participants not simply consumers of products and services. The product/service provider relationship can empower us and create symbiosis. Like insulin, education can be a powerful catalyst in the pursuit of harmony in complex systems. Education will be inherent for businesses of the future because however small the lesson, successful products and services will teach the beneficiary how to make the world a more harmonious place to live.
To explore ‘business inspired by nature’ further, join the Face Book community here
Daniel Katz is studying for a Master of Social Entrepreneurship at Hult International School of Business. Focused on leading by example and driving social enterprise into the mainstream, Dan envisions a business world based on reconnecting people with their original nature.