If you build it, he will come

For whom the title doesn’t ring a bell: it is the catch phrase from the 1989 movie ‘Field of Dreams’, starring Kevin Costner. Long story short: He’s a farmer in Iowa whose property is about to be repossessed by the bank. A voice tells him to fallow his cornfield and build a baseball field instead. The voice reassures him that if he builds it, he will come.

I love that movie, but too often I see how the thinking from the movie is applied to real life, real business. Just recently I read the retail vision for the region Leiden, in which plans are unfolded to restructure and revitalise retail in the region. I commend that. However, gathering from the documents, I feel one important voice is missing. Government, educational institutions, and entrepreneurs worked together to realise this vision, but where was the customer’s voice in all this?

It appears to be a typical if-you-build-it-he-will-come-situation, in which parties with a vested interest decide on what it is that the customer wants, build it and then expect the customer to show up, just because it is there. If you build it, he will come. We also see this approach applied in politics and many other fields.

I desperately feel the need to say: Guys, it was a movie! And mind you, a movie from a quarter of a century ago. This approach might have worked in the 80s and 90s, but today it is a whole different ball game. Things changed in the 21st century and are still changing.

Today, you don’t get to decide what the customer wants. People can and will decide what it is that they want. And people have ways of telling you what they think of your ideas and decisions, and ways of mobilising others.

As Ramaswamy & Gouillart so eloquently put it, customers are too often thought of as passive recipients of processes designed by organisations. Processes that are not optimised for them, and cannot be influenced by them either, leading to mediocre experiences. However, giving customers the latitude to redesign their interactions can change the quality of their experience. Keywords here are: co-creation, collaboration, whole system change, bottom-up.

If you build it that way, he will come.

Give me a call at Creative Scrum or drop by for a chat, if you want to know more.