The ‘I’ of the beholder

by Philip Boxer
Charlie, Thank you for your last response about distinguishing the impact of differences in context. In Richard’s reply about distinguishing the 3rd asymmetry, he emphasized the dilemma that each asymmetry presents for the supply-side, each asymmetry presenting its own challenge for how the relationship with demand is managed.
But I wanted to pick up on your observation about motivation drivers:

    “My hypothesis is that differences in makeup from person to person have less of an impact on their wants and behavior than the differences in the context that they find themselves in.”

This is okay as long as you can separate the motivation drivers from the way the person ‘reads’ their context. The difficulty is that this is often not possible without imposing some a priori view of the person’s construction of their situation – practical when looking for common perceptions of value of cars or health club services across a number of consumers, but not so practical if considering the particular way in which family situation affects wealth management needs, or the way in which the client business’s strategy affects the way they consider using ICT. It comes down to what you can safely ignore as a supplier.
The thing that distinguishes the first two asymmetries is that they are predicated on being able to ignore the specificities of the customer’s context-of-use, precisely because what is being looked for is a symmetry between the supply-side offering and the demand being attended to on the demand-side – in the case of the first two asymmetries, the supply-side economics require the presumption that demand must be symmetrical. But with the third asymmetry this is no longer the case precisely because the economics have changed as a result of the ability of the technology to sustain power-at-the-edge cost-effectively.
Working with the three asymmetries means that we always have to take into account the impact the ‘I’ of the observer on the way the relationship to the customer’s situation is defined. But with the first two asymmetries, what is particular about the customer’s relation to his or her context-of-use can be aggregated out, so that the ‘I’ can be asserted unilaterally. But with the third asymmetry, it cannot, so that the ‘I’ has to be established collaboratively. This is why it is so difficult to take power to the edge of the organization – it questions the authorization of the ‘I’ of the beholder.

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