You’d be hard pushed to find a more powerful source of human incandescence than that of Desire.
Most humans once seized upon by a fierce Desire, (quenchable, drenchable or otherwise) would struggle to not glow like embers or light up like a Christmas Tree.
But equally, incandescence is a volatile and unstable thing in its base form. It is as likely to illuminate a life as it is to burn down a house, so must always be treated with the greatest caution and respect.
A powerful and singular Desire, initially so exquisitely turned out: seductive, rich, complex and compelling, can quickly lose its form, focus and potency, becoming fleeting, deceptive, destabilising, and in some ways almost manipulative – one moment all consuming, profound substantial and irresistible: a twisted echo or hollow memory the next, whispering in our ear.
It is one of the cruel polarities of life that Desire, especially when ignored, demeaned, spoiled or thwarted, can become a very destructive force – one of the most turbulent, psyche-ripping, heart-trouncing, confidence-destroying, life-diminishing experiences in our human condition.
We do not take it well! And it makes us act in irrational, random and unexpected ways.
So Desire. Powerful, yes; BUT its got form. Tricky. Volatile. Fluid. Uncontrollable. Fragile.
A singular Desire is of course not the only model. Desire has many forms, natures and universes. Not all Desire is so singular, egocentric, unfettered and prone to flip-flopping and flailing all over the place, at the drop of a rather existential hat. Some Desires are quiet; considered; evolving over expansive periods of time and frames of context. Others are a dynamic shifting mass: loose ecosystems of smaller desires, likes, preferences, needs and wants; splintered, fractured, fractual. A brilliant constellation with fluid and adaptive qualities.
But for now let’s concentrate on one very particular nature of Desire and the context in which it exists: that of human consumption and the systems and organisations that meet its rapacious and accelerating demands.
Desire in its 20th Century Consumer form was well served by multiple businesses and the brands they created. Most importantly the Desire was one dimensional: of a linear and modal kind. A singular Desire, in the form of an unmet consumer demand for a particular product or service, was either revealed or identified through intuition, experience, market research or in the absence of anything else, confected out of thin air in a marketing consumer insight department and then seeded in the mind of the unsuspecting consumer.
Once identified, every atom of the business was put in service to meet the needs of that one Desire. The whole operational infrastructure and systemic nature and capability of the brand and business was set into motion to against it. The sentiment and sensibility of every other person in the chain other than that of the Consumer – the font of all revenue opportunity – was set aside, ignored, or suppressed; viewed as at best, secondary, or at worst, irrelevant.
The Desires (and disappointments) of any individual or group dwelling in the Supply Chain that provided the material, resource, operational systems and manufacturing tools were also secondary – and someone else’s problem.
The Value Chains that developed around the Supply Chain to extract clear measures of additional value in every link in the chain, were focused wholly on controlling and securing in absolute terms the direct cost of resources (human and material), the executive overhead, operational running costs, the logistics of distribution and the indirect fixed contracting of supplier partners, especially when operating across multiple sites and geographies across myriad countries and cultures.
The ability to secure the base cost of delivering increasing value in every link of the chain was the way by which a company both improved its productivity and profitability. And it did it by controlling everything. Even the desires and the voices of those that worked within it.
The insular unconnected and disparate nature of the old world was highly convenient for those who wished to quash any form of desire that might destabilise that link in the chain’s ability to deliver itself at a projected and secured cost amenable to the larger commercial target and deliverable margin.
The very fact that these various sites and sources of production were localised, isolated and unconnected to every other stakeholder in the chain by anything other than their place in that chain meant that the desires of the workforce and the local communities in which they lived could be considered incidental. They remained for the most part invisible, unheard and often unmet. It is fairly telling that the managerial department allocated solely to ensuring and upholding the wellbeing of people required to populate and sustain any Value Chain were identified as a Support Activity in Value Chain models.
But those Desires cannot be ignored anymore. In the 21st century, the consumer’s Desire is not the only one that must be respected, elevated and pored over.
Technology and the social networks have unchained the value chain, giving voice and a podium to every Desire of every person (or stakeholder if you prefer) along the chain, Supply, Value or Otherwise. And they cannot be simply ignored anymore.
Now, Desire has got a smart phone, 6 email accounts, a facebook page, a twitter, instagram and youtube account. And Desire is getting busy.
Desires, individual and collective, in every corner of the globe are now connected. They’ve got access. They’ve got volume. And they are using the social networks to act with fierce purpose against brands and businesses they feel demonstrate an arrogant lack of respect for the human rights and dignities of their customers, employees, suppliers or partners. Once fired up, these consumer activists will harry and pursue the perpetrators regardless of emollient PR releases and promises – as the likes of Apple and Foxconn found out in no uncertain terms. These massed, noisy and high profile actions are now proven to have a direct impact on the measures of integrity held in high esteem by brands and businesses – NPS, The Reputation Study – and more importantly by the investors who fund their ambitions.
So the volatility, flux and turbulence of kaleidoscopic Desire is now at work in the world along very link of the Chain. And they are testing the resilience of those chains, and buffeting the previously tightly controlled and secured value and margin each link in the chain delivers. Adaptive governance must now include the ability to absorb the turbulence these points of social flux and volatility present.
In this way, the 21st Century world of accessible, affordable tech and the social networks they fuel are giving rise to a new chain – the Desire Chain – a value chain populated by individuals with dreams, expectations and rights as important and potent and ultimately as capable of creating value and growth as the old singular desire of the Consumer in the 20th Century.
So here’s to brands embracing a new chain model – the Desire Chain – one that is made incandescent and more resilient by respecting and elevating the desires of every stakeholder in its chain, to mutual benefit and a more secure future for all.
The essay upon which this blog is based, ‘The Value Chained Unchained‘, explores the nature and impact of technology and the social networks on the old Value Chain models and sets out the need for a new model based upon ever-evolving highly adaptive points of Mutual Desire and Shared Resilience.
The Value Chain Unchained by J Borra is to be published by Shared Value Chain Consultancy as part of a compendium of essays on Sustainable Value Chains. Editor: Michael D’heur