As Mark Twain said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”…
Last night, my very wonderful dear friend and I visited the Linden Memorial created by Codie. Much more than an exhibit, the Linden Memorial is a powerful statement. It honors and perhaps even foreshadows something of a much larger magnitude than appearances might indicate. Displayed within the Memorial is the name of each Linden who collectively constitutes the 30% of LL’s staff to be laid off. The Linden Memorial is deeply impactful; Codie’s sim where it is housed fully packed last night as I imagine it will be for a while. It was profoundly difficult to view line after line of tombstones, each etched with the name of a Linden who have been laid off. It was profoundly saddening to gaze upon Linden bears leaning against the headstone. It was downright upsetting to see in the crowd a ghosted presence hovering nearby with a name tag that read “SL Gives You Wings.”
I don’t normally engage in a global display of emotion. Frankly the invasiveness of the internet and the predisposition of the Age to seize upon a 140 character context when the actuality of that context is probably more along the lines of several adult years worth gives massive weight to the phrase: “think before you speak.” But on this topic of SL’s shifting direction, I have been thinking a great deal as many of us have been for well over a year. The Linden Memorial compels me to put voice to my own internal rant and rambling (yes this is a disjointed ramble as the Mark Twain quotes suggests) and upset at LL’s strategic confusion, its role in impacting the inworld culture, along with our own role in impacting the culture. I’ve never bought the uncompromising positions that minimize or completely avoid acknowledging the full extent of the inworld community. Statements like “LL never does anything wrong…it’s a business doing the best it can and who are we to criticize them.” Or the “I’m a responsible victim…what I do is important yet I’m helpless and couldn’t possibly be any kind of factor to anything ‘unpleasant’.” Abdicating responsibility on either end of this relationship is incomplete. Such a stance does nothing more than deny the very existence of the full organism. The resident-avatar-personhood (choose your label for the customer)-LL relationship is a profoundly symbiotic one, of a very rare sort. I’m not at all certain anyone could easily name all that many businesses beyond the business of SL where customers had such a far reaching (not “controlling” but far reaching) collaborative role in building and defining the company’s entire product, source of differentiation, and experience.
I share the community feeling of sadness over the fact that so many real people lost their real incomes in one fell swoop. Like everyone, I hope they find other work immediately or near immediately despite a very tough economic climate. I share a sense of foreboding around the underlying implications of what the 30% lay off might really be signalling in terms of LL’s intended vision for SL. It’s difficult to not think that this more than suggests that what we’ve all created together is being impacted in deep, but not necessarily good ways: an inworld experience that is less and not more, that is flatter and not richer, that is increasingly homogenized and not diversified, that is held hostage to the Tyranny of Conformity, to the Holy Grail Tyranny of Scaling (with no apparent rationale for it other than to chase Size for the sake of Size). World domination without a vision simply isn’t a business model, isn’t meaningful, isn’t engaging, isn’t compelling. It’s not even in demand. It broadcasts only negative motivations (greed, megalomania) without indicating any value it might attempt to (or not even attempt to) provide to the market. Even Google has a vision: to free information for everyone and to not do evil in the process. Whether or not they hit the metrics implicit in the vision is another question but at least they articulated a vision that focuses on a value to the market that is also based upon the company’s own very real strengths. In this case of SL and LL, that kind of focus is the very thing that appears to be tossed carelessly aside (the first tell of that was with attempts to “sanitize” individuals and quarantine cultures inworld). What are the things that make SL special and different? In a simple sentence (for purposes of clarity, not for purposes of dumbing down) how would that be articulated? Instead of taking a reactive position, constantly chasing after faster-than-everyone shiney markets that are fascinated today with the depthlessness of things (aka, Farmville some would say) until that same faster-than-everyone market tires of it, LL should do the more strenuous the more meaningful, in fact, the more vital work of TRULY knowing and articulating what SL already does better than anyone else *and* what that thing is (or things are) that its customers LOVE. It’s not an either-or proposition. It needs to be both. It simply has to be both. Knowing what customers love and knowing what it is about what LL’s customers love that LL does better than its competitors is the basis for building a vision. This “magic” equation, this more organic sense of business strength is where the focus should be, not on an empty focus of chasing volume for the sake of volume. Size and strength are simply not always the same thing. Reaction and Vision are not interchangable terms.
I keep finding myself listening again to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talks that I posted yesterday (and that aired in February 2010) on the need to revolutionize education…really to revolutionize thinking and learning. To move away from an industrialized, standardized mindset that is steeped in conformity and that chases volume and instead move back to an agricultural mindset that places its focus on creating the optimal conditions for things to flourish…an organic non-linear growth generated from the combination of the best conditions (strengths) and nurturing (doing more of what customers love). From its earliest onset, SL was so incredibly far ahead, so incredibly visionary in embracing the organic approach, in nurturing Uncommon Thinking and Doing. It can be scary standing that far ahead alone, waiting for others to catch up. But isn’t that really a stronger, more authentic position to be in? A place of genuine strength, a place where your customers love you to be and love to be with you? Instead of trying to wall off, or dumb down, or chase Size purely for the sake of chasing Size?