Jun 26, 2008

The Long Tail - Implications for HR and Consulting

Yes, I’ve been reading the Long Tail by Chris Anderson and thinking about it. Well actually I read it for about 2 days and I’ve been thinking about the various implications about it. It also reminded me of a book written in the early 70s – Positioning. Yes, the same marketing breakthrough that Ries and Trout put together.


But back to the Long Tail.


The premise of the book is simple. The era of big hits is over in many industries. Economic necessity and physical space limited choice of the niche and the super-niche. Which is why the big hits were popular. And people connected with each other over the shared experience of the big hit.


Now however, the cost of carrying the niche is dropping. Anderson quotes examples like Amazon, eBay, iTunes to buttress the point that pure digital content is ensuring that the author who sells less than a thousand books is also listed along with an author who sells in the hundred thousands.


Anderson also takes the Wikipedia example, and says that as we move more and more into the probabilistic age, we will find more and more things to debate and get uncomfortable with. More here http://www.thelongtail.com/the_long_tail/2005/12/the_probabilist.html


However as Organizational Consultants and HR people we know that human systems are probabilistic too and there are no ‘right/wrong’ ways to take decisions. Cognitively. Yet we keep searching for the A list player who will walk in and rescue the day. Something tells me that in the emerging world of work, when consultants and free agents are going to form more and more of your ‘productive’ workforce, the efforts of work will also go the long tail way.


As HR people are we concentrating on the tail at all?


Maybe not.


Do we have to as the tail will keep getting fatter? Of course, but we still don’t know how.


Of course, one may reason that in a truly virtual enterprise like Wikipedia there are no HR people. There are moderators however who stick to the big rules of the system.


In an ideal workplace you would not have the need for HR people. People would take ownership for hiring and training their team members and developing them. A self organizing system would self-correct too, and while it might look chaotic it would work.


As HR people and Organizational Consultants what can we do to help our people transition and make sense of this age?