Living in a world where it's difficult to know who to trust is exhausting. It seems to me that there are so many people just hustling to make a buck that I'm constantly on guard. I'm not a hustler. I've never been a hustler. Sure, I know the elements of the hustle (there are enough examples around me) and could probably engage in the types of interactions that put me at an advantage, but what stops me is that I don't think the world needs more hustlers. The world needs more mutual benefits. I was raised in a small town in Alberta. Hustlers didn't really exist. They couldn't. It was a small community and anyone who tried to take advantage of another person's generosity or naiveté would be quickly discredited and made examples of. We all needed to co-exist in a way that everyone had their needs met. Fairness ruled. This experience, though naive in the ways of the wider world, led me to believe strongly in the idea of reciprocity: I give something of value and you give something of value and we both benefit. It was simple.
Since leaving my utopic small town world, I've experienced the Tragedy of the Commons unfolding everywhere. I love big cities - the energy, the excitement, the variety of experiences - but I don't love the disconnectedness between people that exists in big cities. It's a problem of scale. If someone screws someone else over in a small town everyone knows, but if someone screws someone else over in a big city, it's pretty certain that they'll get away with it. If you want to get the word out to warn others, it takes a great deal of time and energy.
So you do one of two things to survive: you become suspicious of everyone you meet or you become a hustler yourself. Millions of people make that decision daily and I don't think either is a particularly happy existence. I believe that people make the decision to hustle to survive and the more hustlers we have, the more tragic the Commons grow. As it grows, we spend more time, money and energy to survive.
When I realized all of this years ago, I set out into the world in hopes that I could make a bit of a difference to change this. That's why I chose marketing. I know, doesn't seem like a natural progression to set out to make the world a happier, less exhausting place and choose a career in selling stuff. But it seemed to me to be the perfect place to disrupt the hustle. The fact is, we live in a society where we often need the services and products that are being hustled to us. If I could establish a voice in the area most associated with hustle and convert the hustle to a mutually beneficial interaction, I thought, perhaps the amount of hustle will be reduced to the fringe and those hustling would realize their strategy was flawed.
Well, it's quite a long haul, this goal. But I don't discourage easily.
I've been excited by the power of online communities for quite sometime now as a key piece to how the hustle can be broken. And for quite a while, it was. But the very medium I felt excited about has become a primary source of hustle. Sure, there is Whuffie and Trust Agents and these important cultural norms help to keep the hustle a little more at bay. But then the hustle co-opts the language and behavior of the culture so it looks less like hustle and we celebrate it ("Yay! Look at how we're changing the world! Coca Cola has a Twitter account and they talk to people!" And "I can get a free sandwich from Burger King if I become their fan on Facebook!") and the new Commons we could have used to break the insanity of it all becomes tragic, too. We are celebrating the hustle and those who hustle are rewarded.
Ugh. I feel as if this Revolution HAS been Televised. Only, instead of television, it's YouTube. I'm not sure what to do from here. I tried, with writing The Whuffie Factor, to provide an example of how mutually beneficial interaction is the right business model going forward. I thought that if I write a book, it would get into the hands of hustlers who would be transformed and decide that we need to change the predator/prey relationship. But it doesn't feel like that's happening anytime soon. Instead, it gives insight into the culture that I adore just enough for hustlers to become wolf in sheep's clothing. Is the issue too deep to disrupt it?
I don't think so. I still have hope. I just need everyone's help. I need everyone who reads this to speak out when you see wolf in sheep's clothing. I need everyone who has any role in the marketing space to really think about the core of the businesses you are working with and bring forward mutually beneficial relationships with your customers. I need to see more examples around me of companies like Zappos and Southwest and Clif Bar, who believe strongly in putting an end to hustling and who want to build businesses based on people (customers, employees, etc) benefiting and who end up being more long term profitable companies because of that attitude.
This world CAN become a happier, less exhausting, less suspicious/hustling place where we can pour our energy into positive ventures, personal health, the pursuit of knowledge and reaching self-actualization. We just need to get real. And put the revolution back on the right track. Let's stop the hustle together.