Meet the sustainability process Walmart is experiencing from the inside out through this encouraging video with its employees and how they are succeeding at getting everyone involved, not just treehuggers.
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Until the sixteenth century, when the sextant was invented, men sailed the seas almost completely blindly. The “technology” employed up to then for determining the vessels’ position in the ocean was a bare dead reckoning, or estimate-based sailing, which depended on a subjective calculation performed by European sailors –then masters of the sea– by combining the distance they believed to have traveled with the direction and power of the winds and underlying currents.
In order to ascertain their position, they took into account the coasts, and traced their routes on the basis of visible geographical features and of their prior travel experience, documented in maps known as “portolan charts”.
On these maps, and with the help of compasses, they drew directional axes to and from the ports (hence the word “portolan”), thus obtaining a precarious orientation which was useful for short distances within sight of the coast, but useless for inter-oceanic navigation.
The sextant allowed mankind to make the great leap in inter-oceanic navigation; thanks to this instrument, sailors were able to calculate their location at sea on the basis of heavenly body-related (instead of coast-related) measurements. These measurements, based on the coordinated projection of heavenly bodies upon Earth, were no longer estimative but particularly accurate, and enabled sailors to locate a vessel sailing the ocean in a map of references.
This new technology enabled sailors to permanently adjust their course throughout their journey.
It is curious that it could take Europeans so long to understand this relationship of the heavenly bodies with Earth, given that on the other side of the planet the Polynesians had understood for centuries that some stars behaved in a special and constant way in the sky, and could thus develop an astrological navigation technique that enabled them to venture thousands of kilometers away and populate the remotest corners of the Pacific, between Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Hawaii and New Zealand.
In his book “Collective Intelligence”, published in 1997, Pierre Levy develops an analogy between this way of sailing and the possibility of mapping (like sailors did in reference maps for inter-oceanic navigation) the space of knowledge, which is the purpose of his book.
Although Levy’s work is prior to the evolution of the Web 2.0 concept, the author suggests that it is possible to determine relationships between individuals according to their preferences and interests and their relationship to the objects of the informatics world. According to Levy, in the Cinemaps –as he calls these possible maps– “it is possible to understand a situation, a dynamic configuration, a qualitative significance space, shared by the members of a collective intellect.”
The new brands map
Eight years after the publication of “Collective Intelligence”, the Web starts to reveal some budding sprouts of the collective intelligence imagined by Levy. Wikipedia and the creation of Linux are just two of them. The anonymous co-creation of a shared knowledge, constantly seeking to perfect and order itself without a single decision or control center, shows the enormous potential the interaction around common interests has in the Web.
Levy’s visionary singularity lies in the possibility of mapping and sailing across that knowledge.
On the basis of these ideas, this parallelism of using the firmament for inter-oceanic navigation begins to make lots of sense.
Folksonomy, tags and the increasing power of search engines, together with the ability to easily share contents and create dynamic information contexts, manage to establish a perfect organization within the anarchy of the Web.
Within this informality, this chaos that establishes a new communications paradigm, the traditional broadcasting technologies, hitherto so successful in creating brands and consumption incentives, cannot find their course or meaning. Unused to interaction and the constant feedback of messages, the traditional communications forms, initially conceived for massive and passive audiences, seem to get lost, or are ignored in the interstellar disorder of this space.
The unidirectional nature of messages, which to a great extent has prevented the establishment of a culture of dialog between audiences and brands, prevents that interaction so typical of the blogosphere, and leads traditional marketing to continue in a sort of “estimate-based navigation” in brand and product positioning.
However, brands are no longer what they used to be, nor do they represent what they formerly were. Consequently, marketing and branding are undergoing a crisis. New measurement instruments are called for.
As envisioned by Levy, within the disorganization of the Web it is possible to establish location references with regard to the companies’ brands, services and products. It is possible to identify conversation and interaction contexts, and brand-relating experiences, which allow for the development of a new navigability map. It is, to sum up, a matter of drawing up a new media map, where brands may co-create themselves in a space that is new and shared with their users, on the basis of dialog, opinion traffic, and experience exchange dynamics.
To continue with the nautical analogy, these contexts may be considered as a series of shining stars that enable us to understand the positioning of brands in the collective ocean of users.
Both the Polynesians and, later, the Europeans understood that of the millions of stars in the sky there are only 57 that can really be used for identifying locations.
Something similar happens in the Web, and it will thus depend on the skills of marketing departments to understand which of these contexts are valid benchmarks and which are not.
Fortunately, the appearance of open platforms such as getsatisfaction.com enable brands and users to establish interactive relationships, in which the latter’s participation, through comments, rankings and the exchange of ideas, gives the references for drawing up a unique and extremely valuable map of the positioning of products and services. It is now in the hands of the companies to accept the challenge of sailing these spaces, making use of the advantages of these references, which represent great opportunities for commercial and product innovation.