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 / Autumn 2009 / Issue 56(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Thought Leader Interview: Tim Brown

And then it changes the way you think about the people who buy your products and services. There are essentially two economic models for a company today. The first is a conventional consumerist approach, offering goods and services with no engagement other than producing and marketing. This consumerist model has encouraged a passive relationship with consumers; people expect products and services to be delivered, purely in exchange for money, with no effort or engagement on the individual’s part.

But the most attractive products and services require active engagement. For example, you can’t join a social networking Web site without actually engaging with other people in that network. I call the second model the “participation economy” in my book — it’s an economy based on people engaging, seeking influence, and taking part far more assertively in their consumption. Companies need to provide platforms that support this — by letting people more actively participate in the outcomes that they’re looking for, which are a healthy and productive society and reasonably healthy and long lives.

We see lots of opportunities for this approach in health care. For example, if I were a consumer with a platform of electronic medical records available that gave me better information about myself and the ability to connect services together, I could build a team of people who supported my health and who could see one another’s messages to me. That could serve as a participation platform. Tax policies could encourage this sort of health-care platform. And it would move resources away from fixing problems to preventing them.

It’s relatively easy to imagine this sort of platform in health care. (See “A Better Model for Health Care,” by Gary D. Ahlquist, Minoo Javanmardian, and Sanjay B. Saxena, s+b, Autumn 2009.) And similar platforms could exist for customers in a variety of industries, including transportation and food. In each case, when it’s easier to see their options, people will tend to make better decisions. Getting there is not just a matter of economics or policy; it takes better design.

Reprint No. 09309

Author Profile:

  • Art Kleiner is editor-in-chief of strategy+business and the author of The Age of Heretics (2nd ed., Jossey-Bass, 2008).
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