retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Columnist Thomas L. Friedman had a terrific piece in yesterday's New York Times in which he wrote about a recent trip to "two of America’s greatest innovation hubs - Silicon Valley and Seattle" - and how the trip left him "feeling a combination of exhilaration and dread."

To get the whole story, simply click here. But for the purposes of this column, let's focus on an encounter that Friedman had with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and two important statements that the e-commerce pioneer made.

1. Bezos said that one of the things happening right now in technology is the "elimination of gatekeepers," as it is made easier than ever "to publish your own book, start your own company and chase your own dream. Never have individuals been more empowered, and we’re still just at the start of this trend."

2. Because of this trend, Bezos told Friedman, the role of leadership has to change. "You have to think of yourself not as a designer but as a gardener," he said, "seeding, nurturing, inspiring, cultivating the ideas coming from below, and then making sure people execute them."
KC's View:
Bezos is absolutely right about how the balance of power is shifting to the consumer. While there will be some retail venues - such as the supermarket industry - where this shift will be less apparent in the short term because of the nature of the products, the fact remains that a consumer empowered in the rest of his or her life is going to have raised expectations for every kind of shopping experience. And all retailers are going to have to meet those expectations if they are going to be perceived as relevant.

I also love the imagery of the leader as gardener. That's a powerful metaphor, because it puts the emphasis where it belongs - on the people and ideas on the front lines. It isn't entirely a new concept - people like Feargal Quinn and Jim Donald have been successfully gardening in their organizations for years, even though they may not have used this particular image.