Book as process, not product

I had an absolute ball at Jeff Puliver’s Soccomm confab today not just presenting What Would Google Do? – the PowerPoint – but turning it into a collaborative brainstorming session and jokefest imaging the Googley restaurant.

I didn’t have to ask for suggestions about what makes a Googley restaurant, the room of hypersavvy online social folks started yelling out suggestions and it just got better from there. I saw video cameras going and I hope someone recorded it; the ideas and gags were great (some ended up on Twitter). There was discussion about a marketplace for food, about people who send more business to the restaurant eating for less, and more. And there was one joke about Google having us eat cookies so it knows where we go and another about – pardon me – analyzing the toilet bowl as a source of user-generated content. (Cue rim shot.)

At the end of it, I said this is why books need to become more processes and less products, because the room wrote a great chapter, just as you did on this blog about insurance, which is today’s 30 Days of WWGD? snippet (snippets, actually):

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As I was researching this book, I wrote on my blog that I had come up against a few industries I thought were immune from reform through Googlification. Insurance topped my list (we’ll get to the others shortly).

Insurance is built on getting us to take a sucker bet—a bet even we want to lose. Nobody wants a reason to collect collision, fire, flood, health, or certainly life insurance. Worse than Vegas, we know that insurance companies stack the deck against us; that is the foundation of their business. If we don’t collect, we are losers (we’ve lost our money). If we do collect, we’re still losers (something bad happened). If the insurance company pays out too much and goes out of business, then those of us who paid in still lose. We can’t win. The industry has to suspect that we are liars, making us prove our misfortune and reluctantly giving us back the money we put in the pool. They make the economics overcomplicated so we don’t know just what suckers we are and so we keep making safe bets—safe for the insurance company. Our relationship with insurance is, therefore, necessarily adversarial and built on mutual mistrust. How incurably unGoogley.

My readers disagreed. A few dozen of them left comments on my blog arguing that insurance can reform, and they showed me how. Here are excerpts from the conversation and my education. (Let this chapter be an object lesson in the power of open, collaborative thinking.)

The first comment came from Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow, Small Is the New Big, Tribes, and other business best sellers, who scolded me: “Think bigger, Jeff!” He provided a few examples of social insurance. First:

20 Korean families pool finances and open businesses one at a time?.?.?.??each member of the group has a huge incentive to help each business succeed, so they can get the money when it’s their turn. Imagine insurance being created in a coordinated fashion, with each member of the coop working to decrease the risk of everyone in the pool.

A commenter from France, Bertil Hatt, said the Mutuelle Assurance Instituteur France (MAIF) lives by some of these principles of mutual benefit, providing insurance as well as services, such as home and child care. Premiums are higher than average, she said, but lower for the young, the poor, and students. “How can they make it?” she asked. “Thanks to an implicit contract: When you get richer, you stay with them not only for the service, but because you believe in their way.” Insurance becomes a collective, though private, good.

Godin next talked about smart devices that might need less insurance. Cars with better brakes can cost less to insure if they keep us safer and also cost less to repair and to warranty—which, again, is a form of insurance. Godin took the idea a step farther and suggested that “smart products come with their own insurance because they’re so much better and talk to each other.”

When cars know where they are and where trouble might be, or when they integrate with each other and their drivers and the roads and the police, shouldn’t insurance get better? . . .

Scott Heiferman, founder of Meetup, also brought historical perspective to the discussion, writing a brief manifesto for change in the coming decade, chock full of hip blog references (the “social graph” to which he refers is what Mark Zuckerberg calls the architecture of personal connections on Facebook):

Historically, when people are free to assemble & associate, they self-organize insurance, cooperatively. Later it became the centralized, professionalized industry we know today. I predict there’ll be some kind of massive craigslistification of insurance by April 27, 2018. It’s about de-institutionalization—not from the government borg (social security), not from the corporate borg (AIG). The New Social [graph] Security. Decentralized, self-organized. Not just DIY, but DIO (Do It Ourselves). That is the big theme for everything now.

There is the great promise and power of the Google age: DIO. . . .

This vision came from my readers. They applied the internet’s new ways to old problems to see what could be improved. They believed that more transparency in marketplaces would yield greater value. They believed that adding social elements—the interests and pressures of a community—would increase value. They told me that handing control to the market would increase trust, and insurance is about trust. So they proposed networks of mutual need and service that diminish if not eliminate the middlemen.

I’m proud to say that I didn’t come up with these ideas. My generous readers did. They were my insurance against an empty chapter.