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Systems thinking and the individual

Posted: 08.16.13

Companies and users are not on the same page

Recently, I wrote an article in CGW about Adobe’s march to subscription and a long time Adobe customer sent a simple terse comment: ain’t ever going to subscribe, ever, she said. She, like so many people, hates the idea of renting software and of not owning it. She said she has been a dutiful customer who upgraded her software regularly but she’s drawing the line at subscription.

Adobe has said CS 6, the last Creative Suite version, will continue to be available for an indeterminate period of time, which is generally understood to mean a long time, a time so long that everyone will be subscribing to all their software and the question will be moot. From now on, though, any new creative tools from Adobe will only be available on a subscription basis.

I asked my correspondent, who relies most heavily on Photoshop, if she planned to move to Corel or Gimp or another product. She said she’s bought CS 6 and she’ll hang on to it. She’ll play chicken with Adobe and if they don’t relent, why yes she would use another program. “There are plenty of other programs that can do what Photoshop does,” she said. She thought she’d probably opt for Corel.

We also happened to talk to Corel lately and the company says they see no subscription licensing plans in their future. They said they’ve polled their client base and they found the huge majority of them do not want subscription. This isn’t much of a surprise, Corel wasn’t offering much of an incentive for subscription other than regular updates and their products are considerably less expensive. Interestingly, though, Corel was asking because they too found the idea of subscription attractive.

What we have here is a failure to communicate

There is a schism in our high tech communities between the little guys and the big guys, between companies who think in terms of systems and people who are just shining their little light.

In the case of large companies like Adobe (and Autodesk, and SolidWorks, and Salesforce.com, and any large company including Corel for that matter) they’re looking at their customers as something who are like a herd. So, they wonder, what can we do for them? Why aren’t they happy? What do they want? They tend to be thinking of the greater good. No one wants subscriptions, everyone wants regular updates, etc. They’re grow to love this wonderful thing we’ve created for them. Meanwhile, the individuals working away in the trenches raise their heads when someone throws an errant shovel full of dirt at them and they wonder, hey, everything was just fine why’d ya have to mess things up?

What was the latest user rebellion against Microsoft but a reaction of end users who were not consulted about some wonderful new changes to the operating system that has come to define their working lives. It seems as if Microsoft even doesn’t even bother doing a focus group to see how people navigate new software, or how they find new features. It’s not surprising, but it is another shovelful on the head.

Not everyone hates Windows 8, though I’ve never heard outside of Redmond, Washington stand up proudly and say they absolutely love it. And, Adobe does seem to have plenty of people who have bought into the subscription idea. Large companies for instance may like the idea of subscription because whole lots of software for a low monthly price means savings for them and predictability. Those end users might be thrilled have updates and access to any tool they want.

TV is ripe for disruption – it has been for a long time, but the Internet has only just now gotten to a point where alternative methods of broadcast are available … and relatively cheap. Has anyone asked audiences whether they just want a better system to replace the old? More subscriptions?

Younger audiences don’t even seem to think of TV in the same way their parents do. They don’t accept a service, they pick and choose different forms of entertainment. Even Facebook, which regularly irritates their users with systematic changes and assaults on customer privacy, is starting to look pretty old school.

As this is being written, I’m at SXSW’s latest venture, V2V in Las Vegas. The revolution is here. C’mon out of those trenches. Social media, online services, open source tools, crowd funding, even rebuilding your own city, are all subjects open for discussion. Here, take these tools and change the world and watch out for those shovels of dirt.