Image by Hugh McLeod, the most influential Web 2.0 artist (Not sure if he likes that characterization.)

‘Up in the air’ premiered at an inflection point in the history of corporations. The brightest minds in academia and in the business world have caused terrible suffering in the last two years (and beyond), destabilized the economy and the whole world and sped up the demise of the capitalism as we know it. I don’t believe businesses and their executives had any evil intentions but the fact is that most corporations and big institutions are deeply mistrusted, yes, even despised by most people. If this is not a failure, I don’t know anymore what counts as a failure.

Watching ‘Up in the air’ almost felt like an obituary, remembering the worst excesses of corporate dehumanizing strategies. For people that didn’t see the movie: George Clooney works for an agency that helps corporations fire their employees, and escape the messy situation of having to do it themselves. His job keeps him on the road, rather “up in the air” for more than 90% of the year. The agency hires a recent Cornell grad that proposes the money saving, highly efficient, zero travel requiring idea of firing people over the Internet. Making one of the most humiliating and dehumanizing moments in a person’s life even more dehumanizing.

According to the 2009 Financial Trust Index, only 10% of Americans trust large corporations. In the mid-50s this numbers was around 80%. Corporations now stand for cutting costs, outsourcing, off-shoring, downsizing. It’s pretty obvious that corporations need to salvage what’s valuable in their business practices and models and focus all their energies into a new model: New foundation, new rules, new game:

1) Change your perspective:

Businesses used to look at the world from their perspective: How does it benefit me? How does it benefit the shareholders? How does it benefit the overall organization? Corporate darwinism at its best. And people followed along, slaving away to increase shareholder value. Not anymore. Now, it’s about the needs and desires of individuals. Who can help people to solve their problems, help them with their challenges? Organizations that stay behind the corporate wall will fail. Organizations that step outside, connecting with real people trying to help them will prosper.

2) Stop competing, start collaborating

Yes, C-level executives, you better start talking and co-creating with your competitors or you will fail. New networks will arise that will be more powerful than just one corporate entity. The power of networks will severely diminish the power of corporate organizations. Start building networks with partners that share your vision, values and valuation of transparency and trust. Individuals don’t care about your corporation, they care about their problems.

3) Employees are not resources. They are humans.

While companies should focus on the new consumer, the best way to start is with your own employees. In most industries, they are really all you have. They make or break your company. Cherish them by listening to them. Don’t just buy another piece of social technology because everybody is talking about Enterprise 2.0. Listen to their needs. How can we help them not giving in to Email bankruptcy? How can we make their work life more valuable, exciting and energizing?

The last few years have been tough for many people and businesses. And I’m not diminishing the effect the Great Recession had on so many lives. In order to move forward, we need to experience this inflection point as the biggest opportunity companies ever had. We’re in unchartered territory. No GPS, no Org-Chart will guide us through this messy new world. But, we all feel the current strategies and rules don’t apply anymore. Let’s build this new GPS together. And one day the idea of outsourcing the termination of your own employees will feel like the Berlin Wall: What were we thinking?