If you are feeling overwhelmed by the volume of information, options and messages bombarding your daily life, you are not alone. Enter the curator – a role that I believe will become even more dominant in the decades ahead, creating opportunities for individuals and companies alike.
The term curator has traditionally been associated with the experts working at museums who bring together the right collection of pieces to convey new insights into a subject, be it an art movement or geological period. Normally, seeing a part versus the whole of something reduces our understanding. Who would envision an elephant from a tusk? The genius of museum curators rests in their ability to select, from an entire body of work, the right subset to deepen the audience’s understanding of both the part and the whole.
There are many other types of curators all around us. My Penn State and MIT librarians were the fastest route to the articles and reports I needed to write term papers. Nordstrom’s is one of the world’s best merchandisers because they offer the right collections of clothing or home fashions for stylish shoppers. Newspapers curate current news for the broadly curious. What is Google but a woefully inadequate curator of all the information on the web related to your search term?
Why do I call Google woefully inadequate? The beauty of the Internet is that it dramatically widened options. Its curse is that we now have too much choice. In the early years, all we needed was an on-ramp to the information superhighway. As information grew, we wanted a fast way to gather relevant information, which Google did. But as the volume of information grows and grows and grows and grows (and we haven’t seen anything yet), “gathering” is not enough. We want the right information at the right time and place. We need information curators fulfilling this value promise. And Google doesn’t do that.
There are many situations where the right information at the right time and place makes life better. LinkedIn created professional connections when I moved to San Diego. Yelp helps me find great restaurants in new cities. Yet, in NYC where my daughter is looking for a place to live, there are too many search engine options. She turned to a personal broker (aka “realty curator”) when a Craig’s list option, falsely presented, sent her to subway stop where she exited into a dangerous neighborhood.
Two types of curators exist to make life simpler, easier and, by freeing our time for things that matter more to us, better. At one end are the personal curators; at the other end are software curators.
Trunk Club, the Wall Street Journal explained, is applying the Book-of-the-Month Club idea to men’s clothing. The company delivers a box of clothing articles selected by personal stylists to men seeking an expert’s advice on how to pull off a desired personal style, in style. With 15,000+ subscribers and $11 million in venture capital, the business model is working. And just as newspapers missed the threat posed by Craig’s list, omni-channel retailers like Brooks Brothers may overlook this new channel for meeting male shoppers’ needs.
Christopher Steiner’s new book Automate This profiles software algorithms, many of which serve a curator role. Pandora finds music we‘ll like based on music we love. Music XRay compares a song’s structure to past hits to predict a new artist’s market potential, helping record labels find fresh talent. Mattersight takes in your words and tone on the phone to lead you to the right customer service representative for your personality type, helping retailers better serve their customers. No doubt, software algorithms that curate will be to the Information Age what machines were to the Industrial Age.
The challenge facing personal curator business models is, “How do you scale the business model for profitability?” With automated curators, the core business model question becomes, “How do you personalize the answers to meet the unique needs of a person, needs that may not be part of the algorithm’s code?”
The best business models may combine these two options so they can meet the needs of very specific target markets by better understanding the context of the seeker and therefore building a more productive and trusting relationship. Just compare Thomas Reuters to Google to see who better understands the context of the information searcher.
In a world in which customer experience determines who wins and loses the customer’s order, how can you incorporate the idea of a curator into your business models?