Sunday, 12 February 2012

Facilitators and Institutions Defined

The distinction between 'facilitators' and 'institutions' is a theme that has emerged quite strongly in this blog and is discussed in Chapter 2 of Lipstick On a Pig. In essence, I've defined "facilitators" as organisations that exist to solve their customers' problems; and "institutions" as organisations that exist to solve their own problems at their customers' expense.

To be more specific, I've extracted the following characteristics that I believe mark an organisation as being one or the other. Broadly, these characteristics group into themes of alignment, openness, adaptability, transparency and responsibility.

So, a 'facilitator' is organised to solve its customers’ problems, operates openly, adapts well to changing circumstances, is committed to transparency and takes responsibility for the impact of its activities on the wider community and society.

I update this post from time to time and am interested in any comments you may have.

  • exist to solve problems that their customers encounter day-to-day as part of wider end-to-end activities (i.e. customers don't 'pay' or 'bank', they make a payment as a single step in a much longer purchase process);
  • don't presume to 'own' the relationship with people who use their products, and see customers as the controllers of that relationship;
  • accurately define real problems, assess their real scale, identify root causes and implement proportionate, efficient solutions;
  • view the world through the eyes and experiences of people who use their products;
  • seek feedback, welcome input and criticism;
  • interact well with users in open forums;
  • are highly adaptable and responsive to criticism; 
  • see uniqueness, change and adaptability as a source of competitive advantage;
  • work to simplify their products and users' experience;
  • their terms and communications are clear, fair and not misleading;


  • Exist to solve their own problems at the expense of 'their customers';
  • View the world through the lens of their own products (whether goods or services), rather than the activities in which users are engaged when acquiring or using those products;
  • Regard themselves as controlling the relationship with users. 
  • Resist criticism and change – believing that their own processes, judgement and publicity should prevail;
  • Impose their own views on staff and 'their' customers, top-down;
  • Mandate the use of their own add-on services, even where these are inferior those available from third parties; 
  • See running with the herd, or 'fast-following' as a source of competitive advantage;
  • Rely on cross-subsidies to distort the attractiveness of new products;
  • Their terms and communications tend to be unduly complex and legalistic;
  • Avoid addressing the impact of their activities on the wider world.

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