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What We Can Learn From Scott Cook

April 28, 2009

by Emily Meinhardt
What We Can Learn From Scott Cook

Most Forum readers probably don't know who Scott Cook is.  But people in the real world--you know, people who don't have their parents do their taxes for them--will definitely be familiar with Cook's software creations, namely QuickBooks, Quicken, and TurboTax (yes, shameless self-promotion). As part of the Drucker Centennial Series, Scott Cook came to speak to a Claremont audience (sponsored by the Drucker Institute, held in Balch Hall at Scripps, but attended by more CMCers than any other undergraduate institution).  Aptly titled, "Harnessing the Power of Many," the talk (excuse me, "conversation") focused mostly on user-generated content/business ideas, such as eBay, Yelp!, Wikipedia, and craigslist--companies where the users create the value and corporate employees simply organize it (rather than supply, design, or manufacture it).

And Cook seems to have harnessed it himself: during the Q&A portion, he deferred to the audience at least 2 times.  First when the moderator, Rajiv Dutta, asked him a question and then later with a question from an audience member.  It didn't seem like he deflected the questions because they made him uncomfortable, but rather that he truly believed in the power of crowd-sourcing and that the answer was contained somewhere within the audience, rather than within his own entrepreneurial experience.

Which is surprising, given his substantial business experience. He started his career at Proctor & Gamble as a brand manager and also worked at Bain & Company.  (By the way, Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, current gubernatorial candidate for California, and the first speaker in the Drucker series, also did time at P&G and Bain.  Both of them are super successful business people.  Now, two does not a pattern make, but still interesting to note.) And just like those other user-generated companies, Cook's company changed consumer behavior.  Before, people sat down with their W2s and struggled with the arcane tax code, or had their accountant do it for them.  Cook made it easier for the average person to do his own taxes.  Even though they had to buy the software, the quality of customer service and Intuit's dedication to the entire customer experience (even the process of removing the shrink wrap) changed the way people they did their taxes.

Now Cook did use his own background and experience to provide some insights for the audience. Most notably, he offered a working vocabulary of the tech business that Econ 50 won't teach you (no, not 134 or 191 either) which you'll need to make lots of money in the near future. You should know what the network effect is.  And what the Consumer Electronics Show is.  What a wiki is (beyond Wikipedia).  What open source means.  And of course why all these concepts are important for the future of business.

But maybe this event's more important takeaway wasn't a lesson for you or me, but some questions for the Athenaeum.

In the process of writing this, I realized, much to my surprise, that I enthusiastically enjoyed both Drucker events.   But what's more surprising is that I was interested enough to reserve a spot in the first place.  Both were specifically business-focused and I'm a rabidly anti-business government and art history major. Usually, when the Ath brings speakers in the business or tech fields, I take one look at the talk's title and pray I don't have to attend for an Econ class.  Is it just that Whitman and Cook were superstars?  Was it the format of the talk, a conversation, that made it more appealing? Was it the unfamiliar and exotic venue of Balch Hall, with it's church pew seating?  Maybe we can look to the Robert Day School of Finance to bring us similarly awesome business-related speakers, who will capture the attention of the routinely disinterested.

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