One of many striking things about Richard Thieme is how approachable and knowledgable he is. Although much of his knowledge is due to his experience and simply being very smart, a large chunk has come from the people who tell him things. He has said many times in his speeches that he is always willing to talk with anyone on just about any topic. Instead of being an A-Lister who shuns his fans he encourages them.

When I first met Richard in person it was at a hacker conference (don’t remember which one) he gave me a card and on it there was an 800 number. He said that if anyone ever wanted to talk about anything they could reach out to him. This is most likely a partial result of his experience as an Episcopalian pastor, but also because he knew that to learn he had to surround himself with those who knew other things than he did. He would talk to everyone equally from the 16yo hacker with ideas of anarchism to the 32yo professional with ideas of global paradigm shifting plans. He listened and learned and has always been, above all, approachable.

I started thinking about this again when another blogger, John Unger, posted about his first Skype call with Hugh MacLeod (GapingVoid). He says of Hugh, “Opinionated? Rough? Scathing? Sure. But he does actually give a shit about people. He’s always been approachable, which I think has been one of the keys to success for bloggers who make it.”

Robert Scoble has been preaching corporate blogging for a while now (and wrote a book and a manifesto about it!) This is all part of being approachable and able to respond to criticism rather than ignoring it and bounding fearlessly ahead with your “vision” and “plan”. Since when did we stop listening to customers just because there are too many of them to talk to individually? As the world continuously gets smaller, we need to be more vigilant than ever about being approachable.

As companies grow they begin to focus on large accounts and handle the smaller ones with more of a mass appeal. This causes those customers to resent the lack of a personal touch and move their business elsewhere. Two weeks ago I was talking with the Senior Director of Consulting for a major information security firm when he told me that they are not interested in business deals for less than $75-100k. I understand why but wanted to know why they have not formed another company (wholly owned entity) that CAN service this market! Retail industries have been doing this for years (e.g. Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy). Why do so many consulting companies leave business on the table? Because they cannot properly communicate with the market they have out grown and thus cannot service it.

People, businesses, and friends who are approachable can learn more and adapt faster to the ever changing environment they are in. I think it is important for companies to realize that things are getting smaller (media, markets, profits) and only by listening to their customers (i.e. blogs) can they properly understand and then service them.