Intimacy at Scale

Six steps to countering disruption and disconnection

Matt Kurowski
4 min readMar 5, 2017

There are two big threats to organisations of all stripes: the disruption of market value by new and unexpected offers, and disconnection from stakeholders as your organisational complexity and growth increase.

So as organisations succeed, the uncertainty sitting at the heart of their growth is a very tangible one, with two questions attached:

1. how do we increase our reach and scale, leveraging the economic advantages that come with growth so we can build relevance in the market while staving off disruption?

2. how do we maintain or increase our intimate knowledge of our stakeholders and create even more long-term value so we don’t dilute or generalise our offering and disconnect from everyone?

What is intimacy at scale?
There’s the two things in play: intimacy with stakeholders’ “ultimate why” and scaling your offer. Typically we pick one and trade off, risking either growth and happy shareholders or risking retention and happy customers.

We’ve become extremely adept at being ‘Or’ Businesses: delaying or constraining growth to maintain relevance (bringing the threat of disruption), or growing and abstracting our value to reach more customers (dancing with the threat of disconnection).

Intimacy at scale is a way to be an ‘And’ Business, exploring and embodying the complexity and delicacy of trapezing growth and depth. We become intimate at scale. We grow both concurrently, staying both connected to stakeholders and resilient to disruption.

How do you become intimate at scale?
It’s fair to say that the “how” will be contextually shaped, but there are some basic steps and rules:

1. Stop guessing and start talking to your customers. And I mean really. Not just market research. I mean CEOs meeting customers. I mean ongoing research, task observations, latent needs, life events — these are metaphors for intimacy and empathy, and the only ones you have. A disconnected CEO (or any decision maker really) is a redundant one, managing short-term shareholder value above all. Can anyone say, “Hello disruption”?

2. Keep talking to your customers. Scale your research and interactions more equivalently. “What?!?” I hear you say, “that’ll be expensive as all heck!” Yup! Do you outsource your old friendships when you connect with a new person? If not in real life, then why in business? Intimacy is an ongoing activity between people in the real world so, if you think your business is in the real world, why are you outsourcing and intermediating your relationships? Goodbye trust and hello disconnection!

3. Collaborate with your suppliers, don’t muscle them. You know your customers intimately, so start working with your suppliers to create offerings that really resonate! Advocate for your customers whom you know so well. Keep learning from them and keep building with your suppliers. Leverage your customer intimacy to influence your supplier’s scale. You’re the conduit between the all the people and just the person.

4. Don’t conflate your network, but don’t silo them either. There’s a big story that all of your stakeholders are a part of: let them know where they sit in the network of value you’re collectively creating and the social impact you make. Give them visibility and accountability for their role in the network while sharing your own. Each stakeholder has an important part to play, but the impact can only be achieved if everybody knows where they stand. This shifts your community, your value network, from an ego-centric one to an eco-centric one, all on a shared journey to shared impact by the creation of value which is unique to the needs of the stakeholder.

5. Determine your impact beyond profit. Without this ambition, the story is a shallow one. A finance-centric business is an ego-centric business which ignores all the unmeasurable value in its network. It’s simply in a race to bottom-dollar death. Just think telco. Having a real impact is having and evidencing real value, and with it financial growth is a positive side effect (albeit an important one) — customers can smell superficiality like at no other time in the history of commerce.

6. There’s all kinds of ways that humans exchange value, from smiles and hugs to inspiration and relevance, from belonging with your partner to belonging in nature, finding the meaning in life from the death of another. It’s profound. How we exchange value is important, and even more so when we know why we exchange what we do: how does your real market value access and celebrate your stakeholders’ human values to create real impact?

Here’s a little sketch in summary and to provoke some thought:

How is your organisation placed in this chart? What does it do best? What’s blocking the rest?

~Matt Kurowski, Melbourne, 5 March 2017



Matt Kurowski

Senior consultant and advisor for sustainable organisational innovation (SMEs); industry fellow at RMIT School of Design.