Disrupt or be disrupted

more about “ Why do people listen to Michael Ros…“, posted with vodpod

Andy Dickinson has a post asking the question: Why do people listen to Michael Rosenblum? Andy thinks that Michael is worth listening to but that his approach doesn’t “work across the board”. At conferences, many in the room may be hearing Michael’s message for the first time, but Andy says:

As suprising as it may be to them, there are people in their organisations who are as knowledgable and passionate about video as he is. They may have more experience of the particular problems in their company and more direct suggestions to help solve them.

They may not give as good a show but they may give as good advice.

Suw sees the same thing in business. She is often called in as a consultant by people who agree with her, often passionately, but don’t have the political capital in their organisation to shake it from its inertia. They need a comrade in arms but have to buy one in.

Returning to Andy’s post, I think another, possibly more important question is: Why do people nod in agreement at conferences and then completely ignore Michael Rosenblum or other digital advocates, especially those in their own organisations? Frankly, Michael, Jeff Jarvis and many of us have been saying the same thing for years now. Digital technology will disrupt the business of journalism, and it presents a clear choice of either adopting and adapting the technology or watching your business crumble. However, we shouldn’t mistake the collapse of some businesses as evidence of lightning fast change. This has been a slow motion train wreck. This is the predictable outcome of the economics of disruptive digital technologies, which is why I’m mystified people continue to ignore this fact, carry on with business as usual and then feign surprise as their businesses implode.

We’ve had decades to watch the digital revolution play out. As Tom Coates wrote in debunking the attack of the snails argument:

So here’s the argument – that perhaps broadcast won’t last forever and that technology is changing faster than ever before. So fast, apparently, that it’s almost dazzlingly confusing for people.

I’m afraid I think this is certifiable bullshit. There’s nothing rapid about this transition at all. It’s been happening in the background for fifteen years. So let me rephrase it in ways that I understand. Shock revelation! A new set of technologies has started to displace older technologies and will continue to do so at a fairly slow rate over the next ten to thirty years!

Tom wrote his post two and a half years ago, and yet journalism and media organisations continue to bemoan the rapid pace of change. In fact, this change is just the logical conclusion of decades-long trends that have been clear to anyone who was actually paying attention.

In some ways, it’s understandable. If you have a wonderfully lucrative business model like television or the de facto monopolies of big metro daily newspapers in the US, the first reaction is to protect the existing business model rather than adapt to meet the challenge of digital insurgents. It’s a perfectly reasonable response.

In other ways, it’s a complete failure of management replicated almost identically across several sectors of the media industry. Newspapers have been suffering declining readership for decades. Television has been facing fragmenting audiences for years under the threat of cable and satellite. This is the failure of vision by media management: They have focused on digital consumption patterns without adopting digital production methods and undercutting their own costs. And as the erosion of audience has accelerated, they have mainly cut costs by cutting staff instead of by adopting digital production and distribution technology.

At this late hour for many media companies the critical question is, when are you going to stop nodding your heads at conferences and get on with it? Not many of us in media will be able to go hat in hand like Northern Rock or General Motors and ask for billions to bail us out. I think that Mindy McAdams raises an important issue in the comments on Andy’s post:

News organizations seem particularly susceptible to “a prophet is without honor in his own land” — people inside the organization who spread Michael’s same message might be completely ignored, but management will hire Michael to come in and do his excellent presentation, and THEN they will ooo and ahh about it, acting as if it is brand-new.

A few things to realise in the age of digital disruption:

  1. Higher costs of production do not necessarily result in higher quality of products.
  2. Quality and brand do not equal media success.
  3. Broadcast=wedding. Anytime you put broadcast near technology in the same sentence, it’s like saying you want something for a wedding. Just triple the cost.
  4. Disrupt or be disrupted. Actively look for ways to disrupt your own business model with digital technologies before someone else does.

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