Thursday, November 19, 2009

"The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be." Paul Valery

"Where are you likely to find people with the least diversity of experience, the largest investment in the past, and the greatest reverence for industry dogma? At the top." Gary Hamel

"If you work slowly and meticulously, you merely end up with a very fine implementation of your initial, mistaken idea. Working slowing and meticulously is premature optimization. Better to get a prototype done fast, and see what new ideas it gives you." Paul Graham

Today's image: Banksy (crop) by Martin in London. Great shot. Thank you for sharing.

Not what they signed up for

Much continues to be written about the state of affairs in ad-supported measured media. The 400 year-old death spiral of the dead tree guys is, rightly, getting the most attention. Jeff Cole, the brilliant media scholar and leading researcher of our new digital world, said at this week's MPR hosted Future of News Summit..."Instead of counting down the two newspaper towns, we now count up the no newspaper towns." Jeff went on to say should a newsprint eating virus vanish newspapers no one under forty would notice and, off the cuff, opined that a precious handful of papers would survive. Indicating the NYT, WSJ, WaPo, USAT were likely among the short listed survivors, he suggested "my LAT" was headed towards ruin.

The problem for jazz stations and college professors

Cole said we will see incredible consolidation ahead and this will extend to the academy. He indicated 2,000 US college professors now teach Introduction to Psychology. Why should anyone have to take the course from anyone other than the best professor in the country or the world, who might even be dead when they teach the course. We will end up with three or four professors teaching three or four basic courses - via the internet - the best professors who have ever taught the subjects. We don't have a need for 2,000 teaching the same course.

We no longer need listen to local radio that we perceive to fall short of expectation. Professor Cole used Jazz radio as an example. We are not bound to tolerating the poor local jazz station when we may opt to listen to the best jazz station in the world (he's heard it originates in India). This echos my brief before the 2005 Conclave Learning Conference: "It is no longer a game of being the best at what you do in your market, that soon won't be enough to sustain success. You must rise to the challenge of being the best in the world at what you do - and becoming known for it."

"For those who want to understand the environment in which we are operating, our learning curve has to be much steeper than our action curve.
We have to be studying and watching and following relentlessly." Jeff Cole

Cole made an excellent point when he suggested TIME Magazine got it wrong three years ago. They had missed a significant cultural shift (the fundamental importance of "community") when naming its Person of the Year "YOU" instead of "US." You may access video of Jeff Cole's keynote, truly a tour de force, via YouTube, here. Highly recommended.

One of the best lines of the meet was by Richard Gingras, CEO of Salon Media Group. Quoting his own earlier tweet, he said "The future of news is a future of conferences about the future of news."

Let us commend Bill Kling and his MPR team for organizing and hosting such an important gathering. Let us also extend kudos to MPR's own Julia Schrenkler for coordinating a real-time, robust and leading-edge companion effort online. Julia tells me it was her team that pulled off the practically flawless execution. She does single out the uber-cool camera jockey Chuck Olsen for his valuable behind-the-scenes contributions. Should you wish to learn more about The Future of News Summit, the MPR team offers a Ning, here. Julia has advised me that more video and ppt will be posted in the coming days.

Those that follow me on Twitter are perhaps aware that I attempted to live tweet the summit. As usual I was getting things almost right, sometimes dead wrong, leaving important stuff out but dear friends such is the nature of live tweeting. You may access the live tweets (and retweeting of many) by searching the tfon hashtag, here.

Later I'll post more on the issues raised during the summit. Today, allow me to invite your attention to two items and, while we're at it, a throwback to 2004 and a bonus must-read.

We have an urgent need to invite more women, minorities and youth to participate in our most important discussions. It is hard to argue the presence of (or respect for) cognitive diversity when industry gatherings continue to feature middle-aged white men in the majority. We can change this overnight. Let's do it.

While there is no shortage of blame being delegated for today's troubles in ad-supported measured media we have witnessed a change. Once celebrated as rock stars, CEOs are now, more often than not, the goats of coarse derision. No offense to goats intended. The transition of CEO from visionary wealth building genius to tone deaf idiot has happened in less than a decade.

Jeff Cole offered many valuable insights during his remarks. Among them saying executives that had started their careers in newspapers, broadcasting and advertising thirty years (or more) ago have a significantly different pov of the business than those that came into the industry in the middle 1990s. There have, in fact, been profound and dramatic changes in the way business is done. It's a sea change, a very different business as usual set point. While I am not one to defend or excuse the bad practices or poor decisions of most media CEOs, please permit me to suggest that what is happening today is clearly not what any sitting CEO signed up for (or even imagined) twenty, thirty or forty years ago. Therein one core problem of our failed industry leadership. Dee Hock said it best, to wit:

"When it became necessary to develop a new perception of things, a new internal model of reality, the problem is never to get new ideas in, the problem is to get the old ideas out. Every mind is filled with old furniture. It is familiar. It is comfortable. We hate to throw it out."

It remains my proffer that the serious challenge at hand is one of unlearning. For the record, my first blog post here in February of 2004 was prompted by a single concern - leadership. You can access that first post, The Fish Stinks at the Head First, here.

Sidebar: During thirty talks given this year I have made mention of my run heading an American broadcast group disclosing my thought that the results produced during my watch (in the 1980s and 90s) could have been replicated by an inflatable doll or stuffed animal assigned my role. My thought being this was not a singular experience, this replacement exercise would have proven equally successful at those other organizations led by my peers. Truth be known, we were all managing inventory, playing golf and/or tennis and doing very well without any serious sustained thought or discussion given to innovation. Those of us lucky enough to have strong general managers did just fine by staying out of the way as the money flowed into stations, it rained dollars. One would have needed a carefully detailed plan in order to fail. On the occasions group heads gathered, we would talk - beyond the usual lying to each other - people, markets, treasury (how we handled the money), exchange war stores of bad deals passed and share the hidden values of each others known acquisitions making published purchase prices seem very shrewd. Broadcast was our business and business was good.

As Mary Hopkin once sang "Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end." Clearly, that party is over. I have rarely been challenged on this assertion. Those few times I have been called out, intellectual honesty prohibited my purchase of the kool-aid. Got no interest in joining those on an ice flow drifting to oblivion - those sharing the false belief, the plainly irrational delusion, that things will one day "come back." The opportunity rich reality of now holds far more appeal to me than the wayback machine. Game on.

Bonus: Tom Webster, the digital cool kid of Edison Research, has posted a writing that merits your attention. Read Social Media: Just A Hobby? via The Infinite Dial, here.

As always, you're comments are welcomed - please join the conversation. Thanks for stopping by. More tomorrow.

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