Evolution of Theory

I’ve noticed this photo making the rounds on my LinkedIn newsfeed.

I understand the message. I understand the channel and why it’s appropriate. But I also feel the need to hold up a yield sign when this photo is referred to as “the most brilliant photo I’ve ever seen” in the comment section.

I’d be willing to guess that most business-minded people would agree that agility and the ability to adapt are critical elements of any company’s success.

Case in point: Blockbuster Video.

But consider this: Just as important as the willingness to change is the willingness to be grounded in reality and not let philosophy and catchy – but at the end of the day empty – rhetoric dictate the direction of your company.

Change isn’t inherently good. Good is good.

Continuous improvement should always be an objective but it’s been my experience that change for the sake of change will seldom trump actionable strategies and quality process.

At the end of the day, while change and philosophy can inspire, they don’t necessarily yield tangible products or measurable results.

Sure, there’s often a need to use pathos in order to grab attention and make emotional connections with an audience – as is done in the picture above. But be careful not to let every clever phrase and trending philosophy replace the tried and true methods you’ve always used – unless the change is poised to result in a measurable improvement to process and/or final products.

The intent of this piece isn’t to dismiss change or high-level rhetoric.

Think of it more as a friendly suggestion to use those tools as a support piece to a foundation built on strategy and processes.


A Healthy Approach To Change: Comfort as a means to Confidence

I’ve written about the topic of change for the last two weeks. First, about how the New Normal in the business world is to acknowledge the fact that change is reality, but not the realities of change. And, then, last week on the value of risk and change.

As with most things, there is a second side to this coin. Change is not always the right choice. Certainly not change for the sake of change.

As data becomes more real-time and more omnipresent, it will be easier and easier to justify tweaks, evolutions and outright changes. But while optimization is essential, consistency matters.

The best change is sometimes the one you don’t make. Struggling brands, especially, tend to lack an organizing concept they can own. Which results in more changes. Which results in less of a cohesive reason for being. Which likely leads to more changes. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Change is a concept that is too often feared (ex: “It ain’t broke”) or too fully embraced (ex: Bright Shiny Object Syndrome). My bottom line? The ideal is decision makers who feel comfortable enough making changes that they can be confident not making them.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

Brand Strategy 101: The Value of Risk and Change

[This is part of a continuing series called Brand Strategy 101101 “revolutionary ways” to build a strong brand.]

It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.

It sounds like something that a baron of the social media industry would say. And, that’s not far off. A few weeks ago, Mark Zuckerberg spoke at Stanford and said that he felt many businesses act too slowly and are scared to take risks. He went on to say that in such a fast-paced world, the biggest risk is not to take any risk and ultimately watching technology and the industry pass you by.

But that original quote came from W. Edwards Deming. Who passed away in 1993 –years before this most recent technology tide swept us away again. His words are, however, perhaps more prescient today than ever. And the fact that business leaders still feel a need to pontificate on it is a powerful reminder of the times in which we live.

Last week, I wrote about The New Normal for Business. And that constant change around a brand may actually discourage a brand to change. This month’s Fast Company has an interesting collection of perspectives on Risk.

My bottom line: The old way of doing things is only safe until it’s sorry.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

The More Things Change…

Earlier this week, we had the pleasure of presenting the “State of the State of Digital” to a bright, interested and engaged audience. In pulling the presentation together, I was served my daily reminder of just how much things have changed. To wit:

“If Facebook were a country, it would be the 8th most populated in the world, just ahead of Japan.” — Mark Zuckerberg, January 7, 2009

To be clear, when I say I was reminded how much things have changed, I mean since January 7, 2009. According to Facebookʼs most recent numbers, it has over 250 million members. Which would place them fourth on the most populated countries in the world list. Now ahead of Indonesia. Nigeria, we hardly knew thee.

Thatʼs quite a jump in seven months. And it raises an important question. In these exponential times in which we live, how fast do numbers become irrelevant? If Wikipedia can have trouble keeping up, what are the rest of us to do?

One surprising exception – time spent online. Forrester reports the amount of time spend online per week by the average American is 12 hours. Last year that number was… 12 hours. Thatʼs not exponential at all. According to analyst Jackie Anderson, “Engagement with the online channel has deepened. Web users are becoming savvier and are better multi-taskers.” So while hours online arenʼt growing, productivity is. And competition for their time has (potentially, exponentially). Savvier users will look for savvier solutions. And, with this deeper engagement and apparent comfort, the internet is starting to “more closely resemble a traditional media channel.” Oh, how quickly things change.

More To The Story (Or: Timing Can – Unfortunately – Be Everything)

The fate of newspapers has been reported on and debated ad nauseam. Time will tell, but itʼs safe to say that in its current form the newspaper model of today faces significant challenges.

And the newspaper industry is, no doubt, to blame. An article by Jack Shafer from earlier this year made a compelling case that newspapers shouldnʼt be surprised by any of this. As early as the 1970s, newspapers “considered themselves vulnerable to new entrants and were worrying aloud to anyone who would listen about falling readership.” That said, once technologies – like long forgotten videotex – were determined to pose no threat to the newsprint model, papers were happy to move on. Too much defense, not enough offense. But thatʼs another subject for another post.

Two interesting perspectives that have seen fewer headlines:

The first is a Malcolm Gladwell thought experiment: “What if we had started with everything online, and paper was only invented five years ago?” Weʼd no longer have to “lug our laptops to the breakfast table every morning.” The new solution would be lighter and more portable. Said another way, being first isnʼt always best.

The second is from a Bill Simmonsʼ podcast on espn.com. I realize that this is not the epicenter of leading business thought. But the observation is insightful. (Side note: Simmons is also responsible for one of my favorite, yet-to-be-established positions: The VP of Common Senselol_newspapers.) At the time that newspapers were trying to figure out how to
monetize the online experience, nobody (not you, not me, not anybody) was comfortable buying things online. If The New York Times was just going online today, the proposition of a daily paid subscription would be *much* more palatable than it was in 1995.

I get my news online. We donʼt subscribe to any papers at my household. So Iʼm no newspaper-apologist. But the easy answer (Newspapers are dumb! The internet is better!) rarely gives the full perspective.