Having attended the rambunctious and somewhat chaotic Digital Shoreditch GROW day, a day focused on start-ups, new ideas and bootstrapping, I was particularly struck with one key idea. It’s something that’s been bothering me for a while and it’s a buzzword that everybody uses but I feel few people really understand.
Digital communications and PR is changing so fast that at times it can be very difficult to understand the landscape that we work in because there is always something new that seemingly threatens to be a game-changer, a disrupter… and then we forget about it. Like we forgot about MySpace, GoogleBuzz, Napster, App.net, Graphene, Electric Cars, BitCoin, Nuclear Fusion and dozens of other services, platforms, technologies and companies that have fallen by the wayside . You might notice some of these example are now being hyped again or have been transformed into something new.
That’s because all new ideas and technology follows what Gartner/Forrester Inc. have coined as the Hype Cycle. Well actually they really stole that from Arthur Schopenhauer who stated that:
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
Yu-kai Chou, a consultant who created the Octalysis Gamification framework has a great little slide that illustrates this same idea:
Roughly speaking the hype cycle can be mapped as a chart like the one below. I’m going to focus on the Peak of Inflated Expectations and the Trough of Disillusionment as that’s the time when smart businesses and people are creating value, intellectual property and laying the foundations for productivity in the future.
When a technology has reached the peak and expectation is at an all-time high, think of the e-commerce/tech bubble in 2000 or presently the massive hype around the capabilities of graphene, it was inevitable that people would be disappointed and in some cases lose large amounts of money because the technology and its applications was not mature.
The disillusionment that follows can leave a bad taste and create less appetite for risk in the future. It’s important to remember though that the failures from the peak to the trough are an essential part of the technological cycle of innovation without which we would not see technologies mature and transform.
So back to communications and PR – the stock and trade at my current workplace, Instinctif Partners – what did learning about disruption teach me about our business and our clients?
- Big businesses are slow to change they would rather wait for the Plateau of Productivity and risk being classed as a laggard on the Innovation Adoption Curve than radically change their way of working.
I’ve come to accept it’s not a bad thing despite my more start-up oriented mentality. Long term stability is always preferable to short term fads. Knowing when and how to adopt new technology in a large organisation is the differentiator between a mature business and an immature business.
The goal when we advising clients on what platforms to adopt and which channels to monitor and use for communications, is to take a mature approach. Look at audiences, try to understand their fundamental needs. I look at changes and innovations occurring in the market and then assess the risk and the business needs before making assumptions, in fact try to avoid assumptions they tend to screw things up. I like data, it doesn’t usually lie, and I also like to test new ideas on a small scale first.
- Most businesses care about innovation and being ‘ahead of the curve’ but not all of them understand what that means or where the curve is.
Netflix realised this when it decided to cancel development of a the device it had created to compete with TiVo and other set-top-box services. Instead of transforming its DVD by post business into a cable style service delivered via the internet with a proprietary box, Reed Hastings decided to concentrate on building a streaming service that wasn’t reliant on a new device category that had yet to prove its viability.
Hastings understood that adoption of a device for his users was a much harder value proposition than signing up to a subscription internet streaming service especially when at the time Netflix had a much smaller catalogue of content. He also realised he would have had huge competition from incumbents and competitors focused on the same market area. He turned his competition into partners and now Netflix lives not only on your computer but every Smart TV,home entertainment and mobile device from Xbox, Playstation to iPhones and Apple TV.
- Businesses that focus on their value proposition or, to put it another way, looking at what’s in it for the user/customer/audience tend to be more successful at communicating than those who blindly follow the herd.
In practical terms I might call a business like this ‘customer-centric’. A customer-centric business is pragmatic and adopts technology that is necessary in order to get the job done. Within Instinctif we have been looking at the pain-points that our project teams encounter as well as the issues our clients and their audiences face day-today.
Internally we’ve become more reliant on collaboration using digital platforms and adapting our processes to be more flexible so that we can offer bespoke design services based on a solid technical foundations and platforms.
By making these moves it possible to vastly increase the efficiency of delivery on digital projects.
A start-up mentality and a relentless focus on innovation is the way to get a business going. This kind of thinking can be retained in a large organisation but it would require separate blog post to explain how.
The consequence of disruption is constant change – to keep a business growing you need to know when and how to change course, adopt new business models, strategies and technology. For that kind of information you can look me up and I’ll help you.