Zoom In, Zoom Out

May 1, 2011

The Digital Revolution recently entered a new phase. The new screens in our hands offer new ways to read, browse, listen, watch and interact with content and with people. As people keep embracing these handheld devices, businesses are trying to catch up. Again.

Let’s look at the three sectors, usually considered to be at the center of these digital waves of change.

The smartphones and tablets are taking over all IT related industries. Computers basicly just left the building and are on the move. Software will turn into a service more rapidly soon, certainly when Office 365 will go out of public beta.

Telco’s are struggling. Landlines are out. Mobile became texting. Who could have imagined people writing on these things, since they were supposed to talk through them. The industry did not see smartphones coming. Their solution was to sell  internet bundles, but their customers started to use these bundles to acces free services. Why pay to call, if you can send a message for free?

Publishers are starting to realize they can no longer wait to change. Publishers have been neglecting All Things Digital too long. Change was something others would have to undertake, after the publishers themselves retired. A book is a book, you know. Yeah, and a newspaper a newspaper, right? A few years ago publishers had worries and money. Now it’s panic while they are almost broke.

In the midst of all these waves of change it is easy to focus too much on details. We tend to zoom in. But we need to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. The bigger picture in the world of business still is the simple fact that all links in the chain that do not add value, will disappear. Vanish. Evaporate. Fade out.

The middleman is under attack.

Take a look at your market. Zoom in on the chains. Which chain is only an intermediary?

Zoom out on the basic needs of customers. What is it they want?

Zoom in, zoom out!


The New Monopolists

December 7, 2010

GOOG today unveiled the Nexus S and released a new version of the Android operating system. 

Yesterday GOOG opened the long anticipated online bookstore

Amazon responded today by launching Kindle for Web.

In the meantime Amazon still is investing enormous amounts of effort and money in services for the cloud. Even wikileaks used to use it.

Facebook is working hard on its big deal with Bing and in my humble opinion still trying to catch up with Twitter’s Real Time approach, while Apple is launching apps for magazines by the dozen.

What does it all mean?

I don’t know, time will tell. But two things are sure.

One: the pace of innovation has accelerated again.

Two: we are in the grip of New Monopolists.


More Proof?

October 6, 2010

We took this exit already and we are well on our way to the next roadsign with the same direction. The road ahead is clear. Tablets all the way.

The iPad was launched April 3rd this year.  Apple sold 3.000.000 in the first 80 days.

The current sales rate is 4.500.000 untis per quarter. Something like this has never been done before.

Need more proof?


High Tech needs High Touch

September 7, 2010

Many companies launching new applications and technological novelties are so busy with their day to day operations and problems, that they seem to forget that their possible customers need solutions to problems. Problems should lead to solutions. A solution looking for a problem doesn’t work that well.

John Naisbitt once wrote a book called ‘High Tech, High Touch’. It is about understanding the complexities of technology through the human lens.

Hightech companies and people need to design, think, feel, experience, communicate, explain and listen (not necessary in this order) like non-technological people. Human centered design and interaction, but in a much broader context than normaly applied. Solve problems and offer solutions. Ordinary people deal with ordinary everyday problems and that’s difficult enough as it is.

Sometimes a solution creates a problem as well. Last month the first real competitor recieved a lot of money to fight Facebook on the turf it started once: university. It seems students don’t want their folks to watch. That’s normal human behaviour.


Users form waves

September 7, 2010

In my posts I often use the metaphor of a wave to describe the changes in markets and people when it comes to high tech. The concept of the wave is widely used by thinkers and writers to describe the fundamentals of change. Change does not arrive overnight, it does not appear all of a sudden. It is in the making for quite some time. One can feel it coming, if one is open to it’s call and can read the writings on the wall.

Alvin Toffler wrote a book called ‘The Third Wave’. Debora Spar tought us about the four different phases of disruptive technologies in ‘Ruling the Waves’. The probably best theory and model of diffusion of innovation by E.M. Rogers is in my humble opinion a wave as well. The many books and theories on high technology marketing explain the concept of the waves of diffusion of innovation by examining user behaviour.

User behaviour is the only thing that matters. If people try something new, it is because they immediately see use for it, and/or they like it. If need be, they will figure out a problem and fix a bug themselves. That’s the attitude that drove the first pc’s in the market. That’s the same attitude that lead to the iPad and will lead to a huge amount of other tablets. And apps, programmes, content.

Executives in media and publishing, already overwhelmed by high tech driven innovations, will not get another wakeup call this loud.


Waves of Change

September 7, 2010

Businesses are in constant change. Or as Heraclitus once said ‘πάντα ῥεῖ ‘. Most people translate this adage into something like ‘everything changes’, but the real meaning is more like ‘ nothing is permanent, except change’.  Something quite different.

Change has always been the central point of doing business. One has to respond to changes and trends. Every entrepreneur has the attitude and skills to act on this.  A very long period change has been relative constant and predictable, at least before disruptive technologies came along and increased the speed and unpredictability of change itself.

Today the basic concept of change has changed. We live in a period of a lot of changes, all happening at the same time. Now! Realtime!

It is not just the financial and economic crises, we are in the middle of at least 6 different and quite fundamental longterm shifts happening at the same time: the nearing end of fossile fuels, the birth of a greener economy, a newer version of capitalism, a shift from West to East, demographic bombs and of course more and more possibly disruptive technologies.

More waves of changes at the same time. More interdependance of these changes. More unpredictability. Short, medium and long term.

How to cope? Should we invest? Or should we close the curtains and wait until these storms are over? Sit still, jump ship, business as usual?


The (un)willingness to innovate

September 7, 2010

Early July I had the privilege to meet with a bright mind. An IT entrepreneur who is doing quite allright. We discussed the publishing industry and it’s unwillingness to innovate. In his opinion it is not unwillingness to innovate, it is the incapacity to do so.

  1. Companies usually start with a dreamer and entrepreneur. This phase is all about change and challenges.
  2. Growing the company means employing people and focus shifts towards educating and motivating them.
  3. After further growth the number of people has grown and focus will turn to cooperation and best practices.
  4. Companies grow to be to big. Now it’s all about numbers. Corporate culture is about competition and the idea of human failure is thrown out.
  5. In the end the company culture is all about power and therefore fear.

In the beginning success and failure can be huge. In the end it can only be done in baby steps.

That’s why innovation happens in small companies. That’s why big companies don’t seem to be able to innovate. That’s why big companies acquire small companies.

And that’s also the most important reason most mergers and acquisitions fail.