Innovator's Dilemma in 2 minutes flat

It’s no secret I’m a Mike Masnick and TechDirt fan. He’s my second-favorite economics thinker (Umair Haque is #1), but it’s a close race. His writing on media economics, intellectual property, technology and other topics are on my must-read list every day.

Recently he started doing short videos, sponsored by UPS, to illustrate many of the themes discussed on TechDirt, especially themes related to economics and innovation. I posted his excellent Economics of Abundance video in October.

In these two new videos he explains the much-discussed “innovator’s dilemma” and the difference between innovation and invention. The first is a little more relevant to public broadcasting folks, but the second makes some excellent illustrations as well.

Explaining The Innovator’s Dilemma

Highlights for Public Broadcasters:

  • Legacy leaders either don’t recognize innovation when it appears, or easily dismiss innovations as “not good enough” for the market
  • New technologies advance faster than expected, catching legacy folks off-guard; the new technology also serves market needs more efficiently and serves demand sooner than predicted
  • Understand what market you’re really in: Are you a radio station or do you provide a benefit to your community? Are you a TV broadcaster, or does your service target a specific market need, regardless of the technology?
  • If you don’t improve the benefits you provide to the market, someone else will
  • Internal struggles between legacy and new are expected — the hard part is managing the struggle as the new takes hold and then takes over
  • Out-innovating yourself beats being out-innovated by someone else

Apple is the best example out there today of a company that out-innovates itself. They do it with breathtaking speed and ruthless pursuit of excellence, no matter what happens to their legacy products. Prime example: the original iPod was introduced in November 2001. In less than 6 years they went through roughly 5 succeeding generations of iPods, killing off the older models every year (including the much-loved iPod mini), despite total market dominance.

Then Apple  introduced a whole new category of device –the iPhone — cannibalizing their entire iPod line, a line that’s existed for merely of 8 years. They out-innovated themselves faster than any competitor — even the mighty Microsoft — could respond  in kind. Despite spending millions on development, the Zune media player remains an also-ran in the market; it’s a punchline, not a product.

A “normal” company would look at the market, see no viable competitors (in their eyes) and just keep doing the same thing, making money, until they “needed” to respond to some outside threat. But old eyes can’t even see new threats. “Have you seen the crap on YouTube? That’s no threat to us.” Are you sure about that? Because YouTube isn’t trying to compete on public broadcasting’s turf, but it’s taking contact hours away from you anyway (and they’re moving into commercial video distribution, too).

Public broadcasting, if it is to become public service media, is going to have to give up kneeling before its sacred cows to move forward. It’s not about TV or radio. It’s not even about “news” or “music” per se. We have to figure out (or just plain decide) what market we are serving and what benefits we want to offer the market. Then we can agnostically turn to the tools available today and use them to provide those benefits.

For the record, the “innovator’s dilemma” is discussed in exhaustive detail in the seminal Clayton Christensen book that coined the phrase.

The Difference Between Innovation And Invention

Highlights for Public Broadcasters:

  • Invention is the idea, Innovation is matching the idea to the market
  • Yes, it’s your job to match idea to market; it’s an active exploration, not a passive waiting for good things to happen because we’re good people
  • Even if your product isn’t great at first, you listen to the market, improve the product, listen again, improve again — it’s called iteration
  • “It’s not build a product and be done, but keep iterating, improving and innovating.”

When I talk to public broadcasters about new media, I almost always get complaints about the push they feel to do new things or to do old things in new ways. “We’re being asked to do more with less.” They always want to know “who’s doing this already?” What they’re really asking for is either “permission” to take risks (a permission I can’t offer) or iron-clad proof that if they make a change, everyone will still be employed, budgets will stay on track and really, nothing will fundamentally change.

This is insanity. (You know, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.)

Today we need invention,  innovation and iteration.

  • We need invention to create new ideas for serving our markets with benefits those markets need (e.g. information for voters, education for children, community for music lovers, etc.). What about some new ideas for news services (which I plan to present at WOSU late this week)?
  • We need an innovative spirit to take our ideas into the community and see whether we’ve met the needs. Present. Ask. Listen. When we find we haven’t met the needs quite right, we acknowledge it and change. This is in marked contrast to “broadcast it and they will come.”
  • We need a passion for iteration. Look back at the days following the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act: there was a burst of experimentation and then years of iteratively making a better and better product. Remember: it took 25 years for NPR to reach the zenith of its power, matching its service to market demands. If you don’t like iteration, you won’t like the future.

The upshot? We need new DNA, a genetic makeup that embraces the world as it is, not as it was.

And I gotta tell ya… the new world, a world that’s constantly changing, is a lot more fun than the old one.

The Paul F. Tompkins 300

Paul F. ThompkinsFriend and coworker @akmayhem pointed me to a blog post by comedian Paul F. Tompkins that bears some repeating.

In it, Tompkins talks about how — via Twitter and Facebook — he may have found a way around the dismal comedy club circuit and made direct connections with fans. He stumbled into it, and it’s not a formal business plan by any means, but he’s basically setting up paying gigs around North America using fans to power the choice of cities and ensuring that his tickets will sell even before he starts any promotion.

The premise: You gather 300 people that will commit to buying tickets and attending the show in your town. I will show up and entertain.

That’s connecting. That’s context. And it’s participatory.

The fans promise support. The artist promises a good show. Everyone gets together. The fans get a far better show because they know, definitively, they share something in common with each other and the artist.  And the artist knows that the fans are really there to see him — they aren’t random ticket winners or other marginally-interested folks — they had to do something tangible to get there (even if it’s something small). It makes for a more intimate event and everyone gets more from the experience than they would via any other means.

I had this kind of experience in my home this past summer, when I hosted a Tweetup and House Concert. It was a fabulous experience.

So what, in public media land, are you doing to connect people, either to you or to each other? What are you doing to make your media palpable, interactive, participatory and “real” for your community?

Patent lawsuits = innovation tax

I love Mike Masnick.

Basically, if you build anything even remotely innovative these days, you’re going to get sued for patent infringement, probably multiple times. It’s become a massive tax on innovation, rather than a lever for innovation.

from: Nokia Getting Killed In The Smartphone Market… So Of Course It Sues For Patent Infringement

How did the 1993 futurists do?

The attached AT&T video has been making the rounds lately on Twitter and beyond. It’s a series of commercials broadcast in 1993 — dubbed the “You Will” campaign — centered on the notion that AT&T is working to bring you next-generation technologies and experiences.

Keeping in mind these commercials were first broadcast 16 years ago (!) and were pitched at the time as futuristic fantasies, it’s remarkable to see how many of these predictions have come true, and come true to a such a complete degree.

For fun, let’s watch the video, then review the predictions and compare them to current technological facts in the industrialized world.

Borrow a book from thousands of miles away
Done and improving
In the 1993 futurist’s eyes, a person looks at a book through a digital screen of some kind; as they swipe a finger across the screen, the pages of the book turn. While that’s a very literal representation of a book from a distance, we pretty much have that functionality today in lots of ways. PDF documents make digital documents look the same on any screen or platform, plus the contents are searchable. Google’s book digitization efforts (legal wranglings notwithstanding) are a remarkable and growing achievement. Plus the arrival of Amazon’s Kindle — the first mass-market e-book reader to even marginally catch on — arrived last year. And I have at least two iPhone apps that let you swipe a finger across the screen and watch a virtual page turn.

Interestingly, the notion of “borrowing” a book likely won’t come true. That suggests that only one person can look at or “use” a book at a time. But in a world of digital goods, everyone can have a copy simultaneously. No late fees.

Cross the country without stopping for directions
No argument on this one. AT&T’s futurists showed an in-dash GPS navigation system that’s increasingly common today. The devices are even portable. The only thing AT&T did to jazz up what we already have is to put Hollywood-style fly-through structural videos into the screen. Everything else — road locations, spoken directions — we’ve already got.

Send someone a fax from the beach
Done, but already outdated
Faxes? That’s so 1993. While technically you can send a fax from the beach today, why would you? Nope – today we shoot video with our cell phones and upload the clips to instantly share with friends and family worldwide. Not to mention sending e-mail. All that’s required is a live Internet connection via cell service or WiFi — which is nearly ubiquitous. In fact, with the right phone and connection, you can stream live video from wherever you are to thousands of live viewers anywhere on the ‘Net.

The other thing shown in the video is the fax sender writing on what we would call a tablet PC screen. Tablets are widely available, but rarely purchased these days. The pen-style interface pioneered by the Newton actually shipped for the first time in 1993 and, with an appropriate modem, you could actually send a fax from the device. You just couldn’t do it without a physical phone line yet.

Pay a toll without slowing down
This was done years ago, especially on toll roads in the more trafficked parts of the country. You pop an RFID chip into your car from the toll road operator, pass through the toll area at a reasonable speed, and your account is debited appropriately.  Simple.  In fact, I had an RFID chip from Mobil years ago that let me pay for gas by simply waving my tiny keyfob near a gas pump pad and everything was handled in the background.  This is old hat.

The one thing the futurists got wrong is the notion of speeding through the toll booth at 90mph, as the driver appears to do in the commercial. That’s just not safe.

Buy concert tickets from a cash machine
Done, but not in the way AT&T predicted

Cash machines, or ATMs, are really still just for simple bank-related transactions these days. And rightly so. C’mon — you’ve stood behind the person that’s taking so long to use the ATM you wonder if they’re handling their secret Swiss bank account — we don’t want these devices used for more transactions! On the other hand, you can buy anything online, and you can do it from any number of ‘Net-connected devices.

Example: Last spring I was in Washington, DC with family and we decided to see a movie. Not being from the area, we didn’t know what theaters were nearby or what was playing. So I whipped out the iPhone, got a GPS fix on my location, and used the Fandango app to find the nearest theaters and get current showtimes. Then with a few taps, I selected a movie, a time and paid for the tickets instantly. This would have been unimaginable just 3 years ago, let alone 16.

All told, we can buy concert tickets today from far more locations than just ATMs.

Tuck your baby in from a phone booth
Done, but no phone booth
Leave it to a phone company to see a future for phone booths. We do have Internet cafes — a kind of 21st-century phone booth, I suppose — but people traveling a lot already have their own laptops, most with webcams built-in. With Skype, iChat and lots of other apps out there, you can “tuck your baby in” from anywhere your laptop hooks up to the Internet.

Open doors with the sound of your voice
Can be done, but it’s not done much or easily
The automated home has always been “just around the corner” ever since the Jetsons were first on the air (1962). You can do this “voice print” thing today, but you have to be really determined. While voice recognition, as a form of biometrics, does exist, it’s not widely used and not generally in consumer electronics. What you can do fairly easily today is get an RFID key that will unlock the door for you without a word, but just physical presence.

Carry your medical history in your wallet
Not quite there yet
Google Health, one example of the Personal Health Record (PHR) movement, exists already. So if you’re determined to digitize your medical records and you’re willing to take on the perceived privacy risks, you can do it right now. Info in your wallet? Well… sort of. You can bring up your data on any Internet-connected computer with your username and password, so there’s that. And again, if you’re determined and willing to take the risk, you can store the same data on a USB flash drive — and that would fit in your pocket.

Generally speaking, digitization of health info continues to move incredibly slowly, probably due to privacy worries and the lack of standards for data interoperability (despite early work on the HL7 standard and work on HIPAA). Plus, there are no economic incentives for the players involved. So this will come someday… someday…

Attend a meeting in your bare feet
You’ve been on conference calls where there are screaming children or barking dogs in the background, right? Yeah, me too. This one’s definitely done. Maybe overdone.

Watch the movie you want to the minute you want to
Video-on-demand has been around in one form or another for many years now. It’s not universally available and it may require “extra” subscriptions to your cable, satellite or fiber provider, but it’s out there. If you consider computer screens as legitimate viewing devices, you can also add Hulu as an example of a monstrously huge on-demand viewing service.

Learn special things from faraway places
Distance learning is old hat on most university campuses these days. It may not be as flashy or as interactive as the example shown in the commercial, but it’s out there. Video, audio, remote interactivity options — it’s all there. Not to mention discussion boards, blogs, real-time chats and more.

So what’s the score? Of 11 predictions, 9 are already a full reality (82%) while the other 2 are largely done while still under active development. If you’re willing to work for it, the futurists were completely on the ball on all counts.

Pretty amazing.

"I'm in the Audience Business"

In addition to covering developments in the technology sector, This Week in Tech — the flagship of Leo Laporte’s podcasting network — often hosts guests directly participating in the media revolution that’s already in progress. And they often have illuminating conversations about what is and isn’t working in old and new media spaces, and in the spaces in between.

This week the conversation offered this little gem from Shira Lazar, a young pro in both new and old media (at time index 5:14):

“For me, I say I’m in the Audience Business.”

Bingo. This is the future for nearly all media (but not absolutely all). If you don’t have or can’t maintain control over media distribution in a 1-to-many distribution model, then you must learn to engage an audience.

This is also known as building and leading a Tribe.

Be sure to listen to TWiT 190 from about 3:20 to 13:00 for the complete old/new media and audience conversation. Plenty of relevant ideas for public media leaders.

21st century leaders foster talent, not scale

I’m starting to (finally) get back into reading great stuff from around the web, fueling some new thinking. I stumbled across this nugget from consultants with frequently insightful writing:

…the rate of learning, innovation, and performance improvement within the institution must match (or exceed) that of the surrounding environment if the institution is to survive (or thrive). Given that innovation is inherently a human activity–one performed by talented individuals–it follows that talent will pull institutions into the 21st century.

That’s because a rapid rate of innovation cannot be programmed from above. At best what institutional leaders can do is to create the environments–the “creation spaces”–that foster innovation and faster learning. But here’s the rub: many of these institutional leaders are caught in the mindsets of the previous generation of infrastructures and the related assumption that scalable efficiency is the key to success. Talent, on the other hand, is under increasing pressure to get better faster and will either leave institutions that cannot help them or become catalysts for change within those institutions.

[full article]

Let’s just say I can vouch for the above quote 100%.

Questions for public media firms, leaders and talent:

  • Does your corporate culture, as led from the top, regularly share, explain and praise positive examples of media innovation both inside and outside the firm?
  • Do stakeholders in your firm’s success understand the risks of stasis in a rapidly-changing media and business environment?
  • Do you have a plan, a process or even just a notion of how to ensure everyone in your firm is learning substantial new things every year, every quarter?
  • Which activity absorbs more of your time: protecting sacred cows or fulfilling a mission in a presently-relevant way?
  • Is your firm innovating in media creation and delivery at a rate that matches or exceeds the media changes in your service area? (note that media changes occur at variable rates based on where you are)
  • Is your solution to a changing media environment becoming “too big to fail” (AIG) or becoming “too vital to ignore” (NPR)?
  • Are you leading a tribe or building an audience?

Doug Gordon's Modest Proposal for Public Radio

Don’t bother bringing the forks, knives and napkins, but Doug Gordon has some thoughts to share for the public radio work in the U.S. Delivered via — gasp! — video!

Definitely some interesting thoughts delivered by this Corner Gas extra.  Okay, not really… I mean, they are interesting thoughts, but I don’t think he’s been on Corner Gas. 😉

My favorite suggestion is the last — engaging the public in co-creation of public media. Which is a really scary thought for some pubmedia types I know.

By the way, I stumbled across this video because Doug Gordon posted it himself on the new, and growing, DirectCurrent social networking site put up by Current. Thanks Current!

More BPP and innovation thinking

Earlier this week I was advised privately to wait for an announcement from NPR about BPP — without any hint of what said announcement might be — and I’m still waiting. I’d love to hear NPR announce a bold new plan to take the BPP straight to the web and change it up somehow. If anyone would care to shed additional light, I’m all ears (as are about 600 commenters on the NPR site).

In the meantime, there’s been some great pieces out there I’d like to point folks to (yeah, I know — you already saw these, but just in case…).

First up are two posts from Robert Paterson, a past NPR consultant and an avid BPP audience participant:

I’m not a fan of Paterson’s claim that the U.S. is heading into a full-blown depression (because that scares the bejesus out of me and I don’t know what to do about it), but the rest of it rings true, even if the economy were booming.

Next up is a post from Jeff Jarvis, one of my perennial faves:

(I love the title — talk about not burying the lede!)

The Jarvis piece is good, but the comments are even better.  When I visited, the first half of the comments were really insightful. And don’t miss Mindy McAdamscomment in there, too.

What worries me more and more is that Stephen Hill — that too-smart-for-his-own-good bastard! (and I say that with love) — is going to be proven right if we public media people don’t stop behaving like nitwits and face up to the Innovator’s Dilemma.

I’m not sure whether I have the energy to start my own public media company. Do I really have to? 😉