And now for something entirely new (here, at least) – a Book Review.  I have been reading Simon Waldman’s new book, Creative Disruption (FT Prentice Hall 2010 ISBN 978-0-273-72573-2). And a very good read it is too, full of thought provoking insight. I recommend it. Simon, known to many in the industry as the digital strategist at Guardian Media Group during its discovery, adoption and triumphs in creating digital media marketspace for itself, has a great deal to say. His core observation, derived from four interesting case studies, is that real world companies receiving the painful jolt of a swift kick in the digitals can and must re-invent themselves through a three stage process of re-generation. This involves a transformation of their core business, the discovery of big adjacencies, and the ability to “innovate round the edges”. His case studies include Encyclopaedia Britannica, Apple, IBM and HMV, and within their recent history he is able to demonstrate how these processes operate. And his point is that the re-invention of these businesses could not have taken place without the digitally-inspired disruption which can be so creative but for many companies can also simply demonstrate the inadequacy of management, the disaffection of audience from brand, or the inability to understand, finance or harness the transition to technology innovation.

So I completed my readings in total agreement with Simon, but rather wishing he had written a slightly less panoramic study. At some point in the generation of this work, I hear Simon’s publishers saying, as publishers always say, “Can’t you widen the scope a bit? So much of this is about media, the land of the vanishing headcount. We need buyers, so please bring in the whole range of tech businesses – and then point to the wider business world, so we can promote this as a vade mecum for industrial re-invention!” Simon has answered these syren cries very well, but for this reviewer this entails an element of regret. I wanted to read from a master with this experience exactly how media markets will be regenerated. In some ways he points in the direction that I was discussing in the previous blog – and indexing to his successors at the Guardian. What if emerging from the the flames of digital transition leads to businesses with less revenue but higher margins on the revenues they retain? Certainly Britannica qualifies there, and probably HMV. But Apple? Or IBM? We may be in danger of putting strictly non-comparable items into the same scales for measurement and judgement; and then finding that our measurement system needs to be re-calibrated in order to make any sensible generalizations at all.

And I would like to say that this aspect of the book is redeemed by a chapter late on entitled “Out of print:the reinvention of book publishers”. This has its interesting aspects, but leaves me where I was already: we have all seen newspapers and the music industry go over Niagara in a barrel, and I hope, with Simon, that  book publishers “have learned eough to get the basics right from the outset”. Since he is talking about another consumer market, however, I must eschew his genial optimism. By far the larger part of the management of consumer book publishing known to me have, while embracing a digital strategy, regarded everything that emerges from it as a defence mechanism to protect the printed book. Using the eBook creatively in multimedia formats (as that wonderful, wilful publisher Peter Kindersley did within the chronic limitations of CD-ROM in the mid-1990’s) is just not happening. Managements seem to view continuity as a strategic aim, and re-invention as a car crash unless it has instant acceptability. Simon uses a favourite Latin tag: Contra vim mortis, medicanem non est in hortis. There is indeed “no cure for death in a garden”, and as these thoughts are written from the bottom of my garden during the “little death” of autumn, I see a great deal more of it in media marketplaces than he does.

But here is a hopeful note. Simon quotes from what I recall as a conversation with him during the writing of this book when he makes reference to the potential of turning research articles on X-rays into a workflow solution for digital training of X-ray technicians. I want to refer Simon to the excellent Brian O’Leary’s “Unified Field Theory of Publishing”  There he will find that passive content no longer has value in networked applications. O’Leary is a “context” man, but his context is ever closer to my workflow. The problem we all face is not just that it is very hard to get people who are not used to it to start analysing the active, problem solving applications of content in the lives of their users/consumers, but it is well nigh impossible to do that if the end purpose is to defend the rigid linear internal production workflow model of the publisher, who cannot conceive of relinquishing his containers or his pricing models, or the accident-waiting-to-happen business model of advertising.

Mischievously, I was also thinking of Simon’s general business readers when I opened a press release from Experian. That company now offers “Decisioning as a Service”, creating a workflow model around decision making and designing in, presumably from the web as well as their own copious resources all the content you need to inform and support a decision. I am sure that this solution does not work at all levels, but it is at once indicative of where the content market is going and poses a challenge to all who commentate on Digital Disruption: why don’t we go and create the modelling that does the job and indicates, even if in outline only, what we need to do in order to transition an old and broken business model into a networked (and mobilely networked) society in a context of rapid change with no foreseeable end. Now that would be a workflow triumph!


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  1. Why the Simple “Me” Beats the Royal “We” « The Scholarly Kitchen on October 26, 2010 10:23

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