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If Journalism Is Going To Survive As A Business, We Need To Rethink The Chinese Wall

2015 April 15
by Greg
Perry White

There’s no doubt that journalism in crisis.  Great institutions like The New York Times and The Washington Post, once fantastically profitable, now struggle to stay afloat.  News bureaus, both international and local, are being drawn down as budgets are cut to the bone.

The recent debacle at The New Republic shows the pitfalls. A well-heeled white knight comes in to save the company and decides he wants to be editor-in-chief.  His handpicked CEO vows to “break shit” and build a “vertically integrated digital-media company.” Top journalists balk and leave.

It has become fashionable to say that publishers must innovate in order to survive, yet that will only take us so far.  We also need to shift our mental models of how journalism operates as a business.  In order for top quality journalism to survive, it needs to permeate the entire enterprise and that means killing the time honored practice of Chinese walls.

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How Power Is Shifting From Corporations To Platforms

2015 April 12
Jeff Bezos

It was largely during the 20th century that corporations rose to power. Private enterprises— usually run by a cadre of professional managers rather than by entrepreneurs— came to rival the reach and influence of governments, controlling massive resources that were not bound by traditional borders.

Today, however, that dominance is on the wane.  Consider the case of Ford. During the recent financial crisis, the company lobbied hard for the government to bail out its rivals.   It wasn’t an act of altruism, but survival.  If GM and Chrysler went down, so would the supplier networks upon which Ford depended.

In a connected world, the most important resources are no longer what you own, but what you can access and the line between competition and codependence is beginning to blur. That changes the game entirely.  Successful enterprises can no longer prosper merely by deploying assets efficiently, but must effectively manage and deepen connections.
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Why Isn’t What’s Good For Microsoft Good For The Country?

2015 April 8
by Greg
Microsoft Research

It used to be said that what was good for General Motors was good for the country.  The thinking was that by supporting the engines of prosperity, we’re all be better off. Yet it would also seem that, in many cases at least, what makes industry successful can also improve the public sector.

If private, profit-seeking organizations see value in making investments, then it’s likely that making similar public investments could improve the country as a whole.  So it is curious, to say the least, that American businesses are increasing capital investment while our public infrastructure is crumbling.

The situation is even more marked in basic science, which has become a convenient punching bag for many politicians, while at the same time firms like Microsoft are increasing their commitment to making new discoveries.  If we’re going to win the future, we have to invest in it.  Or, put another way, why isn’t what’s good for Microsoft good for the country?

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The Art Of The Shift

2015 April 5
Jumping the gap

In an age of disruption the only viable strategy is to adapt. Today things move too quickly to stick with old paradigms once their time has passed.  Once outdated platforms fail to solve new problems, they will be overtaken with blazing speed and we must either make a shift or get left behind.

Yet that’s easier said than done.  As I’ve pointed out before, even Albert Einstein himself was unable to accept a new model for physics, even though he was the one who first brought it about.  Changing our mental model of how the world works is an exceedingly hard thing to do.

In his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn called this process a paradigm shift and there’s a lot more to it than you might think.  It’s not enough to learn new ideas; we need to unlearn old ones.  The tried and true, for all of its charms, will eventually be disrupted and, if we are to manage for disruption, we need to master the art of the shift.

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The Science Behind Better Networking

2015 April 1

Networking is a time-honored tradition.  You go to a conference or other event, mix it up, meet new people and expand your circle.  Hopefully, one of these random connections will be fruitful and lead to a new opportunity that will make you a richer, more fulfilled person.

That does happen, but it’s exceedingly rare.  Random connections are random for a reason.  Most people we bump into have nothing to do with us.  They have different jobs, different friends and different interests.  People we meet on planes usually just eat their peanuts and then go their own way.

Yet network science shows that there is enormous potential much closer to home—the friends of our friends and their friends as well.  There is, in fact a teeming mass—thousands of people—who are not random at all, but no more than a few social hops away and many are likely to be valuable connections.  If you want to get more out of networking, start with them.

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How PARC Saved Xerox

2015 March 29
by Greg
Xerox 9700

Xerox invented the core technology that made personal computing easy and fun—the mouse, the graphical user interface and the ethernet—but it was Steve Jobs who built the Macintosh and profited.  By now, the story has become so well known that it’s almost a cliche.

The story resonates because it ties into two recurring themes:  The wily entrepreneur outmaneuvering the bloated corporate behemoth and the primacy of business acumen over the development of core technology.  Yet there’s a lot more to it than that.

PARC—Xerox’s legendary Palo Alto Research Center—was vastly more than a mere collection of tinkering eggheads.  In fact, it was an investment that paid handsome returns and generated profits long after the decline of the core copier business.  To see why, you only have to know the story of Gary Starkweather and the invention of the laser printer.

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4 Innovation Lessons From The History Of Warfare

2015 March 25
by Greg

What do the Hydrogen bomb, the Minuteman missile and precision guided weapons all have in common? They all provided crucial financing for technology that we now carry around in our pockets.  It is a curious fact of modern society that civilian life, in large part, is powered by the technology of war.

Even today, national security budgets continue to play a big part in technology.  While politicians argue about green energy, the military is moving ahead full throttle.  DARPA, the agency which brought us the Internet, helped invent self driving cars.  The CIA even has its own venture fund.

Many believe that the enormous impact the military has on technology is a moral dilemma and they may be right.  Leaving that aside, however, we can also learn a great deal about innovation by studying the history of war.  In War Made New, Max Boot gives us the chance to do just that and it does indeed deliver great insights for anyone interested in innovation.

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Why Big Organizations Are Broken

2015 March 22

Charles Erwin Wilson, Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense is credited with the quote, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  In fact, what he said was actually the inverse (that what was good for the country was good for GM), but no matter, both statements had an element of truth.

Firms like GM needed a strong government to provide extensive industrial infrastructure and effective economic governance.  Governments, for their part, needed large corporations to run the economy productively, raise living standards and expand the tax base.

Today, according to Gallup, we’ve lost our faith in large institutions, including government, religious organizations and labor unions (though we never had much faith in big business). Many attribute this trend to high profile scandals and the financial crisis, but the reality is that the decline is longstanding.  In truth, large organizations are fundamentally broken.

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The Big Marketing Shift

2015 March 18
making the leap

Marketing used to be pretty simple.  You developed a compelling message, used mass media to broadcast that message to large audiences and grew market share. Mostly, you aimed for the meaty part of the curve, where the law of averages conspired in your favor.

Then came the cable TV era.  Audiences fragmented and targeting became the order of the day.  Instead of starting with the message, marketers thrived on consumer insight and tried to identify a specific emotional trigger that would win them loyal customers.

Now mass marketing has shifted to mass personalization and messaging and targeting have given way to activation.  It is no longer enough to simply grab attention, we have to hold attention.  Today’s marketers need to inspire movements in which their customers become their best salespeople.  We need to make a fundamental shift in mental models.

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Is Your Platform Burning?

2015 March 15
by Greg

In 1892, George Eastman formed the Eastman Kodak Company to “make the camera as convenient as a pencil.”  The idea took off and by the early 20th century, Kodak had become one of America’s largest companies and Eastman one of its most successful entrepreneurs.

What made Kodak so successful was not just its products, but the ecosystem that it developed around them.  From chemicals to specialized paper to specifically designed processes, the firm became a centralized platform for connecting people to the resources they needed to capture moments on film.

Unfortunately, a new technology came along—digital photography—that transformed Kodak’s model into a burning platform.  Despite pioneering the technology, the company was unable to move to a more decentralized model, found itself marginalized and ultimately bankrupt.  If you want to avoid the same fate, here are three things you’ll want to look out for.

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