What will you do when people stop using text to input and receive information from the Internet? How will you deliver information to people who can’t read beyond a fourth grade level? How will you collaborate at the office together?
You may think it’s far-fetched to ask these things; however, we can be certain that media technologies will evolve. In fact, media evolves quicker with each passing decade. When those changes occur, the way people interact evolves, too.
Just think about the way smartphones have changed our lives, both at work and at home. Phones have brought our jobs home, creating new concerns about being on the clock 24/7 and work/life balance.
Instead of calling a woman or man of romantic interest to ask them out, we text them. Worse, we also break up with them via text (By the way, I still don’t get this. As an older man, ending a relationship via text seems like a cowardly thing to do).
Generally speaking, the smartphone has already begun to erode traditional literacy. With texts, emoticons, and a new reliance on visual media, we are seeing a rapid transformation in the way people are consuming information.
The Medium Always Transforms
You know how I feel about social network specific-strategies. In a literal sense the “message is the medium” approach to marketing is a failure waiting to happen. Marshall Mcluhan was right, though, at least in the sense that media is transformative. It changes the very fabric of our lives.
Said Mcluhan, “Each medium, independent of the content it mediates, has its own intrinsic effects which are its unique message. The message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.”
As the Internet progresses it affects every kind of related media, from email to video. It changes the very way we interact, learn, and progress. It is inevitable that this transformative change will continue, and it will do so with more and more speed.
In turn the need to evolve our skill sets at work and at home will increase. At a minimum, media evolution will bring periodic disruptive changes that demand quick evolution. To deny this impact is to deny everything that’s happened to our world since the Internet took the consumer world by storm in the nineties.
The question isn’t what will change. Instead the question is what will you do when it happens? Will you be flexible and open to change? Will you evolve? Or will you suffer the pain and consequences of entrenched thinking and denial?
We thought it would be great to have a conversation with them at xPotomac on August 27th and discuss. To help prepare folks, I interviewed Jamie and Maddie last week in Georgetown. The interview is quite fun and even includes a funny reference to Star Wars as you will see. Don’t miss their session on August 27th (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off).
GL: Is GenX the lost generation?
MG: We’re not lost. I think we are purposefully the bridge. We have a foot in both places. Millennials don’t remember work before the Internet, but we do remember some of the old ways of working that still make sense. At the same time, we’re fully digital and we get that, too.
JN: Because we kind of invented all the Internet (laughs). We actually mention this at the very end of the book. It’s a little clichéd, but we’re all in this together. The millennials don’t actually take over. No one generation ever runs it all by themselves.
We use a Star Wars metaphor. Millennials are Luke and Leia. They’re the heroes.
GL: So does that make us OB1?
Both MG and JN: No, that’s the Baby Boomers.
JN: We’re Han Solo. Yes, we’re cynical, we’re independent, we’re all about taking care of ourselves, but we might save the day in the end.
GL: What is digital’s role in the millennial movement?
MG: The four key capacities that come out of our research — which is this intersection about millennials, what they like, how they operate, and awesome cultures – are digital, clear, fluid and fast.
Digital is the first one and we define digital as the digital mindset, which is about a relentless focus on the user experience. The user is the employee as well is the customer. It’s also about customization and personalization for the middle of the market as well as your top players. Then there’s continuous learning, continuous upgrades.
Millennials are used to having apps on their phone. Any kind of software that they use upgrades itself all the time. They want that in their work experience, their professional development.
GL: Have you seen Slack? Is Slack an example of that?
MG: Yes, we actually use Slack amongst the two of us. I am actually watching Slack pretty closely right now, and am fascinated by them. The reason it’s taking off is that acts in the same way that you can personalize your phones, every individual has a whole different library of apps based on what they want, need and use.
Slack acts in the same way, you connect all of your services, but at the heart of it is social, collaborative and chat, and the core of it is a chat stream. You can personalize your experience. It’s not about one ring to rule it all. It finds a middle way to connect.
JN: It’s just so pleasant to use. It follows what software designers should be doing right following an intense user experience. We argue in our book that you need that same intense user experience focus what it comes to your employees and you run your organization. Why are you not designing your organization with this radical emphasis on does this work for our employees?
The case study we use is a small nonprofit – they’ve only got 22 people – they designed the entire organization around the needs of the employee. Like most of the places we found for our case studies, employees say things like, “I can’t imagine working anywhere else.” Or, “I remember what it was like for XYZ company, and I’ll never go back again.”
When they have an opening they get applicants from the best tech companies in town. Not the other way around. Usually, nonprofits lose their best talent to the private sector.
They redesigned their office space and created it with the employee needs in mind, and not senior management. They put the boss out in front in a pod with everyone else, not in an office; because they found when everyone has senior access to senior managers they got their job done more quickly and effectively. There’s open space where they walk together, there’s a yoga room, they have a little coffee area, there’s wifi on the roof even though they are in Chicago. If it works for the employee, that’s what they do.
Their job descriptions are customized every year to the individual based on their career path. You could have two people in the same job with very different job descriptions because they are on different paths in their career. That’s harder work for the organization, but it’s better for the employee. It gets [the nonprofit] this kind of engagement that everyone is searching for in organizations, and they basically get more done than any of their peer organizations.
They put all of their content that they ever created for this association – The American Society for Surgery of the Hand – and put it online. They made it searchable across all platforms in an 18-month platform. It takes most associations 18 months to decide to do anything. They are faster and they get more done even thought they are only 22 people.
MG: Seven of their staff are full-time technology people.
JN: The average spend on technology in the association world is about 4%. They’ve got a third of just their personnel. They also have tablets and laptops and a database system. So they spend a lot more than that on technology.
That was one of our points in the book. You have to at least be on the right side of the technology curve. It’s still just an entry into the game.
GL: With technology today, would you say that we are in a constant stasis of change? How do people deal with that?
MG: This is one of the things that the millennial generation is very comfortable with. They are very comfortable with switching from one piece of software to the next.
GL: What do you think their secret is?
MG: I think it’s literally just based on social media and mobile apps. You have this tool in your pocket every single day, and it changes all the time based on when apps change. They live with this, they communicate with their friends with this, they play games, they do all of these things that continuously change. So they get to the workplace and they don’t understand why they are still using Sharepoint.
JN: I think of the word disruption, and there’s sort of constant disruption. Older generations define that as a problem. I don’t think that word disruption is as problematic for the younger generation.
What the millennial generation is more capacity to deal with the short term. There may be a downside to that; are they looking at the long term enough? But they are really good at dealing with short-term disruption: “This doesn’t work? That’s fine, we’ll just move to the next app.”
In the old world, the scenario would be we spent six months learning this app. We have to use it for another 18 months otherwise there is no ROI on it. [Millennials} say no it doesn’t work anymore, even though six months ago I thought it would, so we’ll just use something new.
MG: This is where the generational difference is in the workplace. A boomer IT manager who is in charge of the budget doesn’t want to buy a new thing every six months. You have to articulate why it is actually good to be flexible in the software you buy. You have to buy it with the understanding that it might not work in six months despite the money and they training you just put everyone through.
GL: Is there one thing you would like impart on today’s Xers and Baby Boomers?
JN: Most senior leaders need to radically shift their focus to their internal culture. Millennials care much more about culture than previous generations did. They literally ask them what matters most when it comes to a job, and culture comes first. Salary comes fourth. That’s not traditionally been how we focus on an inside organization.
So if you aren’t building cultures that make sense to millennials, you are going to lose for a long time. They are going to be your customers and your employees for the next 20 years.
They are the kind of generation that says if you are not doing it for me, I am going to go do it myself. That’s what they grew up with is the ability to do that because they have the social Internet. A lot of organizations say well if I don’t hire you, you’re going to have to go home and live with Mom. And [millennials] say, OK I’ll go home and I’ll start something.
The statement that we must evolve may seem obvious to many. Heads nod, people murmur their agreement, and they share their experiences.
Understanding what is coming next and how to evolve a skill set to meet that change both represent different problems. But to some the risks of failure, of looking like a fool used to far outweigh the rewards. Instead, people play it safe letting the young and the bold take the risks. So in my mind, successful evolution begins with an attitudinal shift, one that will become necessary for a majority of the workforce over the next few years.
The time of letting others innovate and then catching up when a trend becomes the norm is passing. A next generation of executives – millennials – are rising to the fore. Unlike Baby Boomers and to a lesser extent Gen Xers, millennials are less vested in tools and processes. Workers must embrace never-ending change.Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant, authors of When Millennials Take Over for xPotomac (post running on Wednesday). They discussed how generally millennials will simply move to the next tool set if it works better. There is little attachment to prior best practices. If something offers a better way, millennials simply migrate.
This new attitude towards change will become increasingly prevalent in the workforce. To stay relevant people must embrace change. Otherwise the consequences include limited career paths and possible unemployment.
Change with New Media
Changes come in a variety of forms, from workspace structure and layout to simple changes in media types. The latter is oft discussed because they affect so many people.
Here is a current example: xPotomac co-founders Shonali Burke and Patrick Ashamalla wanted to use Slack to help foster our dialogue and communications. For those of you who are not familiar with Slack, it is a next generation messaging service that does a better job of threading and storing conversations. Slack is generating impressive growth as more and more people use the service and share it with their friends.
I was reticent to use Slack given that I am already on Google Talk and Skype, but they gently nudged me. Sure enough, the conversations have been easier to access and maintain. It would be helpful to have Slack better integrated into other tools, but overall it is an improvement for workplace messaging. So on it goes. Adios Google Talks.
The only reason why I experimented was because both Shonali and Patrick touted the values of Slack. I listened. Here was a majority of the three vouching for the new.
Whenever I hear multiple sources tell me about a new method or tool, I force myself to set aside the old and begin experimenting. I have to lay aside prejudices. Experience has taught me that the new will always replace old, sooner or later. When I avoid the new, I miss new tools and become antiquated.
When Pinterest broke out, I scorned the social network. Today, it is one of the most powerful networks out there. As a result I had to play catch up, and learn about Pinterest. I possess enough knowledge about the network to guide clients, but I’ll never be a leader in the world of Pinners. The time of early adoption passed me by.
The Value of Short Term Memory
One attitude I try to practice is maintaining a short-term memory. Specifically, I intentionally try not to get stuck on past best practices, tools and technologies. Things change so quickly it’s not worth hardlining an older approach. It’s best to stay in the moment.
This willingness to forget is very intentional for me. I basically have to force myself to set aside skepticism (I guess that disqualifies me as a millennial). It’s important to approach things with an open mind, and without the baggage of preconceived notions.
To be fair, not every new medium or technology is a winner for me. Some are just the shiny object du jour. Others just don’t fit into my business or personal life. What’s important is that I am willing to try them. And if they don’t work, then I must forget them just as easily as I would forget an old technology or method.
It was interesting to see Chris Brogan openly experiment with and eventually reject Periscope as a tool last week. He saw its value for others, but ultimately decided it didn’t work within his media mix. I get that, often finding video to be difficult to incorporate (at least with the budgets I have to work within).
Moving forward, will I usually turn away from video? Probably not. At some point, a new format will make it the right medium to communicate in, or budgets will increase to produce the kind of videos I believe in, or video will become easier for me to produce. It would be smart to lay aside past experiences and experiment yet again.
Attitude is the first thing. But without the methods and means to adapt to change, it’s like having a bike with a flat tire. You still get nowhere.
How can someone evolve their skills successfully and not get caught off guard? Part of that is foreseeing change as it is happening or is about to happen, and the second part is rapid adoption of new skills.
It used to be that every seven years, you would need to adapt a new skillset and your career would evolve. For example, it became necessary to learn team management or email marketing or [fill in the blank]. Now in communications, you need a new skill set every year or at least a major evolution of an existing one.
We are in the evolution revolution, a constant state of change. Adapting to new media dynamics is a must for those that want to prosper. Or we can watch our skills rapidly decay into obselescence.
Technology is impacting many industries, particularly distribution and product types. You could say the same for just about any business that depends on online media to help conduct its business, from bookstores to the travel industry.
When I consider industries impacted the most, I can’t help but think about the music industry. Change has ravaged the music sector, from the death of album sales courtesy of iTunes to the transition of Clear Channel radio to iHeartRadio, a company that is heavily pushing its live music events for social media advertisers.
This means we have to be ready to constantly innovate and adapt, no easy task.
The Medium Is Everything
People debate whether or not Marshall McLuhan’s timeless theory the medium is the message is valid. Old school communicators hate it, but in reality they are being forced to evolve their messages dramatically to meet audience expectations in diverse media. In fact, the medium forces a complete change in approach.
Consider that those who approach social media with the exact same methods they used in traditional methods almost always fail. We could have all sorts of discussions — and unfortunately many social media experts do until the point of pain — about the nuances of engagement. But for the communicator? Social media changes everything, even media relations.
McLuhan would argue that we miss the subtle impacts media make in our existence. That is why we find ourselves having to catch up with change forced upon us.
When McLuhan espoused that theory more than 50 years ago, evolutions were subtler. Kennedy had just been shot, unfolding a national tragedy across television changing society and creating the question, Where were you when you found out.” That same drama unfolded for the Challenger accident and 9/11, too.
Today, we are likely to find out breaking news before it is officially reported across a diverse group of media, from Twitter and Instagram to email and radio. Further, while captivated, our minds will be distracted by something shortly thereafter on our phone or other personal device.
A Personal Evolution
I like to tell people if I marketed using digital media the way I did in 2006, I would be out of business. Truth. First, I would primarily blog and comment on other blogs.
If you haven’t noticed, today there are more marketing blogs than there are rats in the DC sewer system. Every podunk agency and consultant on earth has a blog these days. What was once a rare and unique read is now pedestrian and boring.
Commenting drove engagement in those old days. Today, blog comments are few and far between with most of the conversation distributed across social networks and private groups.
Digital marketing has evolved to become social networking, and then content marketing, and then marketing automation, and now increasingly user experience-driven marketing. Content has moved from personality opinion blogs to visual media with video, photos and graphics driving engagement. Necessary skillsets have moved from basic HTML coding, SEO skills and writing to data analytics, creative visualization, and niche targeting.
With these many dramatic changes impacting communications, the type of changes that would occur over decades (note the plural) in the prior century — I evolved. I had to, or else my career would sputter out.
Some of these changes were for the better, others were for the worse. Some made my business sing (two business books come to mind) while others were a bust or just a “me, too” addition (for example, our Google Analytics effort last year).
I moved from top ten PR Blogger to a social good advocate to a content marketer. My skills moved from blogging to book and white paper writing, to hybridized photographer/written content creator.
It would be easy to tell you that this is it, that I am comfortable, but in truth I am not. Just seeing how the agency business has changed so dramatically in the past couple of years is causing me to take an attitude of constant learning and an openness to change in every way.
I am also focusing on specialization. I have enrolled in two trainings that will take a total of eight work days in the next four weeks, all to strengthen my personal communications skill sets. There are more that I will need to take on if I want to stay on the edge.
Welcome to the evolution revolution. The great challenge for us as communicators is maintaining a constant state of learning. Only then can we transform and successfully meet the times over and over again.
This weekend I attended the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City. What would a four-time author have to learn at an event like this? Quite a lot apparently. It was a worthwhile experience, one that I am glad I approached with an open mind.
I learned more about book publishing in one day than I had in the past eight months. From the rise of new hybrid publishers to independendent book marketing jujitsu, I gleaned many insights.
More than anything, in this day and age of super pundits it is so important to remain teachable. There are so many experts who sit atop their pedastals, and point out the Way it Should Be. We see fewer and fewer posts about how people learned and grew.
Point being is that everything changes. To stay ahead — or really to just keep pace — you have to remain open to evolutionary shifts. Things change so quickly that if you don’t, you will be made a novice again, like it or not. So it’s remain teachable or get lapped.
If I attended the conference as a know it all writer who had published four books, then I would have denied myself a great experience. For example, I did not know how powerful GoodReads Groups could be (I started on called Living in Words, please join us!), or that most Kickstarter campaigns succeed (80% to be exact) if they reach 20% of their funding. I learned a whole bunch about how authors are building value for their readers, keeping them interested beyond launch periods.
One thing that became clear at the conference (at least in my mind) is the day of a blogger launching a book to their social media community is not a sustainable model. Hustling book sales by posting ceaselessly online is coming to an end. People want valuable content and insights from authors, not personal branding or self-aggrandizing chest beating.
These are just a few of the insights I picked up this weekend.
Methods to Keep Growing
Overall, the weekend got me thinking about remaining teachable. The ceiling for growth really lies within. Deciding how much one is willing to continue learning depends on how open-minded one is. Can we keep challenging our existing ideas and appraoches?
Here is a list of ways to exercise one’s mind:
Attend an industry conference
Take a class
Learn a new, but related sister skill
Read a book by a leading competitor
Travel to a different country and study a different culture
Use new tools to perform your work
These are just some of the ways I challenge myself. How do you push your own limits? Or do you settle for status quo?
Say what you will about Marshall McLuhan and the timeless media theory debate he inspired, “The medium is the message.” If you read his work, you come to appreciate how much he anticipated, from the destruction of privacy to the dramatic impact that electronic media change inspires.
While I believe a brand experience transcends any singular medium, I do believe the ability to navigate media change marks the successful communicator. Stasis in tactical approach is the fastest way to make oneself irrelevant. Communicators need to adapt methods to rapidly evolving media.
The medium becomes the method. At a minimum it defines the tactical approach.
Consider the mass scurry that occurs everytime Google alters its algorithm or Facebook changes its interface. Communicators across the Internet write posts telling peers and clients What It Means. Media change defines the communicator’s approach. On a larger scale, those channels must evolve frequently to remain prescient in the face of fast moving trends, such as integrating contextual data, visual media consumption, widespread spamming based on their systems, and more.
Worked Over By Media
McLuhan said that “all media work us over completely.” He meant from a sociological perspective. Media defines our behavior, from consumption to interaction. Technology evolution defines the medium itself, forcing networks and traditional media to evolve or perish.
Doubt me? Go to your favorite restaurant and leave your phone in the car. Then watch everyone else use their phones. They ignore their dinner mates, or share conversation points with them, or even take a selfie (mates are optional). The smartphone defines our experience, both at the physical level as well as how we present our experience online (true or false).
Consider how integral social has become to TV’s existance. Yesterday’s True Blood season premier was promoted with a preceding social TV marathon. Those social media updates usually occur on mobile phones and tablets while people watch the show.
Keep in mind the iPhone was first introduced to the market in 2007. Android entered our worlds one year later. In January, 2014 66.8 percent of Americans owned a smartphone, according to Comscore. Thorough society-wide changes occured in less than a decade.
The Media Debate
Last week I added my voice to the on and off again debate of whether (independent) blogging is dying. It was the first time I outright said that blogging is probably not a smart primary tactic for a significant group of companies.
Why say that? Online media has changed in the past 10 years. The difficulties and slow rewards of daily blog production in the face of other content creation options makes blogging less attractive in my mind. I would weigh other tactics first.
The discussion spawned here by the movement towards visual literacy saw some severe reactions defending text-based communications. Certainly text will not disappear, but I do beleive it will become a secondary form of content presentation as evidenced by significant trends. It’s not that photos are becoming dominant, it’s that people increasingly prefer video, photos, graphics, podcasts, etc. over text. That trend will only increase as more content is created and mobility continues to dominate Internet access.
Even discussions like this written post are becoming more of a niche form with every passing year. There will always be some who prefer to weigh their thoughts through the written word. But like the senior executive who doesn’t understand how to integrate travel itineraries onto their smartphone, we will be surpassed by the media change. Unless we adapt to the medium.
The medium is the method. We have no choice but to change or become irrelevent.