I had the privilege of watching the recent NSA surveillance story unfold from my hotel room in London this June. Seeing the story from a decidedly non-American viewpoint got me thinking a bit differently about the implications for our society. From my point of view — no matter how you define the squishy and now beat-to-death “big data” concept — the NSA story has moved it from something “they use” to something that is uncomfortably close to where we live our lives. In other words, big data just moved in next door and is peeking over our fences into our living rooms. Eeek.
There are lots of socio-political issues with this, and I’m not even going to go there. However, the way that I see it, this incident will ultimately create a lot of opportunity for businesses savvy enough to get ahead of it the can of worms now squirming in our laps.
I think one of two things is going to happen. Either: 1) the US general public will shrug and go back to business as usual and this story will die, or 2) the public outrage will demand governmental oversight and accountability resulting in a tightening of our legal system. The latter case would be an example of how digital disruption, a topic we have written and blogged about for a while, is not just a business thing. It’s a cultural phenomenon that will rock our society for a long time.
For the history of humanity, for one person to make a difference, the individual had to convince many others to join the pursuit. And the convincing part was tough — whether you were Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, Jr., the amount of effort was high, and the probability of success was low. (Certainly the list of people who tried to change the world and failed is long; it’s just that we won’t know their names, which itself is part of my point.) From Christopher Columbus to Steve Jobs, individual power has really only amounted to much infrequently, and only when backed by very large and wealthy entities. Kings and queens financed the discovery of the Americas; Wall Street and venture capital bankrolled Silicon Valley.
I recently heard my all-time favorite excuse for why you can't disrupt yourself. It was in a session with 40 senior IT leaders of a Fortune 500 company including the CIO. Somebody brought up Uber and Airbnb, and most in the room nodded in agreement that a big company could learn a thing or two from these disruptors. That's when someone dropped my new favorite excuse: "But we can't imitate Uber and Airbnb because what they're doing is illegal."
Sure, it would be nice to just avoid taking the fast and bumpy road of disruption in favor of staying in the smooth parking lot of denial. But that's not really an option because the lessons of Uber, Airbnb, and other disruptors apply to everyone in every industry.
I don't mean to sidestep the legal question, but I do mean to point out that it's hardly the issue here. Uber and Airbnb are coming under fire because they're using cheap technology and existing resources to make their customer's lives dramatically better, one positive experience at a time. That's the real issue here, and it's the one companies of any size should focus on.
Welcome, graduates of the class of 2013, and congratulations. You are some of the finest students our system of education — no, our society — has ever produced. Rather than stand here and occupy your time with random inspirational thoughts, I would prefer to stand back and let you rush out there to disrupt the world into which you were born.
Unfortunately, you probably won’t. And that’s too bad because those of us who have gone before you really need you to disrupt things — which is ironic to say because we are actually the reason you won’t live up to your potential.
Now that I have your attention (and perhaps have primed the urge for an antidepressant), let me tell you why your future is likely so bleak.
You are among the world’s first fully digital citizens. You were born after the Macintosh IIx, Windows 3.0, and the launch of AOL. We now have the iPad, Windows 8, and Google Fiber. When you entered kindergarten, already 20 million US households were connected to the Internet, and by the time you started high school, that number had quadrupled to approximately 80 million. Oh, and in that year of high school, YouTube posted its first video and Facebook opened its social network to anyone with an email address; today, YouTube shows 4 billion hours of videos each month, and Facebook has more than 1 billion friends.
At Forrester we spend a lot of time analyzing the impact of digital disruption on business, technology and marketing. We even wrote a book on the subject. But don't just take our word for it. At Forrester's Forum For Marketing Leaders EMEA, MickePaqvalén, Founder, Chairman and Entrepreneur at Kiosked- a platform that turns any online content, images, videos and applications into interactive and viral storefronts - will present his view on what it takes to think, and act, like a (digital) disruptor. The below Q&A gives a summary of my conversation with Micke as a preview to his session on day two of our Forum, which takes place in London on May 21 - 22.
Q: You've founded and sold several successful start-ups. How do you tell the difference between real innovation opportunities and over-hyped ideas?
A: When I hear about new business ideas I always ask one question: How does it benefit everyone involved or which existing problem does it solve? That’s it. It’s a simple test, but if it fails the business will fail. If a business idea is not beneficial it is an over-hyped idea, which sadly happens too often as well. Hype is an important factor of business but I would rather create long-lasting impact.
At Google I/O, the company managed to impress on a lot of fronts, enough that its stock began to climb as investors realized that Google is keeping up with — and in some cases, staying in front of — its digital platform competitors Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft. The new developer tools and resources announced will certainly lead to better apps, be developed more quickly, and be capable of generating more revenue. And consumer experiences in mobile, Google Maps, and the browser are about to get significantly more useful and elegant.
But one announcement debuted at I/O that doesn’t move the needle for Google — at least not as much as it could have — is the Google Play Music All Access pass. Despite the convoluted moniker, the service is straightforward: Pay $9.99 a month (in the US for now, more countries to come), and you’ll have unlimited access to a cloud-based music library with intuitive features that allow elegant discovery, consumption, and sharing of music.
If it sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The service can’t differentiate on its music library because the best it can do is license the same library that Spotify and Rdio already offer. All Access also creates playlists for you based on your music tastes as expressed by you directly or learned from your listening patterns and friends. That should also sound familiar because the same value is contained to various degrees in Pandora, iTunes, and Amazon Cloud Player.
Bottom line: Despite working really hard, the best that Google can do in music is to catch up to everybody else in the field. And that’s precisely what the company has done.
As I write this, I am sitting in Boston’s Logan airport surrounded by healthy- but somber-looking people clad in the yellow and blue of the official jersey of the Boston Marathon. Some are wearing their medals, some are walking with a bit of a limp. All of them are on the phone with their loved ones, telling their stories of survival. I was not one of them, I wasn’t even down in the city – my favorite place to watch the historic marathon is at the 25 kilometer mark, miles away from the explosions. But I feel for them, I feel with them, and for a brief moment, we are all brothers and sisters. With each phone call, text, email, or tweet from friends and associates from around the world – especially those from Madrid and London who feel this solidarity especially deeply – I am reminded that we are better than this, we will be better than this.
How will we be better than this? In the days and months to come we will do what the best of us always do, we will support each other and work to build a better society than the one that permitted this. But what about the long run? Given my role – I am not a first responder, I was not on the front lines, the best I could do was offer my house to marathon-running friends as a place to regroup, refuel, and just be surrounded by good feelings for a while before beginning a long drive home – I am best able to help in the long run rather than the short run.
Monday’s The New York Times offers a defense of authors’ rights from bestselling author and head of the Authors Guild, Scott Turow. In the piece, Turow interprets a Supreme Court decision that allows the importation of books purchased abroad for resell in the US, making it seem like all of Western culture would henceforth be at risk. Later the same day, I read a brief statement from News Corp in which the company threatened to make the FOX broadcast network a premium pay channel in order to get its just compensation for its creative works ahead of the likely decision that Aereo is not illegally capturing and restreaming broadcast content.
These individuals and organizations have the right to do what they feel they must as they pass through the phase known as denial. But may I offer this one small suggestion to help them through the stages of grief yet to come: Stop pretending that the foe you face won’t eventually win because it will. That goes for all of you. Digital disruption will eliminate your structural advantages someday, too.
We’ve been through this before, dating back to the first time the music industry sued someone to prevent the future. No, it wasn’t Napster or the users of BitTorrent in the 2000s. It was actually Diamond Multimedia, makers of the new PMP300 MP3 players, and the year was 1998. The argument then was the same as it is today: We, the people who currently benefit from an artificial monopoly in either the creation or distribution of value, don’t want that monopoly to end.
After traveling 5,000 miles in three days to speak about digital disruption (I know, it's odd that my physical body has to go somewhere to talk about being more digitally disruptive), I fell asleep on a train yesterday and missed one of the most noteworthy events of the week: Amazon acquired Goodreads.
Full disclosure on this one up front: Amazon published my recent book, Digital Disruption. At the same time, I am a Goodreads member for more than five years; in fact, if you have read any of the most-liked reviews of the Twilight books on Amazon, chances are good you've read mine. That is to say that I am not exactly neutral on this one. But I'll do my best to be objective in answering all the anger being expressed on Twitter and in the trades when I point out that Goodreads was not saving itself for Amazon like some virginal tribute. It has been sitting there, all along, waiting for the right offer to come along. That's how venture capital works, people.
That's not to dismiss altogether the reactions I'm seeing, which range from Amazon wants to own the whole world (and to be fair, maybe it does) to How could Goodreads do this to us. But among all the hurt feelings and handwringing about the fall of publishing and the eventual reign of cohabitating cats and dogs (oh, I do hope you get that reference), I have an important question to ask, one that I am stealing from author Nick Harkaway (@Harkaway) who wrote this on Twitter the morning after:
I recently completed James L. McQuivey's Digital Disruption, which is well worth the read if you have not yet gotten your hands on a copy. The book analyzes factors that allow for the emergence of digital disruptors — individuals who are pushing the envelope of product efficiency by harnessing available digital capabilities. In the book, James mentions that most digital disruptors are under age 35 because these individuals were “the first to grow up in a consumer economy where free things were not simply promotional tools . . . [they] internalized the idea of free from the consumer side, which led to the kinds of rapid digital adoption curves that run through the body of digital disruption like arterial supply lines.”
This is an intriguing point because it hints at young consumers’ evolving expectations of free tools and content. For the upcoming generation, the capacity for digital productivity and entertainment free of charge is less of a privilege and more of a norm. Today, consumers can get what they want quickly and cheaply; therefore, they expect that their needs will be met faster and more frequently than ever before.
This idea is particularly relevant when it comes to mobile interaction. The overwhelming majority of consumers say they only access mobile application content for free. Analysis of Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data reflects this sentiment: While some consumers state they may pay a one-time download fee for gaming or music apps, most would exclusively choose free media: