In the last couple of weeks, California has been invaded by publishers, librarians and vendors eager to explore their way in a world where publishing paradigms are shifting under their feet.
Here at the Special Libraries Association meeting (SLA) in San Diego this week, Mike Walsh, author of Futuretainment , opened the meeting. The talk, while quite the glitzy performance, held inspiring themes that resonated soundly with those brought up by Tim O’Reilly and others at SSP in San Francisco a week ago.
In this, my first post for The Scholarly Kitchen, I will explore some of these themes. I hope they will hit home with many publishers and librarians thinking through the new realities and opportunities ahead of us.
Publishers of all stripes are in many ways keeping pace with change. The real question, though, is perhaps not technological wizardry in itself. The real opportunity for publishers is to begin to reimagine how your business would look if you started with a clean sheet of paper. What products would you develop? How would you organize your business to achieve your goals? How would you work differently? This question was raised overtly by Walsh as he suggested that we need to think beyond our legacy business and address the needs of the next generation of content creators and consumers.
Walsh put it quite bluntly: “The client of the future is not a demographic, it is your kids.” He then went on to ask “If your kids had your job, what is the one thing they would do differently?” This is something that O’Reilly also touched on at SSP, noting that any child since 2007 has just not experienced life without an iPhone. While O’Reilly quite rightly is not a fan of gaming in itself, the fact remains that there are many apps and tools that teach kids the language of creativity, from Minecraft (my nine year old is an addict) to Bad Piggies. Are we rewiring our kids’ brains?
Walsh gave us a number of wonderful illustrations of how inventive kids can be across the world. In Saudi Arabia, young Saudis face many challenges in finding romance. One solution that inventive Saudi youth came up with was to post their Blackberry numbers on the trunks of their cars. Girls in a coffee shop they were passing would spot these, and call as the boys drove past. The Saudi Government caught on and restrictions grew. Now a boy drives past a coffee shop, activates his Bluetooth, and within seconds a Bluetooth screen name from an interested girl who may have seen him drive by will pop up on his device.
Ok, so this is all quite fascinating, but how does it relate to you as a publisher? Publishers should be asking themselves more about the behaviors, needs and pain points of their users. Do we understand not just the way they use technology, but the social constructs that are changing in the way technology is applied? An interesting way of looking at this, raised by Walsh, is how we identify top performers. Who are the smart ones? Are the smartest those who know the answer, or those who are able to look up the answer in the most agile way? At SSP, O’Reilly also asked us to understand our customer. The theme here is that we are much more likely to build successful publishing products if we understand user behavior.
Publishers, like many businesses, have an operational model that harkens back to the 19th century, where control of the business was paramount. While most publishers have seen significant outsourcing, as Walsh puts it, “…you have just exported your mess.” Now things are changing, and it seems that what may distinguish a publisher’s ability to differentiate itself will be its agility and speed, along with the ability for flexible collaboration. Walsh encourages us as publishers, libraries, and academic societies to set up fast internal networks utilizing cloud-based management, encouraging the best performers in the business to use this network for innovation – perhaps akin to working internally in the same way you may use Facebook.
An interesting example of this approach to operating a business can be seen in Intel’s appointment of Dr. Genevieve Bell, a cultural anthropologist, as Director, Interaction & Experience Research. She is also the 2013 Women of Vision Award winner for Leadership. Hers is an enviable job: to observe, understand and reinvent the way we use computers. Take a look at this wonderful video describing her work:
There is another blog post in the making here about the value of big data, around which there is much hype. As Walsh suggests, perhaps Big Data is not about investing in sophisticated technology, but leveraging data to make better decisions.
My take-away – stay close to the customer.