“Always” vs. “sometimes”

A couple of weeks ago, Mathew Ingram wrote about roadblocks to adopting new business models. His post, which appeared on paidContent, focused on an excerpt from Rebuilding The News, a new book by C.W. Anderson.

Anderson reports the results of his work researching the decline of traditional journalism and the rise of alternative models in the Philadelphia market. I’ve ordered the book, but I’ve not read it, so I’ll wait to comment in detail on its contents.

As reported by Ingram, Anderson’s broad point about roadblocks echoes across all media businesses. A commitment to protecting and defending what has worked in the past can block the kind of experimentation and learning that is vital to developing new approaches.

Ingram invokes Clayton Christensen and his work on disruptive innovation, the right touchstone these days (especially in the newspaper business). In my work, I often see the precursors to disruption expressed in absolutes: “People will always …”

  • Seek out quality
  • Want a trusted source
  • Need curation
  • Favor a well-known brand

Maybe all of those things are true, some of the time. If that’s the case; it’s more than useful to know the break points.

“Always” statements are unduly rigid. If people will always seek out quality, then we need to be seen as the quality provider, right? Start down that path and pretty soon you’re creating processes, tools and hierarchies to insure quality.

I find “sometimes” statements more useful. “People may sometimes want a trusted source” opens the door to questions like these:

  • How often do they need or want a trusted source?
  • What kinds of things prompt them to seek one out?
  • Is there any way to get them to seek out such a source more often?
  • How can we be visible to the occasional customer?

Although I like Christensen’s work immensely, it can be a bit dry for most folks. The next time you want to think about managing disruption, try cataloging (and then reframing) your “always” statements.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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