The Temptation of Shiny New Objects
I had the good fortune to be invited by Sam Ford to attend the Futures of Entertainment 6 conference at MIT last week. Before attending, I was concerned about the relevance of the conference to my own research on innovation. I had no doubt the conversations would be interesting, but would the content be useful?
As it turned out, it was time well spent. This was my kind of conference. No death by Powerpoint here: The program was packed with lively panel discussions on the futures (plural on purpose) of curation, public media, sports, video gaming, copyright, and more. Each session was participatory and engaging, due to the talents of some great moderators as well as a cool platform called backchan.nl that was used to crowdsource questions from the crowd.
What I soon realized was that any conversation about the future of an industry opens the door to innovative thinking from experts within the industry as well as those who are an arm’s length (or further) away. These glimpses of the future can help those from other industries envision how their company could innovate to take advantage of new platforms, new opportunities to engage with customers, or new business models.
My favorite session of the two-day event was a Saturday morning panel called “Curing The Shiny New Object Syndrome: Strategy Vs. Hype When Using New Technologies.” Much of the discussion focused on marketing opportunities: social media, new platforms, new forms of audience engagement. Here are the key takeaways:
- Shiny new objects require a vision for how to use them. Definitions are important in these types of discussions, so that everyone is on the same page. But shiny new objects (SNOs) can vary from a new consumer engagement platform (Facebook) to a new tablet (Microsoft Surface) to a customer service channel (Twitter). The best definition came from David Polinchock of AT&T AdWorks Lab: It’s something that you are or could be using, but you don’t know what to do with it next. If you can identify something that qualifies as an SNO, then you had best try to figure out what to do with it next, or it’s a waste of time and money.
- Pursuing the right SNO is more art than science. Finding out about SNOs isn’t too hard in the Twitter age. The challenge is in knowing how to separate the hype from the reality. Second Life sounded fantastic at first but turned out to be pure fantasy. Color, the startup du jour from 2011 has literally vanished from sight (aside from its rumored acquisition by Apple). And yet Pinterest caught the tail of a meteor and shows little signs of slowing down (…yet). David Polinchock suggested surrounding yourself with experts, and that an increasing volume of conversations from those experts is a good indicator for moving forward with a SNO. Jason Falls, CEO of Social Media Explorer, recommended implementing a standardized process for evaluating SNOs to determine whether they are of value to your organization. Todd Cunningham, formerly of Viacom/MTV, had past success pairing new or younger employees in touch with tech trends with more seasoned veterans as a way to translate “new” into “valuable,” and activate research on these issues.
- Strive to define the ROI of SNOs. Todd Cunningham provided important perspective from the corporate world. Public companies are in business to increase shareholder value. For some, the urge to embrace SNOs is counterbalanced by the need to prove the value of embracing SNOs. This can be a barrier to adoption – although large corporations do tend to have budgets that enable experimentation. But you have to know when to get out. MTV created very popular virtual worlds for some of its hit shows (like Laguna Beach), but it proved too costly to continue based on the value it delivered. On the other end of the spectrum, Jason Falls called SNOs a “lemming syndrome,” claiming that for 97% of businesses, SNOs are diversions that keep businesses from making money.
It literally took hours before anyone at FoE mentioned the word “innovation,” but what I realized is that innovation was the undercurrent of the entire event. For all you innovators out there, keep that in mind as you consider which conferences to attend in 2013. The choices may be less obvious than you think.
image credit: holland-diamonds.com
Doug Williams is the new Chief Research Officer for Innovation Excellence. A former Forrester Research Analyst, he launched and led Forrester’s innovation and co-creation practice for product strategy professionals. Doug is the highly-rated author of 36 Forrester Research reports on innovation, open innovation, and co-creation, and is the developer and primary author of Forrester’s Open Innovation playbook. You can follow Doug on Twitter: @DougWilliamsMHD.
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