You can’t innovate if you’re focused on the present
Last week Ken Olsen, the brilliant entrepreneur and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, passed away. He was 84. I had the privilege of meeting him a few times. We were Digital’s ad agency in its declining years. And I started my career working for Data General, another minicomputer giant founded by ex-Digital engineers.
Olsen was the visionary who realized that mainframe computers needed to come out of the back room and into the lab and office. That foresight launched a $12 billion dollar company that defined high-tech for two decades. But despite his early prescience, Ken Olsen failed to anticipate or even acknowledge the personal computer. In fact he insisted that no one would ever need a computer in his home. And of course the rest is history.
In our industry — advertising, marketing and media — there is no shortage of innovators who subsequently lost out to the next innovation. Why? Like Ken Olsen, they had a tendency, as well as a need, to focus on the business at hand. There were numbers to make, deadlines to meet, work to produce, clients to serve, awards to win. Of course this short-term mindset — a focus on current clients, an obsession with known competitors rather than emerging foes, and a determination to leverage existing competencies instead of developing new ones — was a deterrent to preparing for the future.
Granted predicting what’s next is impossible. But if we’re paying attention, we can certainly see a number of trends — a diminished reliance on messages, the emergence of networked storytelling, and the growing importance of real time information are but a few. They suggest we’ll need a host of new skills even if we’re not yet sure what we’ll need those skills to do. Design thinking, modern collaboration, a mastery of new tools and technologies might help us stay relevant and #buildshit that matters.
In addition to learning new stuff, we may also want to forget much of what we already know so that we can invent the future in what’s referred to as Box 3 — a virtual place and mindset where we can escape linear thinking, take a leap and create something original without any of the people or processes from Box 1, which is where we conduct our day to day business.
At Mullen we actually think about this stuff. So above I’ve shared a deck from a recent management offsite where I talked about the trends that will affect our business and some of the ways we might deal with them. Would love any thoughts you have on ways to keep an organization from becoming another Digital Equipment Corporation.
photo credit: Yunghi Kim/Globe Staff/File 1988