January 26, 2006

I just started reading “The World is Flat” last night and was struck by this quote by David Schlesinger, who heads Reuters America:

“Change is hard. Change is hardest on those caught by surprise. Change is hardest on those who have difficulty changing too. But change is natural; change is not new; change is important.”

I opened with a very similar thought in my presentation last week at the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) symposium at the ALA conference (go here for a very short synopsis). Wow, talk about an industry that’s about to get hit with a sea change… and of course it’s already started. I had the idea that Netflix, not Google, might be libraries’ greatest competitor; Netflix taught the world that we don’t need to leave our homes, drive to physical locations where what we want might not be on the shelves, or pay late fees. I got an email the next day with a link to FreeBooks — the Netflix model applied to books. I also received a link to a post on E-Ink,

“…the world’s largest flexible organic active matrix display. The displays measure 10 inches diagonally and are laminated with E Ink Imaging Film making them .4 mm thick. This material conveys a similar appearance as printed ink-on paper and can be contorted and rolled without damage. Power is required only when an image is being updated, and is held indefinitely. Plastic electronics are forecast to be a $250 billion USD industry by 2025, including electronic newspapers, roll-up monitors, and other innovations.”

As much as I love books, how cool will it be to download 100+ books into a single reader interface that reads and feels like paper and allows us to annotate, search and send snippets to others? Talk about disruptive technology.

Yesterday I spoke at Tulsa’s Business Marketing Association about how the grassroots economy and social technologies like blogs, wiks and forums are impacting businesses today. Fundamental human needs (connecting, learning, contributing), combined with new technology advances, are creating a fundamental shift in our society.

One of my favorite posts over the past two years is titled Blogging and the Singularity. If you’re not familiar with the Singularity, it’s the point when societal, scientific and economic change is so fast we cannot imagine what will happen from our present perspective. The idea is based on the premise that the rate of change is exponential, not linear; the rate of change in the past is a snail’s pace compared to what we’ll see in the next 10, 20, 50 years.

“Change is hardest on those who have difficulty changing too.”

Humans don’t like change. We hunker down in our comfort zones and don’t see change until it hits us over the head… and at that point it’s usually too late. I just finished reading “Seeing What’s Next: How Theories of Innovation Predict Industry Change” by Clayton Christensen. If you’ve never read anything by Clayton, I encourage you to do so. (He also wrote The Innovator’s Dilemma and the Innovator’s Solution.) His fundamental premise on industry disruption is one that, IMHO, every business person should be familiar with.

How current are you with fundamental consumer and technology trends? With the tenets of the grassroots economy such as co-creation, transparency and customer/employee empowerment? With the opportunities among underserved or unserved customers that cry out for disruptive innovation?

None of us should be in any business but the change business. We must not only keep up with the facts of change, but also (and perhaps more importantly) release our death-grip on the way things are right now. It’s completely futile. Is your business structured for flexibility and change? Are you?

Jennifer Rice is the founder of Mantra Brand Communication. She has extensive experience in brand/marketing strategy, market/customer research, integrated marketing communications and channel support.

Jennifer also writes theWhat’s Your Brand Mantra? blog which offers musings on branding, marketing and the ecology of business.