Digital Revolution Towards A Brave New World

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There are two big events happening in the business world today simultaneously. Both are going on all around us, but one is much easier to see.

The obvious one is what’s happening to the financial system and economies tied to it. Thousands of jobs have been lost along with a mass of wealth and, by the looks of it, we are not even close to being out of the woods. It still feels like everything’s at risk. But there is something else happening. Many of the industries affected by the downturn are also in the middle of another tectonic shift:

The mass digitization of everything.

It may not seem like a big deal as you cope with the downward sliding economy, but it is causing you and your business more grief than you can imagine. That is unless you can understand that "grief" is actually "opportunity."

If we removed what’s happening on Wall St., what you would see is that every major industry is in the midst of a digital revolution. Not just the first part of it, which began in the early ’80s with the introduction of the personal computer. That certainly brought huge changes. But the bigger challenge now is to continue moving ahead at same time that the economy has taken a severe turn for the worse.

What’s a business to do?

That is exactly the question Jeff Jarvis asked himself. Jarvis was the creator and founding editor of Entertainment Weekly. Prior to that he held a slew of journalism gigs: Sunday editor and associate publisher of the New York Daily News, TV critic for TV Guide and People, a columnist on the San Francisco Examiner, etc. One day Jarvis discovered blogging and everything changed. His blog, Buzzmachine, is widely regarded as one of the best, and while the main topic is a meta conversation about the media, like all bloggers, Jarvis also recounts personal stories and anecdotes about business, the economy, politics and more.

Recently, Jarvis began researching business, media and the many changes that have taken place in terms of the digitization of our culture. The culmination of his thinking has appeared in his book, What Would Google Do?

"The idea: I try to reverse-engineer the success of the fastest growing company in the history of the world, the one company that truly understands how to succeed in the Internet age, and then take those lessons and apply them to a number of industries, companies, and institutions, from carmakers to restaurants to universities to government," Jarvis said on his blog in March 2008 when he announced his book deal.

Without turning this into a book review, Jarvis has managed to aggregate some of the more salient points around what it takes to not only survive, but thrive as more and more industries and final products shift from physical to digital.

Here are just five of the concepts I pulled out of Jarvis’ book that can make your business more "Googley":

1. Customers are not commodities. Customers can now publish their thoughts and feelings about your business to the world and have conversations about it. Embrace it. There are many things to learn from their insights that could (and should) revolutionize your business.

2. Think distributed. Jarvis is speaking more specifically to the publishing industry when he says: "Do what you do best and link to the rest." Walled gardens don’t work. They don’t work online and they don’t work in the real world. Start thinking about co-operation, not competition. Sometimes sending your customers somewhere else will make them even more loyal to you.

3. It’s all about search. Having a website is table stakes. If people can’t find you through a simple Web search – no matter what industry you serve – you are invisible.

4. Think open source. What can you and your business be doing to use the power of the wisdom of crowds to grow, expand and uncover new opportunities? Think about opening up. Think about what would happen if you crowdsourced some components of your business with everyone who was interested.

5. Failure is cheap – (just ask Google). Some people think that Google is all about search. They actually have tons of products and services. One of the main things Google does extremely well is keep things in perpetual beta. Nothing is ever – really – final. They’re constantly looking for feedback, tracking their analytics and making decisions about what works and what doesn’t. If it doesn’t work, they axe it.

We’re not going to go backward. Digitization is a reality. Whether it’s your medical records, your music, the way you bank or the how you book your next trip, the changes that we have been through will look minuscule next to the changes that are coming.

Instead of burying our heads in the sand and hoping that bailout money is going to fix everything, we might all be a little wiser to ask ourselves instead, what would Google do?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

Montreal Gazette – Double Upheaval.

Vancouver Sun – Doing it like Google.

One comment

  1. I spend last evening at the Denver Press Club speaking on this topic.
    It was an interesting conversation, because this was the day the 150 year old newspaper Rocky mountain news announced it was closing the next day, just a couple hours before my talk.
    Of course I learned of the announcement in my hotel room via Twitter.

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