By Ray Velez
There’s been a lot of talk about convergence, a term that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. At Razorfish, convergence is defined as the coming together of three irresistible forces—media, technology, and creativity—to transform business.
The merging of marketing and technology has opened up great new opportunities, from an endless choice of products to communications experiences that have made the world truly small. But convergence has also created new challenges. Brands are now expected to be everywhere their customers are, all the time. This isn’t always easy or doable, and as a result consumers are often unsatisfied (and they’re not shy about voicing it).
Too often, businesses are far behind consumers in embracing technological change. Fixing this isn’t as simple as hiring a raft of programmers, though that might be a good start. True change comes with adapting your company’s culture to the fast-changing world around you. How can you restructure your organization—and yourself—to thrive in this new converged world? Here are five behaviors I believe are essential.
Not long ago, it was perfectly acceptable to conceive of your job and career path in a narrow way, as increased specialization was the best way for career advancement. Ascend through the ranks of brand management to become CMO, accumulate financial acumen to become CFO, dive into a programming language to rise through the ranks of technologists, etc.
The pressures of a converged world have changed all that.
Today, we each need a combination of depth and breadth to add value. We should be looking to hire—and looking to become—what IDEO CEO Tom Kelley refers to as “T-shaped people.” To understand what he means, think of the “T” as the intersection of a vertical bar that signifies a depth of experience and a horizontal bar that reflects breadth of knowledge. The T-shaped person is intensely skilled in one area of expertise while possessing the curiosity, flexibility and adaptability to range outside of that expertise. These employees, Kelley has said, “have always been the heart of our company.” And considering how innovative IDEO is, that’s saying something.
You also need to extend through personal and professional networks. Of course intercompany team cohesion still matters, but The Center for Advanced Research, a consulting group in Cambridge, MA, found that people with the largest networks and most connections delivered more ideas, and higher quality ideas at that. The size and diversity of your network is now more important than ever.
From early childhood, most of us have been trained to put inventors on a pedestal; in a rarefied class. They’re the great men and women who populate history books because they possess a genius that feels unattainable.
The truth, these days, is much different. Today everyone can make. Code has been democratized, allowing anyone to build a website or app. Rapid prototyping is accessible as 3-D printers are becoming increasingly affordable. As evidence that this so-called Maker Movement is going full blast, vacant retail spaces are being converted to facilities for anyone interested in learning to create art or consumer electronics prototypes or mix technology with physical objects. Makerhaus in Seattle, WA, is a former outdoor retail store that now has a waiting list for new members, most of whom are connected to design schools and the startup community.
Making also helps us grasp how to integrate with new partners. There are new products available nearly every day, all with different integrations and possibilities for brands.
Agencies have long said that ideas should come from anywhere and everywhere. However, it doesn’t usually work out this way. Too many organizations fail to create the robust pipeline of ideas that are necessary to thrive in a competitive world. Because of organizational politics, good ideas get squashed—or they wither and die.
Your job—no matter where you exist on the org chart—is to get colleagues thinking outside the constraints of their job functions…and even outside the company. Indeed, inspiration can often come from working with outside partners.
Having a dedicated space for creation and experimentation is important, too. We have Emerging Experience Labs in Atlanta, GA, and San Francisco, CA, and more on the way. But these setups containing all the latest gadgetry serve as opportunities for ideation, not just demonstration. Indeed, it’s popular to think that strong ideation cultures are solely the province of brands like Apple and Nike. However, with determination, any organizational culture can become more idea-oriented. Microsoft, for instance, has really stepped up in its willingness and ability to work with us to generate ideas on behalf of brands.
You may think that coding is just for people working in the dark, scarfing down pizza and Mountain Dew. Not anymore. Steve Jobs made the important point that “everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” You don’t have to be a geek to believe that. It’s why Code.org, an initiative designed to create national interest in programming as a form of literacy, is led not just by the usual tech suspects like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates but also the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosch and musical artist will.i.am.
Increasingly, the most successful business people have some level of technical acumen—and this will only become truer as time goes by. You need to understand the technological underpinnings of an idea to gauge its creative potential. Thankfully, you don’t have to return to undergraduate school to learn the basics. There are plenty of ways to bone up.
For example, tutorial sites like Code Academy and Udacity teach basics that you can learn in your spare time. They’ve done such a good job gamifying the experience that you won’t believe you’re studying. And if you’re more motivated, you can earn a certificate from MIT’s or Stanford’s open-university programs that are changing the face of online learning. (For reference, Stanford’s machine-learning course drew a whopping 100,000 students in its first year. Now, more than 1.5 million students have enrolled in 200 free Stanford courses.)
Finally, and maybe most important, you have to open up. Broaden your thinking and embrace diversity of thought. This is particularly important for today’s managers who were taught that leadership is about choosing the best of two options and boiling decisions down to “either/or” choices.
Now, you have to make room for the new and unproven. What might seem like a flash in the pan often ends up being of lasting value. Humans are terrible at making predictions, so you can’t be quick to dismiss.
Openness will help you see opportunity where others might not. Back in 2009, Bloomberg Businessweek called Twitter a “fad.” Since then, this supposed “fad” has played a critical role in at least three Middle East uprisings, elevated the hashtag into the representative form of modern expression and emerged as a primary media outlet in times of celebration or tragedy.
There was little to be gained in dismissing Twitter and a lot to be lost. Many brands have found that partnering early, before the inevitable stampede, yields big rewards. But there’s a bigger lesson, too. A willingness to embrace the new is a clear indicator that a company or brand is prepared for convergence.
For more information on the topics explored in this article, check out www.convergebook.com
About the Author(s)
Ray Velez is CTO of Razorfish and the coauthor of Converge: Transforming Business at the Intersection of Marketing and Technology.