Surviving and Thriving in an emerging Digital Media World: 3 Classic Mistakes

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Jul 17

As a leader of a media business, you are very aware that a massive market shift is now well underway.  You probably have teams focused on navigating a path through this.

But is the way forward clear?   Is your business adapting quickly enough?  Do you have a proven working innovation engine?  Do your business results reflect this?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, you are not on your own.

Many view innovation as an Art rather than a Science.  The truth is, it’s both.  If you avoid the classic mistakes and apply the key principles for successful innovation, innate creativity within your business can be tapped and amplified with transformative results.

Top 3 Classic Mistakes

1. Missing Market Shifts

When a market starts to shift, the biggest mistake is to ignore or even miss it.  This is the danger when an established business is still expanding and completely focused on dominating its current market.  It also happens in businesses, where founders remain in overall control, stubbornly attached to their original ideas.  Pride in past innovations and a desire for mastery push out any sense of dissatisfaction that could drive innovation.

Blackberry created phones with an integrated miniature keyboard and display, initially dominating the business market for mobile email.  The iPhone launch fundamentally changed things but founder and board member, Mike Lazaridis, resisted a plan to pivot to instant messaging software. He opposed the launch of the Blackberry 10, still obsessed with the physical keyboard as a differentiator.  Between 2012-2016, $75B was lost from the company’s valuation.

For 20 years under the leadership of John Chambers, Cisco anticipated significant market shifts.  It evolved from routers and switches to mobile and video technology, application-centric infrastructure, cloud computing and the Internet of Things.  Many iconic companies such as Compaq, Sun Microsystems, Wang and Digital Equipment, although dominant at the start of this period, no longer exist.  John Chambers’ advice is clear – ‘Make tough decisions and immerse yourself in a process of disrupting the market – and at times your own business’.

As UK Vice President of Research and Development at NDS, I contributed towards its process of continuous renewal.  NDS protected Digital TV from piracy, created the Personal Video Recorder that led to Sky+ and secured delivery of video over the Internet. I learnt first-hand the importance of continuous innovation and just how to execute it.  NDS was acquired by Cisco for £5B.

The biggest media market shifts are yet to come as Generation Z, born in the Digital Age, begin to dominate consumer behaviour. We must not miss the unprecedented opportunities this will create.

2. Perfectionism

Pursuing perfection is like chasing the end of a rainbow for your pot of gold.  View the rainbow from a distance, check the spot where it lands.  Move towards it and watch it disappear.

Naturally, most engineers want to develop a well-designed, future-proofed solution, but over-engineering an unproven product is high risk and very costly.  In all likelihood, by the time the product is ready, the market has already moved on (assuming it was ever there in the first place).

Many businesses spend too long developing new ideas, miss their opportunities and fail.  At the bootstrapped start-up, MyFavorites, Steve Poland applied significant effort to improve user experience for his app.  But with no real users, his team lost interest and the business ran out of funding.

At Marvel Comics, Stan Lee started out as a perfectionist, writing each word for every script himself.  But, his desire to create the world’s first comic book universe led him to work with other writers and artists.  Thus, the super-hero, mutant-powered revolution was born.

Successful businesses usually start by testing initial basic solutions with quick customer feedback. More rigorous engineering follows for those gaining traction in the market.  I led such a transition at Sky, replacing the original outsourced online video platform with an in-house internationalised solution.  Engineered for scale, this supported NowTV, SkyQ, Sky Go and Sky Kids.

More recently, I have been exploring the power of the Design Sprint from Google Ventures.  This focuses on real customer testing of prototypes, designed and built in less than a week.   More on this later.

3. Too many ideas, not enough time.

As a business grows and customer numbers increase, it is very easy to lose focus and chase too many ideas at once.  Overwhelmed product, design and engineering teams result in significantly longer times to market. Many parallel activities make it hugely difficult to spot real opportunities and increase dependency on blind luck.  Definitely not a recipe for success.

Saying ‘No’ to engaged customers is one of the most difficult things to do.  Yet, if your customer base is expanding rapidly, you have to accept that ‘you can’t please all of the people, all of the time’.  Attempts to do so will eventually break the business.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one piece of advice that many successful founders and business leaders offer, is to maintain focus.  Enabling your solutions to be the best they can in the time available, this provides the highest chance of success.  Optimal delivery velocity is achieved when there is a clear focus on what is most likely to generate value.

In the recent Digital Hunters Podcast, Elnar Hajiyev, co-founder of Realeyes, describes this process.  RealEyes have moved forward rapidly, expanded internationally and applied emotional recognition and attention measurement to tens of thousands of video ads.  They have raised over £28M funding in two rounds and generated 80 new product ideas. Using Design Sprint and a Product Iteration process to distil these down to a handful of initiatives, the business has launched the new self-service portal Realeyes Go.

‘Change the way the World is entertained and informed’ was the North Star for NDS.  It provided a direction for all in the business to analyse each new idea.   Only ideas that had the potential to achieve this were  seriously considered with subsequent cost and benefit analysis.

My next article will consider the key secrets to success for rapid development of new products.

In the meantime, if you have any other classic mistakes you think others would find useful, please comment below.

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