So, I've been thinking about the changes in the way the business world is wired today.
Smart, fast, emerging companies are running circles around their bigger forefathers. And of course there are consequences when that happens.
The other day a publishing partner told me that his four-week budget process has become six, and now eight weeks of budgets followed by having forecasts re-cast and re-calculated. Think about that. Almost two months of thinking about the future, while the future continues to spin at a fervent rate around them.
So this leads me to ask the question: Is your company "Agile" enough to survive the new digital pace of the world? And who invented the word "agile" anyway?
Before you answer, let me clarify some terms.
"Agile" is a word that has been used to describe a particular kind of software development process. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development). Dr. Alistair Cockburn is a leader in the field of Agile development.
I decided to reach out and ask him to explain if "Agile" is a programming philosophy or more about humans. Cockburn explained, "It is a general worldview, one of granting importance to person-to-person interactions, of quick feedback, of collaboration, of recognizing that changes in the world can change the goals we set. This worldview is as important in business as it is in software development, as it is in human relations."
He should know, he's credited as the co-author of the Agile Manifesto, which reads in part:
"We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more."
Let me translate for those of you who don't spend tons of time with developers. It means people are key, beta solutions that improve are better than old fashioned 'shrink wrapped' software, customers can teach you a lot, and listen to the market - it's changing as we speak.
Wow. Ok, so it seems like those software guys and their "everything is in beta" mindset may be on to something.
Now, take those rules and try holding them up to your current process.
When you look at Twitter, and someone is tweeting about a problem with your company, or ad campaign, or brand - do you:
a) Put it on a list of things to discuss at the next company off-site?
b) Call someone and yell?
c) Fix it?
(Clue: according to the Agile guys, it's 'c' all the way).
Because Twitter isn't a complaint hotline, it's real-time real-world customer feedback. It's a GOOD thing. If you know something is broken, you can fix it. So, thank whoever is on Twitter taking the time to help you refine your product - the alternative is silence that can kill you.
So does Cockburn see Agile as more than a tech solution? "Absolutely," he says. "In fact, 'agile' was a business term years before we used it in software development, and had almost the same definition or purpose. Perhaps it was just that the software industry said how to pull off the agile approach. But close interaction, tight feedback, collaboration, and dealing with changing circumstances should be core business values and capabilities."
Ok, next. You go to a Meetup, or a demo, or a trade show, and some little company shows a cool innovation but they're unfunded and just working out of their garage.
a) Ignore them. It will be YEARS before they are big enough to show up on radar.
b) Try to buy them - heck you've got cash to burn!
c) Partner with them and see if you're able to use their creative edge to build your future business.
Again - 'c.' The whole "when they get real we'll buy them" mindset just doesn't work anymore. Things move too fast. And ignoring good teams that are small is the best way to find yourself facing a fast moving and nimble competitor.
Ok, last question. You're a company with physical assets. You've got stores, shelf space, a product, and a trusted brand. Now you're seeing a digital version that costs less to make and sell, but it's also not as sexy as your glossy, touchable, physical thing. Can you really turn your thing digital? Or do you need to compete in the world of objects?
This is a tricky one. People love products that smell, feel and sound the way they've come to expect. So turning a publishing company that loves the smell of a bound book into a digital e-book company means finding a way to re-focus the passion back to the ideas in books, and away from the object. Hard to do.
The answer is - embrace the now and the future. Make hard choices. Be 'agile' about how you test, try, innovate and discard failed ideas. Above all, be honest. If you were Jeff Bezos would you hang on to the black and white e-ink on the Kindle in the face of the impending iPad? Would you increase prices and go full-color, full-motion? Would you create a flanker brand for an alternative media device? You know he's going to do something, and fast. Because Amazon has been Agile almost since its inception.
Steven Rosenbaum is the CEO and Co-Founder of Magnify.net - a fast-growing video publishing platform that powers more than 50,000 web sites, media companies, and content entrepreneurs to aggregate and curate web video from a wide variety of web sources. Currently Magnify.net publishes over 50,000 channels of Curated-Consumer Video, and is working closely with a wide variety of media makers, communities, and publishers in evolving their content offerings to include content created by, sorted and reviewed by community members. Rosenbaum is a serial entrepreneur, Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker, and well known innovator in the field of user-generated media production. Rosenbaum Directed and Executive Produced the critically acclaimed 7 Days In September, and his MTV Series Unfiltered is widely regarded as the first commercial use of Consumer Generated Video in US mass media. Steve can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Steve Rosenbaum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/magnify
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