The media circus

A coalition of Danish media companies are out with an open letter trying to yet again put pressure on Danish parliament to regulate Big Tech.

The rationale seems to be that the timing couldn’t be better; the role of Big Tech – especially social media – in recent US events these last few weeks have highlighted that we do indeed have a problem, we need to pay attention to and figure out to do with.

But does it really relate to Danish media subsidy policy? Now that’s a different discussion. So let’s try to break that discussion down a bit.

The first argument, media companies make, is that tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter offers publicity to all kinds of fringe arguments. While that is undoubtedly true, let’s not forget that quite a lot of the content that gets shared actually come from media who have made it part of their core strategy to cater to the clickbait SoMe-mob, if we can call it that.

Media companies are not entirely without a responsibility of their own here, IMHO. It would be nice of them to at least own up to some of it.

Now, a lot of the questionable content comes from alternative news sources whose whole business model is built around creating a stir from fake news and draw attention to themselves. Trying to force Big Tech to compensate legacy media for content will (a) not deter these one bit and (b) probably also mean these alternative sources would have to be compensated.

Unless of course you think, legislation should be skewed towards catering for very special interests. But I digress.

You could in fact argue that some of the arguments being put forward by legacy media sounds an awful lot like how a oligopoly would find it useful to try and divide and conquer the market between them to suit their own purposes however noble or not those might seem to be.

As a follow-up from that let’s just for a second remember that what the media companies are essentially complaining about – near monopoly power with a couple of industry players – is what they essentially had themselves with their printing presses back in the good ol’ pre-internet days.

Those were the days.

So let’s just be clear what this is really about then:

It is about trying to ensure that more subsidies goes from someone with the ability to make money (or print their own, aka the government) to someone with a dwindling ability to make money themselves.

The song is an old one: Big Tech has disrupted the advertising market, and unless someone or something compensates us for the loss we have accrued due to the changing times, new technologies, more efficient opportunities for advertisers etcetera, we could be going away soon. So please: Send more money.

The problem is real. No doubt about it. Many annual reports no matter which company in which market will tell you the same.

But the question is whether it’s the right time to use an attempt at sedition in the US to once again beat the old, limp pony of a failed business model that should be fully compensated for by everyone else but the ones who have so far struggled to find a viable alternative?

Personally I would prefer if the energy was spent entirely (and yes, I know a lot of energy is going into this space) of finding a way to once again be the best option for advertisers, when they need to market their products and services.

Only real product and value innovation can help bring about that change.

Having said that I fully assume media companies to continue their efforts to turn back time to when they were in the very position they now complain Big Tech is in.


Liar in Chief

Today marks the end of the 45th presidency in the United States of America, when the 46th president, Joseph R. Biden is sworn in.

The (hopefully) peaceful transition of power will be the end of the Liar in Chief; the leader who operates by endless lies and endless bullying, destroys more than he builds and seem relentlessly focused on stoking division rather than unite and heal for the common good.

It’s been a crazy 4 years. But it has also been quite interesting;

It has been the most obvious, well-broadcast example of why that way of self-serving egomaniac ‘leadership’ (he hasn’t really been leading, but you know what I mean) leads absolutely nowhere and should be sent to the dumping lot.

Sadly, not everybody who needs to will reflect on this, so let me try to clarify a bit for you.

For aspiring, self-serving Liars in Chief out there – in politics as well as all walks of business – note this based on the clusterf***, we have all seen unfold in the US:

You may think you’re winning for a while. But while you’re busy lying and bullying, your relationships and – with that – your opportunities to actually succeed in anything erode. And do so quickly.

You may succeed in getting a following and create a court of devoted cronies around you. But in the end it will prove to be all the wrong people.

You may start feeling sorry for yourself, when the shit hits the fan, but you will find out that there are no-one left who wants to help you out.

End ultimately you will be a failure.

Consider yourself kindly warned. And then just don’t go there.


The “red tape” danger

The problem with too much process and red tape is that it creates excuses for not getting problems solved:

“Our processes dictates that I must do this”, “I am not measured on doing that”, “I cannot do anything about it, it’s the rules”, “We have a policy that…”.

Etcetera etcetera.

Of course there needs to be rules and processes, and sometimes they’re even defined by law.

But having said that it is also important to reiterate that just because you can push a set of rules, a boss or even the law in front of you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t show empathy for the person(s) in the other end obviously experiencing a problem.

One of the reasons why startups even stand a fighting chance against much larger and more resourceful organizations is that they don’t have all these rules, processes and KPIs in place.

They’re just trying to do what they think is necessary to enable them to solve issues and move forward. By showing empathy and some sort of efficient pragmatism whenever they encounter a challenge or – most importantly – a customer experiencing a problem and in need of a fix to it.

When companies grow and more people get onboard, the need for processes, policies and rules will grow – sometimes almost exponentially.

That may be fine in itself. But it should never be an excuse for throwing empathy and the ability to act and fix issues out the window.

If you start doing that you will enable precisely all the behaviour internally in your organization that you DON’T really want. And absolutely don’t need to succeed.


Fix education!

Looking at what is happening in the US, I think it’s fair to say that their education system is completely and utterly broken.

Forget about universities or colleges being about preparing you for a corporate career. The first order of business should be to have the fundamental ability and urge to teach kids and young adults about critical thinking, civic behavior and the likes.

To enable them to actually like in a democracy and not being taken on crazy rides by whatever authoritarian person offers to do so.

Failure to ensure that people can think the themselves and not be drawn to conspiracies and flat out lies will ensure failure in everything else – none mentioned, none forgotten.

Fixing education and the equal access to quality education is the biggest problem and – by association – the biggest opportunity for entrepreneurial spirits who thoroughly understand what’s truly at stake if this doesn’t get fixed.

We can only move too slow on this.


The gig economy challenge

I have never been a big believer in and much less a huge fan of the gig economy.

My analysis has been pretty straightforward : A few get rich or richer by taking advantage of the misfortunes of many.

Maybe it’s time to be a bit more nuanced. Because the gig economy is not one thing; it is several. I count at least three variations, and then the question becomes which one of the three should we progress given that there are some flexibility elements in the gig economy that are appealing to many?

Let’s briefly look at the three versions:

In the privileged version you enable people to get the most of their experience and expertise by helping them build upon their personal brands and get it out to more people, who pay for the privilege of special access.

Think Substack and what they enable content providers to do through paid niche newsletters.

In the convenience version you agree to a marriage of convenience a la “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”, where you get something for your troubles, but it’s not the main thing for you.

Think Uber and their drivers, where many of the latter get an extra income whenever they want to top what they do elsewhere, and Uber gets a flock of mechanical turks to make their service work, until we have self-driving cars or some other form of non-human door-to-door transportation.

It works until it doesn’t anymore. And that’s ok. It’s life.

The final version is the exploitation version. This is the unfortunate fundamentally unsustainable business model in a modern society, where clever people with a certain kind of moral compass use the misfortunes of other people to build a business and enrich themselves.

Why is it unsustainable? Because it does nothing to even the playing field. On the contrary it expands the gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’ in terms of income and prosperity, and looking at it through a historical optic it seldom ends really well for society.

This is where we have services such as meal delivery service Wolt whose business model IMHO is centered around a beautiful UX – or if you prefer; lipstick on a pig – a sizeable fee for participating (typically low margin) restaurants on every transaction and very little ending up with the ‘partners’ (i.e. not ’employees’ with any rights whatsoever) who do the brunt of the actual work.

This last version of the gig economy is what is giving the gig economy a bad name in many quarters. It may sound nice and flexible, but in reality its implications are poisonous over time to a lot of people. And potentially to society at well.

Looking forward we IMHO need to ensure that the development of a sustainable gig economy focuses on providing opportunity and access to the privileged version of it, for those who seek a more flexible lifestyle related to work and living their lives the way they see fit without in effect nesting at the bottom of society.

We can start that by developing services and programs that help these people deliver enduring value that they can actually capture the brunt of themselves.

(Photo: Pixabay)

The cue from Disney+

Disney+ has gotten a really strong foothold in my household, since it launched in September last year.

Where Netflix is just a plethora of content with hits and misses, the basic premise for firing up the Disney+ app is that when you do so you’re immediately immersed into a content universe, where the production value is just super high.

It rarely disappoints. The experience is key.

There is a lesson here for the rest of us;

Going forward I am not sure the winning argument will be the abundance of choice, the lazy-ness of ‘The Long Tail’.

Rather I think it will be about the immersiveness of the experience. That we feel well taken care off. That someone has our backs and goes the extra mile to make sure that we get the best of the best.

Storytelling will play a big part of this. Storytelling that can – if you look at it with strict content lenses – move into franchises that can then again be expanded and added onto almost endlessly for the foreseeable future.

Strong, open ended narratives, where we feel at ease and at home.

I think part of what will also be driving this is a need to go more slow with some things. The rapid pace of change has been killing us for a long time, but the pandemic has shown us that a great fallback option to pick ourselves up and find our feet is just going slow for a while.

Just. Going. Slow.

Immersive experiences with strong open ended narratives will help us sit back, take a break, feel at ease and give us the sense that we’re not just pawns in somebody else’s chess game but actually in control of the game ourselves.

Businesses that can operate natively in this space and cater to that need for a greater experience will prosper well.


The Catch 22 of strategy

2021 is upon us. And for many that signals the roll-out of a new strategy or annual plan.

While those often seem intuitive – sometimes even banal – getting them right is super hard.

It is vital to be able to focus on executing on the plan. Yet, it is also vital to be open to the element of surprise.

The balance between the two is super hard.

If you only focus, you will get narrow-sighted and probably not succeed.

If you’re always open for the element of surprise, you’re unlikely to be able to focus and probably not succeed.

And if you mix the two, some will focus too narrow on the former and some will be distracted by the latter.

It is just super hard to get right.

But there is no way around trying.


2021 predictions rant

Predictions for a new year is almost always a big waste of time. And they are so many, so far-fetched and so ill-informed that they make you nauseous. However, I have nevertheless decided to jump on a limb and be a bit more gung-ho about what could be playing out in 2021.

The list below is just straight from the gut and things, I have been wondering about. I take no responsibility for it beyond that. So read on if you like but take everything with a healthy dose of salt.

Here goes:

First of all, Covid-19 will continue to haunt us for longer than we hoped or even anticipated.

Yes, the vaccines are starting to get here, and yes, there is every reason to be extremely thankful to real science for coming up with vaccines in so little time without compromising safety.

But, and this is the big but; rollout is going to be slower than we might have thought, but that’s not going to keep people from starting to behave like they are already immune. Therefore, expect new spikes (sorry!) in people catching Covid-19 and increased fatalities as well.

The fatalities will not be evenly distributed. The ones most likely to start behaving like 2019 all over again are probably the most likely to spread it and the least likely to get really sick from it. Who said it was a fair world.

While some will be busy living life to the fullest too soon, a lot of us will continue to take precautions and will be focused more on finding innovative new ways of keeping a social distance will at the same time preserving a sense of being close to loved ones, friends and colleagues.

Expect a flurry of new cool innovation in this space. The market is HOT.

Second prediction: Education will be the new podcasting. It will be all the rage in 2021 as there is still a lot of room for innovation in content formats and delivery, while at the same time the infrastructure is fully in place to accommodate more learning on the distance.

When I say that it will be the new podcasting, I mean that everybody will be offering courses. Forget your free, bad webinars; people with real subject matter expertise but perhaps not the big techie skills will start to get out there and charge for their knowledge, experience and insights.

And we will happily pay. Because were dying to get something more than just the usual empty calories.

New teachers will be helped by technology, WYSIWYG platforms of sorts and shorter formats that takes the necessity of actually knowing a lot about how to communicate effectively out of the equation. Chefs, handy people, craftspeople, historians, guides etc. will flock online.

This will also nurture the ‘Education As You Need It’ wave, where you get new insights in the right time and place, when you need it and not in the traditional way where you learn a lot in the hope or anticipation that you will eventually use it.

This latter thing will potentially be able to hurt universities and higher education, who will need to adapt.

Meanwhile, and third on the list of predictions, podcasting will go the way of legacy media.

While one cannot say it will go away, podcasting have reached maturity with all the challenges it brings. While some have found the formula for making it a nice, lucrative business, many struggle, and most platforms struggle even more.

2021 will be the year where those who essentially have nothing different or edgy to offer will rethink whether they want to continue or just call it quits, while they still can. The same will go for platforms. They will essentially be confronted with some of the same existential issues that have plagued and still is plaguing legacy media. Thus the comparison.

The fourth prediction is one I have high hopes for: Personal health will become truly innovative and start to embrace new technologies and approaches.

A group of Danish universities have already seen this and is offering a brand new master in personal health. Not so much driven by curiosity per se but more by a realization from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that there are true limits for the capacity of the health sector, and if we are to progress further, we need to embrace personal health.

The biggest change here is going to be with the GPs. They have traditionally been gatekeepers keeping a lot of innovative solutions at bay due to doubts about their medical evidence. Of course that matters, and it matters a lot. But GPs will have to start giving way.

This is a big opportunity for startups in the health tech and med tech space, so expect to see a flurry of new interesting companies in this space.

The fifth prediction is related to the former; that we start to value our personal health more. And act accordingly.

Covid-19 has given us both a health scare and amble time to think as well as act on that thinking. Many of us has gotten into a slower lifestyle, and with an element of stress (temporarily) removed, we actually have time to take care of ourselves. And we have just witnessed how important it is to take that responsibility seriously.

The circle is complete.

This is not to say that the path is open for every quack to come and offer God-knows-what and take advantage. Far from it. But it is to say that the opportunity is there for new and existing startups that deliver tangible value in this space.

And what these will find is that when it comes to personal health, loyalty is at an all time high; if you can deliver and do so consistently to leave your customer in a better health, they will most likely never churn.

That’s a good business to get into.

Speaking of a good business to get into, we get to prediction number six: Mental health is going to be a big, big digital business.

If anything Covid-19 has taught us all just how fragile we are, especially mentally. Even those of us who would otherwise consider ourselves mentally strong have been strained by the uncertainty of uncharted territory and social isolation. That feeling is not going to go away.

Mental health has been engulfed in taboo forever. Now that so many of us have experienced – and are experiencing – issues at the same time, its a good time for that taboo to be eliminated and for new, innovation digital solutions for mental support – not treatment – to step into the limelight.

My prediction is that those kinds of services will become just as ubiquitous as all sorts of other fitness, health and diet related digital products and people will be willing to invest in staying mentally fit.

And the issue of mental fitness brings me on to prediction number seven:

Mental surplus exemplified in internal deep trust among coworkers will become the main competitive differentiator among organizations working in a similar space with similar kinds of solutions.

Covid-19 has forced most organizations to try to find a way of functioning on the distance using work-from-home methodologies and tools, i.e. virtual meetings. And while a lot of low hanging fruits could be harvested through better monitoring and reporting, the time for productivity gains using those means have now passed.

We need something more now. Those where it has been enough to just be able to check of items on the to do list to maintain a sense of productivity will start to run into trouble and start to face challenges to generate new meaningful to do lists in an environment where you don’t have people in the room and can use good ol’ ‘command-and-conquer’ management techniques.

Meanwhile those organizations where co-workers have fostered a deep sense of internal trust will be free to figure out how to be truly innovative and break new ground while on the distance. Doing that takes trust in one another and that no-one is going to go AWOL because things may become too hard or complicated.

When these trusting organizations work this out they will be able to leapfrog their competitors who will still be struggling to compile their new checklists. And thus will have gotten a competitive advantage.

Naturally this sort of selection among organizations will transfer to both a personal and a political level, and this brings me to prediction number eight:

The public debate climate will become even more extreme.

The analysis here is really simpel: As more and more people will figure out that the way forward is through collaboration, trust and empathy, those who feed from all the opposites will need to go more extreme in order to have any change of being heard.

So expect a lot of – in former US President George W. Bush’s undying words from the Donald Trump inauguration in 2017 – “weird shit” out there.

Of course politicians will try to counter this in some sort. And prediction number nine is that the most efficient tool they will find in their tool box is the set of tools used to break up Big Tech.

The political analysis will be flawed in the sense that politicians will think that the way to combat the evil is to break up the evil empires. I think what will most likely happen instead is that the evil will move to the fringes into more closed communities where it will be harder to keep oversight on.

Quite frankly, I don’t think that will be a move forward for us all. Rather the opposite actually. I think it will risk driving us further apart and in the end cut the last lines of communication that we have left.

Say what you will about Facebook et el, but it could still be considered lines of communication. And even nation states at odds with each other always take great precaution in making sure that there are some sort of channels for communication that always remain open no matter what.

The answer may very well be to introduce some sort of ‘Facebook police’ as the Danish government is already suggesting. Of course that comes with a huge set of controversial issues related to freedom of speech, democracy etc in itself, but it just goes to show how big and complicated problem this has become.

And while all of the above will be playing out, the final prediction for 2021 will pan out. And it’s perhaps the one I am most certain about:

‘Free’ money will continue to flow endlessly towards anyone with just the resemblance of a good idea. There is no indication that the interest rates are going up anytime soon, so in search of a return, investors will be flocking to try to get anything in return for their money.

And there will be more than enough interesting opportunities to invest in, if you peruse the above predictions.

NB: The picture doesn’t show a crystal ball but a somewhat more fragile soap bobble. Treat the above with the same kind of fragility ;-).