Sometimes when I read or hear a useful insight, I remember to squirrel it away (on my Tumblr, and – via IFTTT – under quotes on Diigo). This one, from Ed Catmull’s superb book Creativity, Inc., has been in my head a lot recently.
Our mental image of balance is somewhat distorted because we tend to equate it with stillness – the calm repose of a yogi balancing on one leg, a state without apparent motion. To my mind, the more accurate examples of balance come from sports, such as when a basketball player spins around a defender, a running back bursts through the line of scrimmage, or a surfer catches a wave. All of these are extremely dynamic responses to rapidly changing environments.
Balance is a dynamic act.
How wonderful and how true. It’s liberating to realise that all that wobbling you’re doing could just be quick movements you make in staying balanced rather than some impossible dream of achieving balance.
It reminds me of a question a colleague asked me: Do you think the company is heading in the right direction? The instinctive, reassuring answer is “yes”. The more accurate answer is “sometimes and mostly”.
If there’s a direction we should be heading in then, on aggregate we’re going that way. As with all start-up companies – or I suppose on a grander scale, all companies – heading in the right direction is a series of course corrections.
With the leaked and digital transformation there’s a lot of focus on the struggles of the newspaper business to remain competitive in the internet age.
Buzzfeed, like all great digital businesses, rewards revisiting and close attention. It is evolving so quickly that it’s just lazy to have it mentally filed under “listicles & kitten photos” or “death of news culture”.
The New York Times understands this, as its leaked report on innovation makes clear. Look at its elegant visual explanation of Clayton Christensen’s innovator’s dilemma and for “Disruptors”, read Buzzfeed and its amazing social media distribution engine now being used to develop higher quality journalism.
In an interview at the DLD NYC 14 conference, Buzzfeed’s founder, Jonah Peretti talked about the company’s strategy. It’s well worth 20 minutes of viewing, but I’ve noted some bits that resonated for me below…
- Social content: Asked “what is Buzzfeed?”, Peretti responds, that “Buzzfeed is a social content website…. Social content is content that people think is awesome enough to pass on to their friends.” He says that whenever a new media arrives, people put the old kind of content into the new distribution technology. When that fails, new players bring in new types of content that work…
- Scale. Buzzfeed has the scale of a traditional media company without the industrial media infrastructure, he says. 75% of our audience [120 million uniques a month by its internal metrics] arrive through social media.
- News and entertainment. Peretti desribes Buzzfeed as a news and entertainment company – just like newspapers always have been (to illustrate this he cites crossword puzzles and property supplements, but of course a lot of news is essentially entertainment – think sensationalist coverage of celebrities and murders). Buzzfeed is investing in foreign correspondents and investigative journalism now – it has two reporters in Ukraine right now, for instance.
- Mobile-social audience. People spend more time looking at phone screens than TV screens, Perretti points out, but “In a world where media companies are still making media for legacy systems that are not nearly as relevant, especially for younger readers…”
- Empathetic, not authoritative. He contrasts Buzzfeed’s tone and approach as being more about empathy, where traditional media would be more about authority.
- Not selling “adjacency”. Traditional measures like clicks (CPMs etc.) aren’t as important to Buzzfeed, as it doesn’t sell “adjacency” (putting ads next to content. Buzzfeed’s model, is a platform for social content (CMS, data science, brand. metrics, systems) which they use for news, entertainment and branded content (the latter being the revenue of course). “CPMs are based on this mistaken notion that there is limited space [on the internet]…” News, entertainment and branded content can all find their audiences, he says – there’s no limit [beyond users' attention , of course.]
: : Bonus link: My Brilliant Noise colleague, David Preece has some analysis of the New York Times Innovation report.
: : Timothy B. Lee at Vox has some interesting analysis both of the NYT report and of the innovator’s dilemma model – incumbents rarely change and survive, he points out. H/T Adam Tinworth.
An AdAge article from a few months ago has a couple of bits of advice from Dan Wieden – founder of the formidable creative ad agency Wieden+Kennedy – that make me feel a little brighter, a little bolder a little hungrier everytime I read them (like now at the beginning of a long busy day, at the end of a long, hectic week).
In fact I have them written on big yellow Post-its that migrate from desk to wall to my “brown box” (we have a hot-desk system at Brilliant Noise).
In a talk to the Ad Age Small Agency conference he reflected on the massive, rolling disruption of the media, marketing and business worlds there is massive opportunity for us upstarts…
Giant agencies are wobbling like drunkards… the rest of you should be sharpening your knives.
Oh, how I wish this agency was… small once again. Oh how I wish we were you.
Thanks, Mr Wieden – very much appreciated.
There’s always something – usually many things – that I find interesting in a talk from Kevin Kelly. In this talk at LinuxCon he is in “thinking big” mode, placing the evolution of technology within the context of human history and the story of the whole planet – his model of the technium, seeing all technology as a network, effectively a super-organism that is evolving and growing rapidly. He explored this idea in his book, What Technology Wants.
On a more personal level I enjoy his reprise of the theme of “the impossible” happening all of the time, all around us. In his “Next 5,000 days of the Internet” 2007 TED talk, he talked to this idea – that things we would have thought impossible ten years ago – he cited Google Earth and Wikipedia – are now normal, almost mundane.
In this talk he implores…
We have to believe in the impossible, because the impossible is happening all the time.
A really useful thing for everyone to remember, in this age of rolling disruptions.