Disrupt thyself

By   John Bond 1 min read

It was Bill Gates who famously said, ‘We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten’. Given the relentless pace transformation within publishing, are those parameters still true, I wonder?

Suw Charman-Anderson recently posted an article that quotes Clark Gilbert’s ‘Six Principles For How Media Companies Must Deal With Disruption’. I was struck by the creation of new businesses and marketplaces in particular. The question posed is this: can publishers learn from journalism, e.g., and configure themselves to hire in domain expertise? Can they evolve their businesses and thinking by attracting people from outside of their industry and comfort zone? Or are they too innately insular and myopic?

This is of course directly relevant to one of the guiding principles of whitefox. We’re interested in the skills and specialisms most relevant to content creators and how we can make these available to anyone, not just published writers. We would be the first to applaud the idea that ‘dabbling’ isn’t enough. The mantra has to be ‘Disrupt thyself.’

I have lost count of the number of times I met with senior players in UK publishing after I’d left one of the big corporates, who were all pretty much saying ‘I’m really glad I’m in my 50s and not in my 30s.’ The implication being that with a bit of luck and a following wind, they might just avoid being trampled underfoot by those MBA graduates, data geeks and coders who would inherit their earth.

In defence of many publishers, they haven’t all been burying their head in the sand. For some years, many deliberately looked to hire from the music industry in order to gradually evolve their businesses and avoid making the same mistakes. But disrupting oneself effectively is difficult when shareholders demand their annual targets are met. And there is a bigger problem still. Do publishers know exactly what their business is? When Victoria Barnsley, former HarperCollins CEO, warned in her recent farewell speech about the temptation for content owners to think they can become tech companies, she was missing the key shift that those very tech companies have facilitated and capitalised upon: that the real disrupters are the content creators.