The Temptation of Shiny New Objects

The Temptation of Shiny New ObjectsI had the good fortune to be invited by Sam Ford to attend the Futures of Entertainment 6 conference at MIT last week. Before attending, I was concerned about the relevance of the conference to my own research on innovation. I had no doubt the conversations would be interesting, but would the content be useful?

As it turned out, it was time well spent. This was my kind of conference. No death by Powerpoint here: The program was packed with lively panel discussions on the futures (plural on purpose) of curation, public media, sports, video gaming, copyright, and more. Each session was participatory and engaging, due to the talents of some great moderators as well as a cool platform called backchan.nl that was used to crowdsource questions from the crowd.

What I soon realized was that any conversation about the future of an industry opens the door to innovative thinking from experts within the industry as well as those who are an arm’s length (or further) away. These glimpses of the future can help those from other industries envision how their company could innovate to take advantage of new platforms, new opportunities to engage with customers, or new business models.

My favorite session of the two-day event was a Saturday morning panel called “Curing The Shiny New Object Syndrome: Strategy Vs. Hype When Using New Technologies.” Much of the discussion focused on marketing opportunities: social media, new platforms, new forms of audience engagement. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Shiny new objects require a vision for how to use them. Definitions are important in these types of discussions, so that everyone is on the same page. But shiny new objects (SNOs) can vary from a new consumer engagement platform (Facebook) to a new tablet (Microsoft Surface) to a customer service channel (Twitter). The best definition came from David Polinchock of AT&T AdWorks Lab: It’s something that you are or could be using, but you don’t know what to do with it next. If you can identify something that qualifies as an SNO, then you had best try to figure out what to do with it next, or it’s a waste of time and money.
  • Pursuing the right SNO is more art than science. Finding out about SNOs isn’t too hard in the Twitter age. The challenge is in knowing how to separate the hype from the reality. Second Life sounded fantastic at first but turned out to be pure fantasy. Color, the startup du jour from 2011 has literally vanished from sight (aside from its rumored acquisition by Apple). And yet Pinterest caught the tail of a meteor and shows little signs of slowing down (…yet). David Polinchock suggested surrounding yourself with experts, and that an increasing volume of conversations from those experts is a good indicator for moving forward with a SNO. Jason Falls, CEO of Social Media Explorer, recommended implementing a standardized process for evaluating SNOs to determine whether they are of value to your organization. Todd Cunningham, formerly of Viacom/MTV, had past success pairing new or younger employees in touch with tech trends with more seasoned veterans as a way to translate “new” into “valuable,” and activate research on these issues.
  • Strive to define the ROI of SNOs. Todd Cunningham provided important perspective from the corporate world. Public companies are in business to increase shareholder value. For some, the urge to embrace SNOs is counterbalanced by the need to prove the value of embracing SNOs. This can be a barrier to adoption – although large corporations do tend to have budgets that enable experimentation. But you have to know when to get out. MTV created very popular virtual worlds for some of its hit shows (like Laguna Beach), but it proved too costly to continue based on the value it delivered. On the other end of the spectrum, Jason Falls called SNOs a “lemming syndrome,” claiming that for 97% of businesses, SNOs are diversions that keep businesses from making money.

It literally took hours before anyone at FoE mentioned the word “innovation,” but what I realized is that innovation was the undercurrent of the entire event. For all you innovators out there, keep that in mind as you consider which conferences to attend in 2013. The choices may be less obvious than you think.

image credit: holland-diamonds.com

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Doug Williams

Doug Williams is the new Chief Research Officer for Innovation Excellence. A former Forrester Research Analyst, he launched and led Forrester’s innovation and co-creation practice for product strategy professionals. Doug is the highly-rated author of 36 Forrester Research reports on innovation, open innovation, and co-creation, and is the developer and primary author of Forrester’s Open Innovation playbook. You can follow Doug on Twitter: @DougWilliamsMHD.

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5 Responses to The Temptation of Shiny New Objects

  1. Sam Ford says:

    Really appreciate the kind words, Doug. It was an honor having you there and taking part. Someone pointed out that an f-bomb was dropped before the word “innovation” was uttered (that might have been you…) But I think you’re right…our goal is to bring thinkers together from a wide range of fields to learn things from each other that they wouldn’t find from events in their vertical. Very glad to see you found value in that from our event, and very much looking forward to having you there at future gatherings!

  2. Doug Williams says:

    In fact, it WAS me, Sam! While we at IX believe that innovation is the most important business issue that companies face, it is also a term that people are tossing around haphazardly. It was refreshing to discuss the futures of various entertainment (and related) industries without requiring the follow-on discussion of innovation in a particular market, since the audience had such varied backgrounds. People left the conference thinking, “how does all of this affect me?” This conference isn’t about delivering answers, it’s about delivering insight that makes people think about the futures and question their company’s place in those futures – which ultimately leads to innovation. That’s a pretty powerful result.

  3. Sam Ford says:

    I appreciate that, Doug. I agree that “innovation” is one of those words that is useful but risks being too broadly used. “Community” meets the same fate sometime (as to many other useful words). What we are hoping to do is capture and encourage the sort of curiosity, pattern recognition, and open mind that I think is really required for having a spirit of innovation, no matter what field you’re in. And, at least for me, innovation is driven by meeting up with people who have a similar way of thinking but are applying it to worlds I don’t understand…perhaps finding the innovators in various fields and bringing them together to cross-pollenate ideas. One of our main goals is to say…you could hear all these people speak separately but…if we have them in a room together, we should all talk! And it was truly great to have you part of that conversation. Thanks again.

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