Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wednesday General Session- Alvin and Heidi

Wednesday General Session- Alvin and Heidi

Had a great meal last night at Roy’s. I know it is a chain but they don’t have a branch in my Boston hometown so it is a treat to enjoy them when in Las Vegas. My wife loves the fish but I don’t eat seafood but it is the beef short-ribs that I crave. Went to sleep early so we could both get up in time make our way to LV Hilton to hear Alvin Toffler and his wife Heidi “shock us” back from the Roy’s experience to the world ahead.

With some help from David as a moderator and host, Alvin start with a history lesson. He reminded us that our institutions have been shaped by the industrial age—including our media of today. While he acknowledged the powerful impact media has had on society, he said he would address instead how society, and our new information age, is, and will continue to be, impacting media. As we leave behind the industrial age we have to recognize that many of our institutions such as work, school, media, government, etc—were designed to work well in a mass production age. His example was that schools were, and continue, to be designed to turn out assembly line workers rather than free thinkers.

With regard to media, he noted that our conventional linear media is also designed for a mass audience who passively takes in what is dished out. Although we have some emerging interactively in media today, he suggested we are only seeing the tip of the berg. Drawing on some new vocabulary invented in his books, he talked about the rise of the “Prosumer”. By that he meant the combination of professional and consumer to describe how we once used outside professionals and institutions to do things we now do today. An example is home photography. In the past he had to but film at a store and then send off the exposed film to be developed and printed into hard copy. Now with digital cameras we skip the steps and do it all ourselves. Other examples, included taking our own blood pressure versus having to go to the doctor.

The extension to media is obvious—user generated content and direct consumption bypassing conventional distribution channels and business models.

Another term from his books—“Demassification”. My understanding is that some many narrowcasting outlets for information and given the tendency for the editor to shape the news to support an agenda, we have pockets of people who limit their info source to only a small cluster of like opinion and fail to understand multiple points of view and the big picture. Alvin and Heidi made a plea for mandatory and extensive media literacy education in our public schools to teach people who to be better media consumers and better informed members of society. He concluded his prepared remarks with a topic dear to me—dealing with and managing complexity.

A fair part of my consulting practice is in the consumer electronics industry and working with manufacturers and service providers who put the gadgets in the hands of consumers. Alvin extended his general statement that in the 21st century we are experiencing more complexity in everything we are doing including our CE devices—often the complexity is counter productive. He called this “surplus complexity”. I still use PowerPoint 3.0 to prepare my slides because 99% of the additions to the more recent editions just slow me down and get in the way (yes- I do own the modern version but only use it to read files people send to me).

In my interactions with colleagues and clients in the consumer electronics industry I preach that those firms who find the optimum way to deliver features people want without adding complexity will be the winners. Or to state it in another way, with software defined devices any competitor can add features but to make the features valued to create competitive advantage people need to learn how to invoke the feature without long unproductive training sessions or manuals people don’t read.

Remember the clock on most VCRs that blinks 12 noon through-out the life of the product?

Do you know how to program the address book in your phone?

Well finally after two days in sessions, I am looking forward to walking the show floor.

As Alvin said: “Welcome the rest of the 21st century”


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