A couple of weeks ago, I was running a digital strategy session in Poland for a group of very smart advertising folk. We were talking about different ways to engage senior execs in networked media issues and I mentioned a recent experience I'd had when asked to go and speak to a Grand Fromage at a financial services organisation. I explained that, prior to my chat, the only brief I was given was : ‘he wants to know what’s going on but says if you talk about technology he’ll walk out or go to sleep’. Slightly daunted, my approach was to stick to business issues I suspected the GF was very close to and then mention a few points about how each was changing as a result of technological trends. It seemed to work in that he stayed in the room – and awake. Back at the digital strategy sessions during the coffee break, one of the more experienced agency folk approached me and excitedly asked what the ‘answer was’, following my chat with the banking executive. I was slightly confused and responded that there wasn’t really, 'an answer'. However, I understood what was meant by the question. A lot of people...
...trying to navigate their way through the constantly-changing world of networked media want to believe there is 'an answer' - or a magical silver bullet. I suspect it's the result of frustration at the seemingly endless conveyor belt of Moore’s Law driven gizmos; some of which remain entirely frivolous, others of which go on to change whole industry categories and make consumers (aka people) behave in strange, unpredictable ways.
The simple truth is that there are no silver bullets. We can identify some big new trends that are probably here for good, such as the global conversation, open source methodologies, peer-to-peer markets, vast flows of real-time data and new types of groovyware. Additionally, we can spot associated behaviours including changing views of privacy, ownership and personal expression. However, most of what is happening is completely unpredictable.
Of course, the world, commercial markets and people have always been difficult to second guess. However, the web, networked media and powerful groovyware has revealed this fact in full technicolour - much to the irritation of business execs for whom a neat ordered world is infinitely more convenient. As Sir Tim Berners-Lee once said at a presentation I attended, ‘the web is merely a reflection of humanity’. And let’s face it, if anyone were to know the whereabouts of a cache of silver bullets, Sir TBL would be a good starting point.
Clearly, this creates real problems. After all, who wants to stand up in front of the chairman at the end of the year and explain, ‘The reality is we no longer know what will work best when it comes to spending our marketing budget and by the way it was always a bit of a punt’. Much better to stick to the script of crystal-clear objectives, precise strategic goals and laser-driven KPIs that drive valuable commercial outcomes - whilst spraying the boardroom with silver bullets.
Tha said, as the world becomes increasingly more giant bazaar than cathedral, we should probably drop the hunt for magic ammo. After all, silver salvos are used for killing monsters. Maybe that’s what people really want – a way to finish off the constantly shifting spectres created by weird new technology. However, it’s probably just easier to stop believing in ghosts. As Sir TBL added at the end of his talk that day : 'I think the danger is not that we expect too much of humanity, but that we expect too little.'