Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Wordperfect Axiom

Seth Godin makes an important point, using the old word processing application WordPerfect as an example:

The Wordperfect Axiom

When the platform changes, the leaders change.

Wordperfect had a virtual monopoly on word processing in big firms that used DOS. Then Windows arrived and the folks at Wordperfect didn't feel the need to hurry in porting themselves to the new platform. They had achieved lock-in after all, and why support Microsoft?

In less than a year, they were toast.

When the game machine platform of choice switches from Sony to xBox to Nintendo, etc., the list of bestelling games change and new companies become dominant.

When the platform for music shifted from record stores to iTunes, the power shifted too, and many labels were crushed.

Again and again the same rules apply. In fact, they always do. When the platform changes, the deck gets shuffled.

Think this only applies to software?

Read the rest of Seth's thought's here.

The problem is that most players have responded to these changes simply by taking whatever they've done on one platform and porting it to the new platform. That rarely works - because the new platform almost always offers new features and benefits that render old methods obsolete.

Take corporate training as an example. In the 'olden days' training was done in person by 'trainers' - and companies sent their employees to 'training weeks' or 'training days', after all, the transactions costs of assembling the trainees and trainers into one room meant you needed to get it all done in one throw. When training went on line, the one and two hour training courses were just ported to the web.

The good news was that training no longer had to be done face to face, saving money. The trainees could often choose a time convenient to them. There was a drawback: the group aspect of training - learning from each other, figuring out a tough concept together, was lost. And some of the worst aspects of in person corporate training were perpetuated: long, droning courses, done by people who weren't experts at engaging the audience, poor production values that didn't work well on line, and training that was done long before the skill being trained would be used all reduced the impact of the new tools.

However, one of our portfolio companies, EJ4 chose to take a fresh look at training, trying to leverage all of the benefits that being on line could give. This is what they came up with:
  • First, they chose to specialize in video - video being the most effective medium for conveying information
  • Second, they broke the training exercises into segments no more than 10 minutes in length because that's the longest someone can effectively focus on and competently absorb new material
  • Third, they emphasized 'just in time' training - the concept of viewing a short training concept right before engaging in the task so that the steps are fresh and reinforced by doing
  • Fourth, they used skilled training designers and professional presenters to translate expert generated content into effective skill building
  • Fifth they made it all available on line via smart phone or PC so that trainees could access any material any time that it made sense for them
  • Sixth, they made chat and social media tools available for specific training courses so that those taking a course could rebuild in a virtual world some of the community that they lost when moving from in person training to on line.
  • They set a cost reduction objective: the new EJ4 tools and methods should reduce total corporate training costs by half.
  • And finally, they set specific performance goals for training: payback within one year. If training doesn't 'move the needle' for a client, then it's free.
By thoughtfully leveraging the web training platform, by making engaging, high quality content, and by tying it to performance, they've changed the basis of competition for Corporate training. And now founder Ken Cooper is trying to take these lessons into the Education market...I'm betting he succeeds.

So has your knowledge based company taken the the shift to the web platform seriously? Have you thought through how you could innovate your current services online to get to the top of a reshuffled deck of competitors in this era? if you haven't, you might end up being the Joker.

Changing tools and platforms make things rough out there in the Openwater.

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