Monday, April 12, 2010

On specialization

I went with my good friend Morris Shank to a 'with it' church service late Saturday afternoon.  In my lexicon a 'with it' service is one with modern music (lots of rock - we're white, after all) and a strong multi-media message - speaking leavened by video and audio clips in a convincing post-modern montage.  I've been lecturing the pastors at my (large, evangelical) church that they need to update their messaging style and I think I'm frustrating them.  As I talk to the main 'preacher' about limiting messaging to 9 minute segments followed by music (the better to leverage the standard modern American's attention span) and the need to integrate visual, aural and social stimuli to maximize retention and learning, he throws his hands up and says:  "but I'm just a theologian, I'm not a director or script writer".

And therein lies the problem for knowledge based businesses.  Imagine how lousy movies would be if the stars were forced to write, direct and perform in their own films.  For every Woody Allen or Charlie Chaplin, there are hundreds of lesser talents that can only do one thing well.  Yet most industries that sell knowledge services (I would put churches in that category) still rely on a single person:  the partner, the pastor, the guru to develop all of the ideas and content, direct the show and star in it.  This is clearly nuts.

With the proliferation of media and tools, the ability to create visually and aurally rich multi-media experiences that deliver far more impact and value has exploded, but our organizations have lagged.  With the new media environment the idea is a concept that can be taken and replicated in many different ways for different audiences.  And once created, a high impact presentation of a given concept can be repeated literally millions of times.  This has several compelling implications for knowledge based businesses:

First:  You can't afford to reinvent the wheel.  The key to communicating and syndicating your ideas is reusable content that can be leveraged via multiple channels.  In Preacher terms:  quit writing the sermons from scratch, figure out how to replicate the best of what others have done.  Then focus your time adding your unique idea or twist, your 'special sauce' to the mix.  You don't have time to think about everything from first principles, stand on other's shoulder's to get to the goal.

Second:  Repurpose the same concepts and message to multiple audiences.  An idea whose time has come has incredible impact.  The best preachers of the "word of the new" figure out how to get the message across in multiple ways:  the book , the video, the seminars, the speeches, the celebrity appearances, the tracts, the entertaining shorts and so on.  The value of the idea is enormous only if it reaches the audiences that are most likely to benefit from it - so create the idea once and deploy it everywhere.

Third:  The power of the network is key.  It is not very often that brilliant ideas are spread through mass channel marketing.  Usually there is a sophistication and complexity to ideas the make them difficult to sell in 30 second spots.  Ideas, knowledge, and know-how are spread by disciples - people who have first been exposed and then have sought out the vision of the creator of the knowledge.  Wise knowledge based businesses figure out how to create what Seth Godin calls "tribes" of people who share a commitment to the faith or concept or lifestyle represented by the idea creator.

Fourth, and this is key:  Specialize - engage people who create ideas and messages and keep them hard at that.  Find others who are good at communicating the message or choreographing the interplay between message, media and audience.  Like the entertainment industry does, give these directors, producers and technicians the power to craft a unified vision and message.  It is very seldom that the idea creator (aka the 'screen' or 'sermon' writer) really understands how to deliver their idea in a way to change the perspectives of thousands or even millions of people.

So, if you want to sell your ideas, focus on what is unique and borrow the rest, find as many different mechanisms to communicate the idea to the world, emphasizing those things that are leveragable and repeatable.  And look for disciples, people who will share your passion.  Finally LET GO - it would be very unusual if you had all the skills to deliver your knowledge in a high impact way - find brilliant professionals and let them do their jobs.  And if you let them, you might, just might do something that could change the world.

Changing the world:  now that's a goal worth pursuing out on the Openwater.

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