My humble prediction is that when we look back on the aughties, they will be remembered as the decade when one’s collaboration skills became the hallmark of competitive ability.
When we talk about inefficiencies in media today, they often boil down to an unwillingness of a company to cede territory where it is inexpert, or expert but duplicative.
This gelled for me when reading James Surowiecki’s column on Sony in last week’s New Yorker:
The trend, in other words, is toward what Henry Chesbrough, a business
professor at Berkeley, has dubbed “open innovation.” With so many
companies investing so much money and energy in innovation, it’s hard
for any one of them to consistently outsmart the rest. And technologies
are so complex that it’s impractical for a company to gather all the
resources it needs under one roof. The spirit of collaboration extends
to customers, too. In the new book “Democratizing Innovation,” Eric von
Hippel, a management professor at M.I.T., shows that, in fields ranging
from surgical instruments and software to kite surfing, customers often
come up with new products or new ways of using old ones. Some companies
encourage their customers to modify their merchandise. Others, however,
do not: when a devoted user of the Aibo, Sony’s robot dog, wrote
applications that would allow the Aibo to dance to music, Sony
threatened the man with a lawsuit.
Another way to look at it comes from our friend Rand Stagen and the folks at the Stagen Leadership Institute. In their integral leadership model, each individual has certain things they’re no good at; things they’re competent at; things they’re great at; and things that they’re great at and passionate about. The idea is that the more of your individual attention that’s focused on that last catgegory (great and passionate) — the better off you are.
I’d argue that the same model applies to companies. Surowiecki talks about Sony’s "Not Invented Here" prejudice — that seems to be the mindet of most media organizations, too.
So, if a local news company were to drop "Not Invented Here" and collaborate with other players — even other local players who might be considered competitors, and spend most of its attention on the "great and passionate," wouldn’t everyone be better off? As readers gain control of how they receive news and information and care less about where it was "invented," shouldn’t that alter the old competitive (even monopolistic) behaviors? Doesn’t that argue for ceding nonlocal coverage to other outlets and redeploying those resources to create unique and useful local content that isn’t currently available?
I’ve had friendly debates with folks on our team about collaborating with folks who might traditionally be seen as our competitors. My old answer to that was "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
I think my new answer is: "Anyone who does something that isn’t what we both love and excel at should be my friend."
A side thought in all the hoopla over the new AP fee structure this week — read against the backdrop of the commentary above. I’m starting to take a view on the AP different from Adrian’s. It seems to me that if the AP aggregated local, and even hyperlocal content, it might be the newspapers that become obsolete. With local mojo, the child of the industry could lay its parents to rest.