Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Common Denominator of Success

Engaging with new technology does not come naturally to me.  Adding new features to this blog, moving from hand-written notebooks to Evernote, experimenting with a new contact management platform like Gist - all things that younger generations and the more technically literate from my generation find as easy as programming their DVR - are things I have to really push myself to do.

I am still more comfortable sitting back and reading the print edition of the NY Times, yet I know it is critical that I become comfortable reading it on my smartphone or Kindle, along with live feeds from all my other news and information sources.

I clearly recognize that at this point in my life and career, too many analog media habits can cast me as “behind the times” in the fast moving media industry.  I hope I am really following  - and not just giving lip service to - the advice of Albert Grey in his essay "The Common Denominator of Success" which is referenced in Steven Covey’s “The Seven Habits Of Successful People.”

“The successful person has the habit of doing things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily.  But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose….we've got to realize right from the start that success is something which is achieved by the minority of people, and is therefore unnatural and not to be achieved by following our natural likes and dislikes nor by being guided by our natural preferences and prejudices."

The same theory of success can be applied to businesses, and in particular, two magazines I have been following that are realizing vastly different fates based on their responses to the digital media revolution.

Newsweek, once on of the most powerful brands in media, was woefully slow to adapt to new consumer media habits and was ultimately rendered valueless in its recent mercy sale to a philanthropic-oriented billionaire.  Like most print businesses, Newsweek stayed in it’s comfort zone too long, guided by it’s natural likes and preferences.  It made stylistic and content changes with the hopes of adjusting it’s demographic profile, but never went deeper, enacting a wholesale reinvention that the changing landscape called for.

Entertainment Weekly, another iconic American magazine, forced to deal with the same booming land shifts shaking every print entity in the world, is actually thriving in a multi-platform media world and appears to be more valuable to it’s parent company Time Warner than ever.  In a recent article that actually paints EW more as a full-on digital media company than a magazine making smart digital moves, a spokesperson describes them as “obsessed with technology.”

The article highlights a series of initiatives that clearly reflect this mindset:
  • A partnership with YouTube that will proved sneak peeks at the new TV season
  • An iPad app featuring the week’s top 10 books, movies, TV shows and songs
  • Video ads in the print version of the magazine featuring a wafer thin video technology
  • 2D bar codes in the print magazine that link to web content
Seems they are experimenting with every conceivable application, from the usual suspects (YouTube, iPad) to imaginative technologies that can perhaps keep their legacy print platform relevant and valuable.

The message for companies and the people that run them and work there is clear ... embrace and experiment with new technologies or be left behind.