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Archive for February 16th, 2008

“Why did you {them, this company, those guys, that company, this group} do this?”

Yup, that’s the first – maybe second – question any consultant or new hire in a media company asks.  The hope is to find some easily understandable, presumably correctable, explanation for how the hell on earth a product, service, experience, division, or company came to its current state.

That question is never answered easily nor accurately, though almost everyone asked responds with a flurry of justifications and musings.

There is no accurate answer possible.

When a company or product is successful, we heap praise on the executives and their innovative approaches.  We retroactively assign a grand plan. i.e. Google eyed Microsoft from the beginning.  Steve Jobs planned the destruction of the music distribution model. American Idol creators just knew they had a pop culture masterpiece.  “We stuck to our guns despite the disbelievers.”

When a company or product is awful, we blame those engaged as lacking vision or being too stupid to see the obvious.  i.e. Ford didn’t see the hybrid coming.  Yahoo! hired too many Hollywood types to see that search was the way to go. “The guy before you just didn’t get it.”

In either case, this is myth.  It is impossible to explain the current state of a product, company or service with any accuracy.  Not only is it impossible, it would be worthless if you could do it – it would take too much time and wouldn’t be all that accurate for whatever comes next.

So?  what’s yer point?

Media and business can’t avoid the second law of thermodynamics – systems never decrease in disorder. (there are lots of variants on this).  That’s right.  A company is never going to get more orderly.  A product is never going to get more orderly.  It’s just not. It’s impossible.  It is a universal law.  Media properties, websites, networks, companies behind those entities are never going to get more orderly.

Thus, any explanation of why things are at the current state doesn’t help you avoid the looming disorder.

The only way to go from a poor product, company or experience is to move completely into a new one.  Start over from a more orderly state.  Don’t spend any energy in gluing the broken coffee cup back together, just go get a new one or form one from raw materials.

Yes, it is possible to pour a huge amount of energy into something that is in disorder to restore some order but the work (real energy) require to do so is not 100% efficient –  that is, you’d be wasting a lot of energy in ever increasing amounts to battle disorder.

Now imagine your own company and situation?  can you provide an example where a project, product, campaign, division actually got more orderly without diminishing returns?  I can’t think of a single instance of this in my own experience.

I’m going to draw this out more specifically for different types of media.  There’s no way to battle disorder.  There is a way to benefit from disorder…

~R

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