Someone walked into my UCLA class a year ago and three hours later I realized that the business of media and the business of business itself was about to be turned inside out. We were on the cusp of a new and profound revolution. One that would birth an entirely new form of media and make the emergence of the world-wide-web seem like merely a prelude. More surprisingly it seemed that many organizations were reacting to the symptoms of the change but weren’t aware of the causes or doing anything to prepare for the full impact of what was to come. I could feel an epic story being born. It felt like a sequel to what occurred in the music and book retail business. We were coming to the end of the beginning and I wanted to be deeply involved in the next chapter. At the end of this article I’ll tell you what I’ve decided to do to prepare.
We were collaborating together on the very meaning of business in the next industrial revolution.
Let me step back for a minute and set the scene. I’ve been a longtime professor at UCLA for the School of Theater, Film, Television and Digital Media and at the Anderson School of Management. I was teaching a masters class in the fall titled “There’s No Business Without Digital Business.” I was excited and honored each week to have hungry and agile students along with a roster of guest lecturers, one amazing business leader, media titan, researcher, or pragmatic dreamer after another. What I loved about this semester was that the students and guests weren’t shy about testing the boundaries of their assumptions or my own theories about what was on the horizon. We were collaborating together on the very meaning of business in the next industrial revolution.
The last class was dedicated to looking beyond the horizon and pulling the varied threads of the previous work together. We had prepared by reading excerpts from the book “Trillions – Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology” by Peter Lucas, Joe Ballay, and Mickey McManus. Mickey had agreed to share with the class a deeper dive and more importantly have the theories outlined in Trillions tested, poked, prodded, and stretched to the limits by our group.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimension.” By the time Mick arrived my mind was not only stretched it was reeling. It was the end of the semester, we had spent the past two months in an epic clash of ideas about the business of digital business, I would be boarding a plane the next morning to points unknown, and frankly some of the things discussed in the book seemed hard to believe.
My rule in class is that the guest has twenty minutes to give a presentation as overview but the rest of the time would be spent in deep collaborative conversation.
Mickey walks in and says that first and foremost a new mountain is on the horizon of not billions but trillions of connected devices. He plays a short film and quizzes us about how big trillions even is–for those that aren’t math majors, a trillion seconds is over 30,000 years. He makes the point that this isn’t far off in the distant future but happening within the next five years. “For instance,” he says. “We just reached over four to six billion cell phones, effectively super computers in our pockets, but as early as 2010 the world had manufactured over ten billion microprocessors a year and now makes more transistors than grains of rice, cheaper.” He continues, ‘but a trillion smart devices isn’t even the biggest challenge, it’s that connectivity will act like a seed in that super saturated solution and suddenly we won’t see information any longer as being “in” our computers, but instead the sock will turn inside out and we’ll be living “in” the information.’
I ask about what this means to business and he admits that he really doesn’t know. “I do know that sooner than you think everything that can be connected will be, and those things won’t just talk to you, they’ll whisper in the dark, to each other. Not billions of the usual suspects like cell phones and today’s idea of smart devices, but mundane things like washing machines, and blue jeans, and bottles of soda, and diapers.”
It’s clear that while the authors of Trillions have done profound research into the design and technical implications of a trillion-node world, they really don’t have a clue what this will mean to media or business.
Wait, washing machines and blue jeans? Does that mean that a major appliance manufacturer might sell the “pouring rights” for their washing machine the same way we sell pouring rights for sports stadiums? Or that when you pick up a bottle of soda your Google Glass will show that you just lost a year of your life and when you put it down and pick up a bottle of water you gain a few years? “Hmm,” he says, “yeah, I have no idea. I feel like we are babes in the wilderness before this new era. But I love where you’re going.” It’s clear that while the authors of Trillions have done profound research into the design and technical implications of a trillion-node world, they really don’t have a clue what this will mean to media or business.
A student asks, “So are your clothes all going to gang up and lobby for a change in detergent when they fade too fast, or don’t fade fast enough?” Yes. This is the first time in history where we’ll have a true feedback loop of not just the social media anecdotes that drive today’s recommendation engines, but facts.
As the evening continues we realize that brands will be laid bare as products talk about how they perform, get used, succeed, or fail. While looking at conversations about products, we also need to tap into conversations between products as they form their own social networks—sometimes with strange bedfellows and unexpected new friends. This will be a profound change. Your product development and marketing teams will need to break down barriers and work together to find new pathways through this medium. You won’t be able to hide behind a black box and make just so claims about what your product or service does, that’s the promise and peril of this inevitable rise in big sensor and big data.
But that could be a very good thing. It means that we’ll all have to start not only listening to our customers more, but also inviting them into the process.
Mickey shows an app from AutoDesk called “123DCatch” that allows him to “rip” a chair from the physical world into the digital world. I remember the disruption wrought on my own business as head of Polygram when consumers could suddenly “rip” music.
So I ask him, “If someone rips a chair from IKEA and mixes it together with a chair from Herman Miller will they be able to print it back out again and sit on it?” He pauses and thinks for a moment and replies, “a few people could do that today by using advanced tools and then visiting a place like the Techshop or Shapeways to get it produced. But it isn’t quite that easy yet. However as 3D manufacturing helps products join Moore’s Law the day is not too far off. If I were IKEA I’d take a page from Apple’s or Pandora’s playbook and publish all of my chair designs digitally, charge an attractive price or a monthly fee and encourages customers to mix and match parts, even with rival furniture makers. I’d also reward the most creative innovators so that soon there would be IKEA tycoons who had created entirely new designs that sold better than my own.”
By the end of the evening—factoring in the radical changes happening in manufacturing with the rise of 3D printing and new forms of digital delivery mechanisms—it becomes clear that not only will products join the social network, they’ll start telling stories that may even change the products themselves. We realize that there is a new form of media, not paid that you buy, or owned that you control, or even earned that you reap from third parties, but a form of media that is made. Something that you sow between your brand, your customer, and your product itself that will become the seed that leads to a thousand new flowers in bloom.
The revolution will be characterized by a shift towards more profoundly human-centered innovation, where brands design for a loss rather than a gain of control.
Made Media is coming and it’s a big story for business as well as society. I don’t think we want our customers to have to cope with all this complexity, but I do think we owe it to them to tame it. The revolution will be characterized by a shift towards more profoundly human-centered innovation, where brands design for a loss rather than a gain of control. Where products join the social network, and customers are invited in to be a part of true product innovation. As a business leader these ideas get me excited because of their scale and subtlety.
I’ll tell you what I’ve decided to do. After that fateful class, I joined with Jonathan Cohen—the founder of SocialChorus, the first influencer marketing platform—and the authors of Trillions—who run the world’s premiere independent pervasive computing consultancy called MAYA and I became a founding investor in a new kind of agency dedicated to made media. Think of it as “Tell to Win meets Trillions.” The first native made media agency focused on helping organizations prepare, manage, and thrive as products become influencers and consumers, and their products tell their own connected stories. We call it AoT and I am very excited to say that it is launching this week at CES.
There are vast opportunities ahead for both challengers as well as incumbent brands. If you think the fight for the future is over, you haven’t seen anything yet. People that get smart now about made media—after all anything multiplied by a trillion is an interesting number—will have an unfair advantage. Are brands ready? Are agencies prepared for real-time Made? Are you?