Thursday, September 04, 2014
THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THE OPPORTUNIST
The world seems to be getting smaller.
I was speaking today with a colleague about a gentleman who has made it his prime directive to be a pain in the proverbial. My colleague recognised something in the behaviour and asked for some particulars.
It was a relative of his. Whoops.
But my colleague agreed. The subject in question IS a royal pain in the as*. Still, I had to blink twice at the coincidence.
It's a funny thing when the world is simultaneously huge and yet seems ironically close. When I lived in London, I randomly bumped into people on the street who I knew from Australia. Twice actually.
I, literally, laughed in their faces.
My brain couldn't comprehend the magnitude of time and space that had suddenly been shaken, beaten and realigned into this perfect moment of synchronicity between two people. So I chortled.
Not everyone has the same reaction when confronted with the universe's mischievousness. To some, the closing proximity of the huddled masses is a cause for concern. A symptom of the degradation of society. 'Paradise Lost' in a sense.
So we enact laws. We build fences. We force people into camps. We live in gated communities. We ban discourse and peaceful dissent. We find reasons, ways and means to keep each other at arms length. To keep 'them' away.
So you can't take what's mine. So I can preserve my lot.
Unfortunately, for people who think this way, life is temporal. Nothing lasts. By design as much as intent. You may be gripping the mast as tightly as you can, taking comfort in its solidity, but around you the sea is a changing multitude. A tempest.
Now, I'm not saying that you should completely let go and be washed away with the torrent. That would be idiotic. But to endure the storm, you have to accept that the world is always changing, for better or worse. There will be winners and losers of new paradigms.
Apple. Microsoft. Adobe. None of these giants are guaranteed to be on Olympus forever. And there is just as much opportunity to be shared as there is failure.
Glib, I'll grant you. Like a Tony Robbins generality.
You want proof!
That's the risk averse world we have developed into. So many of us have become turtles, peering out from the humid safety of our shells. Until I can show you that something is ABSOLUTELY true or possible, with positively no risk on your part, you won't take the leap.
I could tell you the story of Reed Hastings. Reed was teaching high school mathematics in Swaziland in the early 80's, and thinking of what he would do on his return to the United States. The Peace Corps had been the adventure he was promised, but he was twenty-five now, and needed to start thinking about what he would do with his life. Reed returned to the US, where he successfully applied to Stanford University and completed a Master's Degree in Computer Science in 1988. Travelling the world had a lasting impact on Reed, and he knew that ultimately he wanted to create his own business. After three years working for others, he founded his first company, Pure Software and began the American Dream of entrepreneurship. The software company boomed, growing annually, exponentially. Reed, with no management experience, was terrified. Over his head. He tried to fire himself as CEO, twice, only to have his attempts denied by the Board of Directors. In 1997, after the public listing of his company, it was acquired by Rational Software, and Reed finally departed his startup. He was extremely wealthy now, due to the buy-out, but with no new direction. Luckily, his new fortune would allow Reed to pay the extortionate late fee that he had incurred on his rented copy of 'Apollo 13'. How ridiculous, he thought, charging someone $40 in late fees for a two year-old film on VHS? Movie rental should be more like a gym, he thought. Pay your subscription fee and, if you never use it, so be it. You could get multiple movies, or one, and keep the movie as long as you like. Seems like something people would want. And so, in 1997, the ousted entrepreneur founded his new company.
Failure and opportunity in equal measure, you see.
And there is far more to the history of Netflix, the now uber-successful entertainment behemoth. The failing business model. The internet download speed issues. The content licensing problems. The fall of DVD's.
Uncertainty. Doubt. The hint of catastrophe.
But now even Hollywood studio executives lament 'I wish I worked at Netflix'. True story.
Because there is something on Mr Hastings' side that buffers him against the waves of tumult.
He is open minded to what can be built rather than lost.
When the DVD was finally ending, and the whole successful Netflix business model needed to change to online video streaming, the company could have roped themselves to the mast and hoped for the best. Like Kodak versus the digital camera.
Netflix dived into streaming and won. Kodak filed for bankruptcy.
Are you willing to change course, even when you're a success in the current model, because the tide has shifted?
For years I have heard filmmakers moan about not being able to monetise short films, except with festival prize money. If they were lucky, they said, they could aggregate them for a television broadcaster. I told them to launch a Netflix for short film.
No one would ever want that, they said.
People catch public transport, I said. They don't want to watch 15 minutes of a feature film, but an amazing 15 minute short piece of content. Shorts are much more suited to mobiles and tablets too.
Not a chance of success, the filmmakers said.
And then, yesterday, I saw this:
A short film app, like Netflix, which curates high quality short films into genres and, surprise, duration. Oh, and their promo starts with:
"Imagine you're on your daily commute, or you're in a long queue, or you're bored and waiting for your mates to show up..."
I don't know the 'Fliqio' founders, nor whether they will be a success. What I do know is that they saw the wave of short films and short filmmakers emerging, the fragmentation of audiences, and the growth in people watching content on mobiles as an opportunity; which so many others saw as the filmmaker's apocalypse.
Perhaps you share nothing in common with Reed Hastings. Or Richard Branson. Or Martin Scorcese. Or the founders of 'Fliqio'.
It doesn't matter.
The one thing that unites those who will be anointed the future winners is that they are open minded. They are the opportunists, not bemoaning the lost past but pursing the future.
You can come along for the ride, or you can keep clinging to that mast.
Praying for the world to go back to the way it was.
While the ship goes down.
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