Don’t Become a Prisoner of the Past
During my morning commute I often listen to sports talk radio. Last week I was listening to one of my favorite shows called The Herd on ESPN, and the host was discussing the New York Yankees potentially resigning Derek Jeter to a new contract next year. He made the point that in New York, resigning Jeter is something that the Yankees are expected to do because that’s what they always do. Never mind the fact that Jeter will be 40 years old, can’t really hit like he used to, and has limited throwing range compared to younger up-and-coming stars. The Yankees are being prisoners of the past, and holding on to names and traditions that helped make them what they are today. They’re not thinking about the future and how the game is played/won now. This got me to thinking about myself, the business I’m in, and business in general. We cannot be a prisoner of the past. As technologies and methodologies evolve, so must we in whatever our chosen field. Otherwise we’ll be the aging shortstop that’s slowly being phased out of a game that we helped build.
Another classic example of this is the television and film industries. For decades they built their empires upon a certain system, and that system worked. Nowadays the bedrock of that system is eroding, and because they either didn’t see it coming or simply didn’t care, they’re in danger of an apocalyptic event if they don’t change something soon. The days of people spending $25-$30 on buying a new movie are over. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have all but ended my DVD buying. I’ve cancelled cable service once already, and am on the verge of doing so again because I refuse to pay an exorbitant amount for a “package” that contains one or two key channels that I want to watch. I’d much rather buy two or three “season passes” on iTunes and watch the shows when and where I want.
This is not to say that every business model or way of thinking is flawed. There are many businesses that have been, and will continue to be, sustainable for decades to come. However, businesses that focus on creative and technology-driven media (photography, publishing, education, social media, audio/video), must continue to push the envelope with new ideas when it comes to selling and distributing their content. Do you think in 10 years we’ll all still be on Facebook and watching videos on YouTube? I don’t. There’s always something bigger and better looming on the horizon, and as business people and personalities, we need to be cognizant of that fact and force ourselves to adapt.
When I first launched my podcast back in 2006, Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. I had to guerrilla market via forums, message boards, and face-to-face networking events to grow my audience to just 200,000+ subscribers and 2M downloads per month. Fast-forward to now, seven years later, and you can find thousands of content creators crushing those numbers on a weekly or even daily basis, all because of the advent of social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Your potential audience in 2013 is 10x what it was back in 2006, and in five or six years it’ll be 10x what it is today. Your job is to recognize that and find a way to make a play for those new eyeballs by leveraging whatever it is that’s coming next. Don’t get stuck in the “this is the way we’ve always done it” mindset. That’s what kills momentum, and that is what kills innovation. A business plan should be like water, able to flow into a new container at a moment’s notice and never confined to one route or mechanism.
Change isn’t the dilemma. Change will happen whether you like it or not. Ultimately, your dilemma will be how well you adapt to this change and whether or not you allow your business and your skills to adapt at the same rate as said change. Stay focused. Stay vigilant. Stay free from the shackles of traditionalism.