A Changing World

Profound changes in mass media and information technology are creating a worldwide social revolution that’s infiltrating every part of daily life, including how people buy and sell things. If those attending the Plumb Club Forum@FIT didn’t already know it, they certainly did by the time they left the two-day conference. Speaker after speaker pounded the point home.

The Plumb Club Forum, held March 2–3 at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, brought in experts in information technology, interactive marketing, and creative thinking to help attendees grasp the changes and become part of the online conversation.

Marketing expert and entrepreneur Mitch Joel, who owns and operates Twist Image, an interactive marketing and communications agency in Montreal, said today’s consumer is looking for “real interactions with real people.”

“We live in a world that’s democratized and decentralized,” Joel said during a presentation titled “Six Pixels of Separation—The New World of New Marketing.” “Twenty percent of all searches on Google have never been done before, every month. … Forty-eight percent of leisure time is spent online. This is the type of speed [at which] your market is changing.”

He said 85 percent of people online are shopping. One of the biggest shifts is that people can connect with a company online and with other people with similar interests. “They’re looking for you,” he said. “How come you’re not giving them what they want?”

Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin said that in today’s connected world, consumers have more power than ever. Companies will earn their attention by being remarkable, telling compelling stories, and engaging them. Those who can’t attract these passionate and powerful consumers will become irrelevant.

Godin, founder and chief executive officer of Yoyodyne, an interactive direct marketing company acquired by Yahoo! in 1998, said we’re living in the century of “idea diffusion.” Consumers not only have access to an infinite number of ideas, products, and messages but also have the power to ignore those messages or help spread them—farther, faster, and more cheaply than ever before. “Ideas that spread win,” Godin said. “If people don’t know your idea, you don’t exist.”

Godin said the “TV industrial complex is broken.” He called marketers who continue to use traditional media techniques “Neanderthals.”

People in a “Web 2.0” world (see sidebar) no longer passively view content. Instead they share information, manipulate it, and provide feedback. To engage these consumers, marketers must build relationships with them. It’s about “earning permission” for their attention, he said.

The world is undergoing the biggest change in a century, according to Don Tapscott, an authority on the strategic value and impact of information technology. The rules for conducting business have been drastically altered. To keep pace, companies must not only understand new technology but also use these new tools to create environments that build trust and engage consumers.

Tapscott, coauthor of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, said young computer users are leading the changes. He called the children of baby boomers “the first generation to be bathed in bits.” That generation is also the largest in U.S. history. “This is a demographic tsunami,” he said. “What you have is a technology revolution that intersects with a demographic revolution. … It’s a profound change in how we add value.”

He advised companies to be more transparent and operate in a manner that communicates trust. “Transparency is your friend,” he said. “Be accountable. That enables trust. If you have trust, that strengthens relationships. Strengthened relationships add value.”

He said the traditional model of product, place, price, and promotion needs to be replaced with communities, goods and services, experiences, and transformations. And corporations in this new era of collaboration and transparency must adhere to integrity, honesty, consideration, and accountability.

He said there’s a crisis of leadership in many companies. “How is your company going to find leadership for these changes? It comes from anywhere. It can come forward and needs to come forward.”

Carly Fiorina, former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, used her closing keynote address to talk about managing change in the age of technology. Her theme was blunt: “Change or die.”

“Two great driving forces of the 21st century are globalization and the technology revolution,” she said.

These forces didn’t fully exist until recently, she added. “We’ve only been living in a truly global economy for about 15 years. It’s still new to us.”

She pointed out that despite some politicians’ proclamations that they’re going to “roll back globalization,” that’s impossible. Globalization can’t even be slowed down. Change—including globalization—is going to happen whether we like it or not.

“Darwin actually didn’t say it was the strongest or most intelligent of a species that will survive,” she said. “Rather, it’s the one that’s most adaptable to change.”

The other driving force of current change is technology, which is transforming every aspect of every industry, as well as society in general, she said. “You must adapt to change and embrace change, or change will swallow you. Whether you’re prepared or not, change will happen.”

Fiorina also discussed the difference between leadership and management. “Management is the production of acceptable results in known conditions. Leadership is creating new conditions.” Only leaders, she said, can present change in a positive way. The traditional method of driving change has been to create the “burning platform,” i.e., driving change through fear. That works in the short term, but not in the long term.

“Leadership has to paint a positive vision of what will be,” she said. “People are afraid of change, and people who have been successful in the current environment have a vested interest in the status quo and keeping what they have—power, position, and influence. Leaders have to have the courage to say, ‘We’re going there. There is where the future lies.’ Leaders have to have the discipline to put more energy into the change than into the status quo.”

To harness innovation, corporations must understand the role of imagination and creativity. Sir Ken Robinson, an international expert in the field of creativity and innovation, said those in leadership positions often don’t respect genuinely creative ideas and people with strong imaginations. In fact, most people, he said, don’t equate creativity with intelligence. “So many people disregard the imagination, demean it, or forget they have it,” he said. “You can’t have innovation without imagination. Imagination brings to mind things that come to our senses.”

He continued, “Creativity is putting your imagination to work. It is a practical process. It’s an output—the process of having original ideas that have value.” He also noted, however, that not all originality has value. That’s where innovation comes in. “Innovation,” he said, “is testing ideas and putting them to work.”

He told audience members to challenge the things they take for granted. “The things we think that are obvious are actually the problem.”

Society takes for granted that creativity and intelligence are different and separate. Robinson said they’re connected. “Intelligence is incredibly diverse, incredibly dynamic,” he noted. “Your intelligence is distinct to you.”

He challenged business leaders to assess the real intelligence of their businesses and create diverse organizations. “You need people who think differently,” he said. “Having a homogenous organization is not a good basis for a creative organization. Real innovation happens through great creative teams.”

He said an organization with no idea of its talent pool will struggle.

Robinson listed examples of organizations and concepts that harness creativity for positive results. But the example he used at the beginning of his discussion was familiar to everyone in the room: the city of Las Vegas.

Robinson described the city in the desert as something that logically shouldn’t be the international destination and community it has become. Its success, he said, is the result of human creativity. “Las Vegas, I think it is your salvation,” he said. “The reason it is where it is, is because of the power of the human mind.”

JCK editor-in-chief Hedda T. Schupak contributed to this story.