My father-in-law uses an expression, "Attitude is everything." It's his nonconfrontational way of saying, "Stop complaining." This expression has been on my mind lately when I talk to media and advertising executives about the disruption and uncertainty in their industries. I hear a lot of nostalgia, resistance, and barely contained anger as lucrative ways of doing business are undercut by shifts in technology, new spending patterns, and client enthusiasm for ideas that have never been tried before. It's no wonder that AMC's Mad Men has become such a cultural touchstone. As a throwback to another, perhaps simpler business era, there is something comforting about the series, despite its moral ambiguities.
Which brings me to Ashton Kutcher. There is something odd — something uncomfortable for us — about putting Kutcher on our cover. He is not Cisco's John Chambers or even Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, CEOs who have headlined previous issues. Kutcher is a celebrity with an adolescent persona who has insinuated himself into Web stardom via Twitter and now contends he is on his way to becoming a new kind of media mogul. It seems a bit hard to accept.
But, as senior writer Ellen McGirt's profile reveals ("Want a Piece of This?"), Kutcher's bid to break down the walls between Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Madison Avenue offers a glimpse of where media are headed, even if his bid to be a titan of tomorrow proves ephemeral. What Kutcher has going for him most of all (aside from a rabid fan base and an instinctive sense of how to engage the Web generation) is a complete indifference to established structures. He sees excitement and opportunity everywhere — which is exactly the outlook that competitors inside more-traditional organizations have such a hard time with.
When my father-in-law says, "Attitude is everything," it isn't just an admonition — it's a prescription. Right now, we are experiencing a massive explosion of creativity in tech and media, an extraordinary flowering of content and collaboration. Businesses (and businesspeople) that can find the excitement in that have a fighting chance of surviving the transition and thriving. Those who choose to fight the future and pretend the old ways are coming back, well, you may be the subject of your own TV series one day. But it's likely to be on the History Channel.
A version of this article appeared in the December/January 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.