When I talk with groups about how technology and the internet are changing society, the working title of my presentation is: “What You Are Doing Isn’t Working Anymore — Why Everything We Know Needs to Change.” I believe that technology and the internet have fundamentally changed how people get and share information and that as a result, everything else has changed as well. There is a lot of discussion about how our media consumption habits have changed, with newspapers struggling and people starting to watch their favorite shows online instead of through their television. But, we should also be looking at the changes that are underway in how we learn, how we talk to each other, what role we expect to play in the groups we are involved with, and everything else. Again, everything is changing.
When I talk about everything changing, I am not just talking about functional change — the fact that almost everyone owns a cell phone or people spend a lot more time shopping online than they used to, the rise of social networks, the speed at which information moves, or the lack of time we have to process everything. Those are important data points, evidence of the change that we are seeing. What I am talking about is how our expectation are changing, in terms of the information we spend time with (or want to spend time with), the access we hope to have (to people, or anything else), the level of participation we might demand or our willingness to collaborate on things we used do alone, and of course our increased awareness of the need for something to have a real, meaningful, measurable impact to warrant our attention.
Unfortunately, while many people recognize that the world is changing, and that what we are doing isn’t working anymore, few are willing to embrace what that means in terms of how they need to communciate and operate. When I tell people that their marketing isn’t as successful as it used to be, heads nod, but nothing changes. When I suggest to people that their audience (be they customers, or voters, or donors, or readers) won’t engage in the same ways as before, people scribble notes, but they don’t put into practice any of the things they need to adapt.
Do you know why nothing changes? Because change is hard. Its difficult for people to change course. Its difficult for people to look past the short-term metrics and instead focus on long-term impact. And I understand that. And when things are difficult, we tend not to do them.
Whenever I hear that change is difficult, I think of a speech that the (fictional) President of the United States (played by Michael Douglas in the moving The American President) gave. Here is an excerpt:
Everybody knows American isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship.
You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating, at the top of his lungs, that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free, then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.” Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.
Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free. I’ve known Bob Rumson for years. I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong.
Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it. Nobody has ever won an election by talking about what I was just talking about.
This is a country made up of people with hard jobs that they’re terrified of losing. The roots of freedom are of little or no interest to them at the moment. We are a nation afraid to go out at night. We’re a society that has assigned low priority to education and has looked the other way while our public schools have been decimated. We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious men to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, friend, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: Making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it.
We’ve got serous problems, and we need serious men, and if you want to talk about character, Bob, you’d better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where andwhen, and I’ll show up. This is a time for serious men, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up. My name’s Andrew Shepherd, and I am the President.
I know its just a movie, but the message is clear. Change requires a lot of effort. But we can do it.
So yes, I understand that change is hard. I know change is scary. I get it. But
the fact that it is difficult, or that you might fail, or that you
won’t necessarily know what to do doesn’t mean you don’t have to
recognize the need for change and follow through. No matter what kind of organization you run, what role you play, these changes in our society must be recognized and you must change how you operate and communicate. You must change everything about what you do. We are all impacted, we are all in the same boat, and we all must think and act differently to adapt, and take advantage.