innovation

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Almost two years ago to the day, I wrote a poste entitled, The Death of Flip.

In this post I predicted that the imminent launch of the new iPhone (complete with video capture functionality) would make the single-purpose Flip obsolete (working from the premise that the best camera is the camera you have with you):

This is bad news for Flip.

Just as the still camera in the iPhone eliminated the need for people to carry a second camera for casual pictures, the video function will do the same.

We own several Flip cameras currently, and I can pretty much guarantee that once the new iPhone with the video function is released, our Flips will be relegated to the same junk box where our other still cameras and video cameras have gone to die (it’s perched in the basement upon — not kidding — a VHS player).

As an aside, Flip could have at least forestalled their demise by not having such an utter crap UI for their video management tool. Of course, Apple has that covered pretty well.

Well, two years (and a massive acquisition by Cisco) later, and it was reported today that Flip is indeed by killed off by Cisco:

[Cisco] said it will close down its Flip business and support FlipShare customers and partners with a transition plan. Cisco will take up to $300 million in one-time charges in its third and fourth quarters as part of the plan.

The message here — as I try to tattoo in my students’ minds at this point every semester — is that businesses have two choices: innovate or die.

Entrepreneurship is creative destruction, and the world is littered with the near-forgotten corpses of once-innovative firms (e.g. Flip) that, due to a lack of innovation/poor management, have been relegated to a footnote as other companies pass them by.

This is not limited to products; entire industries/institutions can be and are destroyed (I read recently that the firm that supplies most of the gumball machines to stores is suffering mightily).

Some areas I believe are perilously close to going the way of Flip if they don’t innovate soon:

    The traditional music business
    The traditional film business
    The traditional book business
    Higher Education
    The Banking business
    Cable TV

All of the above institutions have enjoyed a robust moat around them that kept competition away. However, tech, lack of innovation, complacency, etc. are, slowly, but surely, allowing competitive innovators to encroach. Once the gap is breeched, the change will be violent and sudden.

The tie that binds those in the above list is that nimbler and more customer-centric firms are creating value propositions — via innovative approaches — that will offer substitutes to customers who are all too eager for a better alternative.

Just think, it wasn’t even ten years ago when a typical Saturday might involve: a drive to the local Tower records to pick up a CD, prior to making a stop at the Borders to grab a hardback book, and, on the way home, a stop off at Blockbuster to rent a movie for the evening.

The music business is indeed a canary in a coal mine; what is your firm learning from its mistakes?

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I’ve been a huge fan of Norm MacDonald’s since he hosted SNL’s Weekend Update. I believe this was the last time SNL was semi-dangerous. No one knew what Mr. MacDonald would say, and this inability to keep him under censorial wraps apparently led to his untimely dismissal (see exhibit A below; apologies to all who are offended – sort of).

In any case, he’s back (we shall not discuss his short-lived network tv show), and is now hosting a sports show.

I know this not because I’m a sports fan, but because I follow Mr. MacDonald’s tweets.

In this way I became aware that he would be providing audio commentary during the Masters Tournament.

Again, not being a big sports fan, I don’t imagine I would’ve watched any of the Masters had it not been for Mr. MacDonald’s audio commentary, but, out of curiousity, I tuned in — both to the network broadcast and the Norm MacDonald online commentary (done via UStream) Sunday afternoon.

Within about five minutes of having audio on from both the network telecast and the MacDonald webstream, I muted the network commentators, and listened instead exclusively to Mr. MacDonald (and his less-entertaining cronies).

Beyond making golf more tolerable, this concept of sort of hi-jacking one form of programming and adding another layer to it is very interesting to me.

Certainly, this isn’t new. I remember my Granddad muting the TV and listening to the radio commentators during Washington Redskin games in the 70s and 80s.

And, of course, there was (is?) Mystery Science Theater, which added snarky comments to “B” movies.

What makes what Mr. MacDonald is doing different from the above examples is that it shows – in theory – the accessability of this gambit to just about anyone.

If you have a voice and some modicum of (real or perecieved) expertise about a topic, you can now use free tools to commentate on just about anything, and (potentially) provide an alternative to the “programmed” approach.

This is, of course, consistent with all sorts of “re-mix” culture (mashups, remixes, artists supplying constituents with ProTools stems, etc.), but something else is going on here as well.

It has more to do with the continued reclamation of the voice that – to a certain degree – began occurring with the dawn of the Internet, and has accelerated with the development of social channels.

No longer must we sit passively and listen to the inane patter of some “commentator.” If we elect to do so, we can provide our own commentary, and, depending upon our POV, skills, network, etc., provide an alternative.

I don’t for a minute think that more than a fraction of the people who listened to the Masters commentators listened to Mr. MacDonald’s commentary stream, but, the fact of the matter is, there was an alternative, and for me at least, a far superior alternative.

I hope that this type of thing takes off.

Why, for instance, wouldn’t Perez Hilton provide commentary during the Oscars (God, Help us. And, yes, you can send me angry messages if he decides to do this). Or, better, Scorcese?

What about some musical “expert” providing commentary for the Grammys?

What about someone like Ana Marie Cox providing audio commentary for the next RNC? (I loved her live blogging (now twittering, I guess) of prior political events).

There are numerous financial experts for whom I would gladly mute CNBC’s commentators in order to listen to as the market day evolves.

I imagine we’ll see more of this type of stuff; how can we not?

Remember, we all have megaphones, and, increasingly, there are creative ways to use them.

And now… vintage Norm MacDonald:

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