I just went online to find the original source of one of my favourite quotes. I thought it was Bill Gates, but it turns out so many people have said it and had it attributed to them, that it’s hard to figure out who said it first. But by sheer weight of numbers, it must be quite profound:
"Things are never again going to move as slowly as they are today."
Just stop and think about that for a moment. Right now, the 3 seconds you spent reading that line, were the last time that things on this planet were moving that slowly. Everything just sped up.
Of course this is all the result of the application of Moore’s law, which it turns out is applicable to many more things that just the speed and cost of processing power.
The Guardian recently published a very interesting piece which argued that the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump had one key thing in common: the narrative of the successful candidate was largely based on a nostalgia for the way things were. “Make America Great again”, or in the case of Brexit "Vote Leave, Take Control".
The idea that we can somehow reopen the coalmines, get our old jobs back. Get rid of all the computers that mean no one knows what’s actually going on (Trump actually said that!) and that are taking our jobs and making us so miserable.
And people actually bought it. This feeling of complexity in our lives is so great, that we actually voted for something that is absolutely completely impossible to do, just because we somehow liked the idea.
And this complexity has not left the marketing and communications industry alone. Often at conferences I use a slide (and see others use a slide) created by Terry Kawaja at Luma Partners which very successfully illustrates the complexity of technology and specialisation in the display world.
So yes, it’s complicated. And many marketers whether it’s in public or behind closed doors to their agencies lament the “complexity” of it all. How hard it is now, how difficult to manage and how impossible to understand.
I would argue that some of them even yearn for a world where everything is simple again. Perhaps one agency that does everything? Or just bringing it all in house, batten down the hatches, block out the complexity of the world, and just get on with it the way we always did, because it worked then so why not now?
And sure, that’s one way of responding. But just like Brexit and Trump, if you vote that way, you need to be prepared to be disappointed. Things are not going to get simpler again. No one is going to wave the magic wand of simplicity. The noise won’t get less noisy. In fact, the opposite.
Things will never be as simple again as they are today. So enjoy it.
And have a plan to engage. I would propose that brands and marketers can do this by taking three critical steps (and yes, you need to do all three):
1. Hire specialists
You need people in your team who have a well-developed, practitioners understanding of the new opportunities that are available in data, technology etc. The CMO just is not going to have the breadth and depth of skills to get this right all the time, and to really embrace the new world, you are likely to need to start with a pretty significant change management process to ready your organisation for a new way of working.
2. Don’t try and go it alone
That is, however, not to say that you should build entire teams of people to replicate what you can partner with. The notion of in-housing in a world of such complexity is frankly mad. The answer in a complex world is not introspection. Once your in-house experts have helped develop the organisational point of view and can provide clear and specialist guidance to partners, find the specialist companies and agencies that can help you deliver.
3. Take the long view
Yes everything is changing and changing all the time but that does not mean you should develop a fear of commitment. Hire people and form partnerships that take the long term view, and provide the framework within which to make the most of the rapidly accelerating number of new opportunities. The complexity will feel much less scary if you have partners you have committed to and who understand your business, rather than looking over their shoulders wondering what’s next.
So enjoy this moment. It’s the most relaxed you are likely to be about this topic for, well, ever again!
Or you could do what voters did and pretend everything can be like it used to be. But you probably shouldn’t tell your shareholders.