One of the things we help our clients do is reframe their perspective on their business. As we tell clients, we can never have the depth of their institutional knowledge, but by coming in with an (educated) outsider’s perspective, we can help them uncover their hidden assumptions and biases, and move past these biases to more productive innovation.
I was thinking about this as I was listening to a story on NPR about the recording industry. Music was the first entertainment/media sector to be seriously gutted by the Internet and digital media. Other entertainment sectors—books, movies, tv—all view the music industry as a cautionary digital tale and are working hard to avoid making the same mistakes. But faced with the sweeping changes brought by Internet disintermediation, some in the business still can’t shake their old frames. In a story about how the Internet makes it easier for artists to record music and sell directly to customers, comes this quote from Neil Jacobson, an executive with record label Interscope:
If you want to be a great brand ideally you’re relevant to the masses. And getting to the masses now is harder than it’s ever been, there’s just so many places you have to get.
In the middle of an article on the future of the recording industry, and how the Internet is creating new and myriad opportunities for artists to market and sell their music directly to consumer, Jacobson is arguing that artists need record companies to reach all the new opportunities the Internet has created. Clearly Jacobson can’t get beyond his assumption that artists need labels, and has turned the freedoms offered by the Internet on their head, making them a need for labels, not a means to ditch them.
Another piece on NPR’s Planet Money blog help put paid to Jacobson’s notion that artists need labels. It features the story of Jonathon Coulton, who moved to New York 20 years ago to become a musician, but settled into a career in software programming instead. Now, because of the Internet, he is selling his songs and gaining a critical reputation and popular following. And while he is not earning U2 money, the $500,000 he has earned has been a pleasant surprise.
Our job as futurists is to help our clients see the future, unburdened by the outdated frameworks of the past. Whether or not artists still need labels is debatable (and other people in the initial story make stronger arguments for labels), but the music industry—and every industry—doesn’t need thinking that tries to bend the future to the past.