An anthem from the 60s (the first two lines of it, at least) has been running through my head all week. In 1967 Stephen Stills wrote and the Buffalo Springfield recorded the song “For What It’s Worth.” Doesn’t sound familiar? How this: “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear…”
Well, something is certainly happening here. And while some of this week’s public events and my private conversations may seem unrelated, there’s definitely a thread running through and connecting them.
There’s something happening here: It all started Saturday when thousands of Iranians took to the streets protesting the results of their presidential election. What makes this noteworthy on a business blog is what some people are calling a “could be” revolution was barely covered on the airwaves of our traditional media outlets. Instead the broadcast medium of choice for the Iranians was Twitter. Yes, you read that right — Twitter, which only a few months ago was pushing a ridiculous contest for followers between CNN and actor Ashton Kutcher.
There’s something happening here: A few days later I was at the 140 Characters Conference in New York City. For those who don’t know, Twitter messages have to be delivered in no more than 140 characters. There were dozens of presentations at the conference. In one feisty exchange with the audience, CNN’s Rick Sanchez, NBC’s Ann Curry, Fox News’ Clayton Morris, and the Today show’s Ryan Osborn were forced to defend the mainstream media from charges that they were now irrelevant because they didn’t cover Saturday’s news as well as Twitter had. This isn’t the place to debate that issue, but it was clear that many had experienced a watershed moment for U.S. journalism.
There’s something happening here: A bit later John A. Byrne, editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek.com, joined the fray by saying that “Twitter had reinvented journalism.” Old journalism was about getting feedback from your peers, while new journalism was about engaging and collaborating with your audience. With much of the media under siege at the moment (and some of it gone for good) Byrne believes that in order to survive, the media is going to have to permanently change.
There’s something happening here: Earlier in the week I had a conversation with my cousin who owns Rockwood Search Associates, a professional search firm in New York. He was feeling much better than he had only a few months ago. There were signs in the country and in his own business that the economy was picking up. He suggested that the true tale of the economy was not in the unemployment rate but in the job loss numbers, which have been declining since April. He’s seeing increased demand for professional-level jobs (so if you were waiting to hire staff, you better move now; in fact, he said this is a great time to pick up sales talent).
What it is ain’t exactly clear: Despite the bright spots, my cousin says he doesn’t think things will ever get back to where they were. He predicts consumer behavior will find a “happy medium” between the uninhibited spending of the past and the no-spending of the last two years. This view is shared by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews who, while talking about the economy, said he thinks people have “hit the reset button” and consumers will react differently than they had in the past.
What apparently is clear is that most Americans have been burned by this “Great Recession” and surprisingly have seemed to have actually learned a lesson. And big businesses — whether media companies, automotive manufacturers, or dozens of other industries — are transforming, willingly or not. And those that can’t change will likely disappear.
There’s an important lesson (or several) for us entrepreneurs here. We’re good at change, at adapting to new realities. The key is to be aware of what’s going on so we can quickly move in the right direction. Markets have changed. Consumers are looking for new products and demanding new services. One of the things I think we’ve lost in the economic morass has been customer loyalty. Consumers easily left brands they knew for ones that offered better value. If they can’t get what they want from Company A, they’ll happily turn to Company B or C.
So what lessons have you learned? Ask yourself, “What are we doing right and what are we doing wrong?” It’s a great time to take a new look at your company and reposition it if necessary.
And while it’s obvious that there are many things happening here, there is one thing that is quite clear. Borrowing a line from the Broadway musical Ragtime, which marked another transformative time in our history: “We can never go back to before.”
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