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Are We Living in a Reboot Culture?

By Sven Larsen (@zemoga) Ever heard the phrase “creative destruction”? It’s one of the more applicable oxymorons in digital culture. There are many people who believe that the Internet fosters this particular type of behavior … that is, destroying old business models or ways of doing things and replacing them with more efficient (or at Read more

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By Sven Larsen (@zemoga)

Ever heard the phrase “creative destruction”?

It’s one of the more applicable oxymorons in digital culture.

There are many people who believe that the Internet fosters this particular type of behavior … that is, destroying old business models or ways of doing things and replacing them with more efficient (or at least different) ways of doing things. Apple‘s iTunes store is a perfect example of this, replacing the old model of going to a specific destination to buy environmentally unfriendly pieces of plastic with a digital alternative that can be purchased almost anywhere. A creative solution that ended up destroying the old business model of the music industry and (arguably) a change for the better.

The last ten years have seen a tremendous abundance of examples of this process. Craig’s List destroying traditional classified advertising. Mobile phones destroying the need for phone booths. Pornography websites replacing the need for creepy Times Square theaters. Well … you get the idea.

While this type of behavior (supported by the emergence of technology) has had a clearly visible impact on businesses like media and advertising I think it’s also had a more subtle (but significant) impact on the zeitgeist as well.

For example, Sony recently announced that they were abandoning plans to make SPIDER-MAN 4  with Toby Maguire and director Sam Raimi. Instead, they are looking to “reboot” the franchise with a younger director and an unknown cast. At first, this news caught me by surprise. Why would Sony mess with the successful (albeit) expensive formula of a major money-making franchise? But then I realized that by the time the next Spider-Man film comes out, it will have been over a decade since the original movie was released. Not so long a time in the real world but an eternity in “Internet time”.

Think about it for a second. In 2002, there was no Facebook or Twitter. No iPhones or iTunes. Instant messaging hadn’t been popularized and most people accessed the web through AOL. Heck, the videotape market was still pretty sizable in 2002!

So why not see if you can’t creatively destruct the franchise? If the original Spider-Man film did as well as it did (it’s one of the top 20 highest grossing films of all time) then why couldn’t a new, less expensive to produce version that takes advantage of all the new tools and platforms available today do even better?

And if it works, then it will be a new model for Hollywood.

It will also be another indication that everything today has a shelf life. In the old days, Sony would have stuck with aging stars and tried to keep the franchise going as long as possible. In the old days, Gunsmoke could run for over 20 years on network television. Because tastes and popular culture just didn’t change that quickly.

It just doesn’t work that way anymore.

But if we go back to the iTunes example I mentioned earlier, we see that popular culture merely reflects the bigger spirit of the times. Innovations in technology are the real driver for our reboot culture. Microsoft and Apple have conditioned us for “the new New Thing”, whether it’s the latest release of a software product or a cool tech gizmo. “Planned obsolesence” has never been more prominent in our society with everyone wondering whether to buy the initial release or wait for the (inevitable) next version.

But there is danger for business here as well. If consumers expect products and platforms to be rebooted on a regular basis, why would they stop there. Brands and business models are subject to the same consumer pressure to change and that runs up squarely against “the innovator’s dilemma”, the resistance of successful companies to change. Unless companies can find a way to embrace creative destruction as part of their methodology then they run the risk of being the corporate version of Tobey Maguire, looking for that next role while consumers embrace a younger, cheaper actor.

Take a look at your company’s franchises. Are they in tune with the times? or is it time for a reboot?

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