Did you vote yesterday? If I had asked you that question a year ago I would have been appalled if you didn’t say yes. But if you told me “no” today, I probably would be a lot less disappointed. It’s clear that the election of 2008 was historic, not just due to the fact that we elected our first black President but also because it signified the end of one era and the beginning of another.
Now one year later, there’s a lot of criticism and questioning of Obama, epitomized by the reaction to his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. “What’s he done?” is the question many conservative pundits are asking. And while many liberals are springing to his defense, in their own closed backrooms many Obama supporters express their own disappointment that change hasn’t happened faster.
Whether you agree with Obama’s policies or not, disapprove of his performance or not, it’s important to realize the societal change that this disquiet and (to a certain degree discontent) represent. Obama’s rise has been mercurial. In less than a decade, he’s gone from an unknown political figure to President of the most powerful nation on earth. His presidential campaign was similarly fast-paced. He came out of nowhere to usurp much more well known politicians, using the real time tools of our era (his campaign’s use of Twitter and other social media is rapidly becoming legendary) to instantly communicate his message to a wide base of potential supporters. Now, he’s not dealing with the best and the brightest using the the latest technology. He’s dealing with a wide variety of age and demographic groups. And if Congress is anything like the government offices I’ve seen, he’ll be lucky to find people using Windows ’98 let alone Windows 7 or Google Apps.
So Obama is a victim of his own success. He has achieved so much so quickly that the real work he’s accomplished in the last year seems minor compared to what came before.
Before you think this blog has turned in to the Huffington Post, let me explain how that societal shift, the increased demand for constant and rapid change impacts our businesses. Consider Apple. The first iPod and iPhone releases generated the same kind of excitement as the Obama campaign. Fervent believers turned out in mind boggling numbers to support their products. And Apple has blown them away with constant announcements of new and more innovative products.
But lately, the Apple believers are growing as restless as their Obama counterparts. The latest iPhone update only had a video camera and GPS added to it (!). Where’s the Apple Tablet? Where’s the next app store-like product to blow us away? Come on Apple what’s taking so long?
Of course, every technology company is suffering from the same pressures. That’s why Google is announcing products a year in advance of release. Why Microsoft is talking about cloud computing and not worrying about accusations of vaporware. Why new technologies are being rolled out before people can even figure out what they can be used for (e.g. Google Wave, Twitter Lists, and other bleeding edge apps).
There’s a lesson here for everyone developing digital products. Being first to market (or just in the market) is often better than putting out a perfect product. And not all functionality needs to be rolled out with the beta. In fact, if you want to keep people excited, you’ll make sure that you don’t throw the kitchen sink in to your first release. Instead, rolling out new features through constant updates is much more likely to get consumers excited. This approach is at the key of the Agile Process that we use when developing projects and it’s rapidly becoming the standard for all parts of the digital industry (and beyond). And it’s the perfect response to the shift in consumer expectations – the need for constant progress, innovation and measurable milestones.
Back in the late 80’s, Doug Coupland released his seminal work, Generation X. The book and it’s title defined that era (even though Coupland had borrowed the term from a ’60s study on British schoolchildren). With the Boomer population aging and retiring Generation X is shaping societal behavior more than ever. While Generation X was the the headline that captured the public imagination, it’s also worth remembering the subtitle of Coupland’s work, “Tales for an Accelerated Culture”.
That accelerated culture that Coupland wrote about is now the mainstream. Are you ready for it?