THE BLOG
11/10/2014 04:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Doot, Doot, Doot

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Always learn from the greats. Try to understand the most successful. Emulate, yes, but more -- build and innovate on what they do so well by learning what they miss.

Kind of simple wisdom, that... no?

So why then in the digital age -- the so-called age of disruption -- do we blindly follow and allow innovation to become "what can I monetize on the backs of hugely overvalued companies?" and miss some of the great opportunities for new because we buy into the digibabble and dismiss everything else as old and irrelevant and not important?

Let me share a few cases in point and see where you net out:

We all love Warby Parker. Who doesn't? Great business, digitally disruptive, and opening brick-and-mortar retail stores... WHAT?

Think about it. Drop the digibabble and think about the business model. Imagine the huge inventory it would need if everyone took up its offer. Think about the breakage, the lost frames, the ones that never get sent back or that come in late, and think about the experience of buying glasses. Now listen carefully to Neil Blumenthal, the founder, as quoted in Delta Sky Magazine [emphasis mine]:

We launched and the company took off like a rocket ship. We had to suspend our home-trial program because we ran out of inventory. People started calling and asking: "Can I come to your office to try on some styles?" We were working out of our apartment. So we invited people over. That was our first foray into [brick-and-mortar]. It showed us that we could create really special experiences with individuals when we meet them in person.

What do I learn? Don't discount anything when you start innovating. Don't make assumptions about behavior unless you have studied the market carefully and actually watched people interact in situ, not only in some online survey.

Another one:

Netflix is once again disrupting the market. The first disruption was in mailing you movies; the second, according to some, is in disrupting TV -- whatever that means.

Let's be clear: The first disruption built on a model created by record clubs in the last century and utilized the same US Postal Service -- without which, by the way, all the digital in the world would have been useless at that time.

As for the second disruption: I see it creating amazing content -- high production quality, best writers, real stars -- and I see it looking to get paid for it -- no user-generated content, no free content, OH MY!!!! Listen to the following analysis:

It is the Netflix model that breaks from web formats and reverts to traditional premium TV. It charges subscription fees; it licenses content (largely TV content); and now it makes, a la HBO, highly regarded programming using top talent. Other than residing on the web or as an app, Netflix actually rejects the conventions of digital media. It is not user-generated; it is not social; it is not bite size; it is not free. And now its approach is the one most other digital companies with big media ambitions -- Google, Amazon, Yahoo -- are looking to pursue: that is, to become like television. - The Hollywood Reporter

What do I learn? That understanding a business model that works is OK and doesn't make you a Luddite. To the contrary, think about what you could accomplish if you were thinking like Netflix does and didn't waste time arguing about the demise of TV.

One more (I like threes):

Amazon is always a favorite target because I so love it and shake my head in despair when the digibabble clouds reality.

Amazon set out to use the "algorithm" -- in other words, the secret sauce that keeps its valuations high as it continues to lose money -- to create "television" content. It made a big announcement followed by all -- with only a few taking a slightly cautious approach. Listen:

The Internet retail giant, known for efficiency and top-notch logistics, is venturing into the unpredictable game of searching for TV hits. The company is betting it can improve on the traditional TV development process by collecting viewer feedback in unprecedented ways and using it to make less risky bets on which shows to produce. -- The Wall Street Journal, November 2013

Only a few months later, it all changed:

It's not like you can come in on Tuesday and the computer says: "Doot, doot, doot. Here are the shows you are going to do..." you have to use judgment as well. -- Roy Price, Head of Amazon Studios, as quoted by The New York Times, August 2014

What do I learn? It wasted time; it wasted money -- no one remembers anything it produced. Now imagine if it had said we have enormous reach; we can distribute TV content, ours and others; we can even aggregate and curate, become the new "cable TV"... hmmm. So my takeaway is Big Data has its place, for sure -- a topic I have written about before and will again -- but sometimes it's just about us irrational humans.

And an extension of this notion: Why did Ed Park, the senior editor of Amazon's book unit, leave for Penguin Books? Read the story.

And come to your own conclusions. Mine is simple: Follow the consumer, the reader, the buyer -- not the analysts who don't.

Disruption is good. It advances us. Where would we be without the disruptions of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, Galileo, Gutenberg, Ford, the Greeks, the Romans, the Vikings even? And on and on.

We are at war with complacency, on both sides of the equation -- the entrenched and the innovative. It makes for chaos. But listen:

The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies. -- Napoleon Bonaparte

Control the chaos. Don't fall into the digibabble trap and let it control you.

What do you think?