Schibsted CEO shares thoughts on optimism, naivety — and popcorn

By Kristin Skogen Lund

Schibsted Media

Oslo, Norway


The new media’s primary task is to contribute toward civilising society, holding it together, promoting transparency and necessary insight so people can be involved in influencing their own life situations.

Along another dimension, we have our marketplaces — such as FINN here in Norway (Norway’s market leader in online classifieds) — environmentally friendly participants in the circular economy, and service providers that make life a little easier for their users.

In the maelstrom of new technological possibilities, fierce global competition, and social and political instability, it’s important to hold on to these fundamental ideas of why we are here and for whom. As a relatively new CEO at Schibsted, I do not want to make sweeping statements about the past or the future. Right now, I’m more concerned with asking the right questions and identifying new directions together with my new colleagues.

It is important for me to help open up a space for our people so we can get the best out of every single one of them in a way that lets them all contribute to designing new solutions and services. Schibsted has a long tradition of innovation and of trial and error. And in the times that lie ahead of us, I cannot think of any other way of doing things.

In the frantic period when the Internet broke through the asphalt and stretched toward us, I was leading SOL, a service offering a comprehensive overview of the most important news from all sources in Norway. It was a time of both optimism and anxiety, and also of predictions and visions of varying quality.

One such prediction was that the Internet would make journalism redundant because everyone in the new, transparent society would have access to all the source material journalists used. But to make a long story short, that’s not what happened. Journalism is used just as much today as it was 25 years ago; it is the business models we are struggling with.

We are in the process of crossing the bridge from the analogue world to the digital. Our marketplaces were born and raised on the digital side of that bridge while the media houses were only halfway across. And the idea that we will have reached our goal the moment we cross to the other side is naive. There will be new bridges — we just don’t know much about where they will lead us.

The period before the launch of the iPad is one example of strong optimism but also a little naivety. The idea was that the tablet had a format perfectly suited to replacing the print newspaper. Consequently, many went all in to shift newspaper readers from print to digital all in one go.

Another example of the difficult balance between optimism and naivety was the belief many shared that Facebook and Google could take over the role of distributor for the news media. Few imagined they would simultaneously take over significant parts of the business.

You cannot survive in this industry without having faith in the future, and that faith must come from within. It is profoundly human to seek out patterns and solutions that create predictability, so most of us prefer to search for definitive solutions in the hope of restoring stability. The past 20 years have taught us there is no definitive solution — not even one that provides stability beyond four or five years.

Now, to the popcorn ...

I like the analogy with the cinema industry. Screening films alone does not generate profits. But if you add some popcorn and other products and services to the cinema experience, you suddenly find yourself with a sustainable business.

That is how I believe we should be thinking in the media industry. Our most valuable asset is our relationship with our users and customers through the services we provide them within their everyday lives. This is something we must build on.

Making full use of our newspaper distribution network is a good example. Our newspaper carriers call at thousands of households every single day. In addition to that service, we have built the sale and delivery of bread, breakfast meals, and packages. We can think along the same lines in other parts of the value chain.

The media’s version of the cinema’s popcorn — now that’s an idea with meaning.

I’m often asked for my views on what characterises good leadership. Strangely enough, the more experience I gain and the more leaders I meet, the more difficult I find answering that question to be. Good leaders can differ dramatically, and the explanation for their success lies deep within their personality.

Personally, I like the Japanese management philosophy of leading as if you do not have power — not because it is a “kinder” alternative, but because I think it is often the most effective.

Exercising purely formal authority in complex organisations full of smart, creative people — at least if they are not consulted first — seems ineffectual. Mahatma Gandhi put it more simply: “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”

About Kristin Skogen Lund

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