Dare to contradict the madding crowd


Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was an emperor who was promised a brand new suit by two fraudulent tailors. 

It wasn’t just any old clothing; they promised it would be invisible to any person who was unfit or incompetent for the position.

The emperor loved the idea, imagining it would help him distinguish wise subjects from stupid. When the fabric was nearly ready, he sent one of his ministers to inspect it, but the gentleman could not detect anything. The cloth was invisible to him.

But did he admit it? Of course not. He was so scared that others would find out he was not good enough for his job that he remained silent. Playing along, he told the tailors the fabric was beautiful.

The tale by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen might have ancient settings and origins, but the moral is a very live issue. It can be devastating when no one dares to contradict the crowd, by fear of coming across as stupid.

The news Web sites are well into their teens, but the companies behind them still haven’t changed their ways or their competence.

It was more than three years ago that John Paton said: Put the digital people in charge – of everything. But very few actually did.

As an international media consultant, I am privileged enough to meet media executives in most parts of the world. Often I am surprised by how strong the resistance to change is. Still.

But what is even more pervasive is the non-willingness at the highest management levels to learn. To start testing all these new digital tools and services. To actually interest themselves in the opportunities out there.

Coming from a print background myself, I constantly have to force myself to get over that threshold. One tool has been the #Blogg100 challenge, a challenge on Twitter by @bisonblog, in which participants promised to write 100 blog postings in 100 days.

I raised the bid by promising to blog about testing one new digital tool — online service, app or similar —  every day for 100 days. 

I failed — although I still hope to catch up before the closing conference. But even with only 91 tools tested (so far), I proved to myself and hopefully to others that digital is not the equivalent of difficult.

The average difficulty grade so far (on a 0-5 scale) is 0.49. Anyone can adapt to the new landscape; it is a question of curiosity.

Most traditional media, however, are still headed by print people, often translating their old knowledge into a digital costume with a less than great result. Or serving as lousy role models by believing that digital knowledge is the equivalent of sending e-mails or updating Facebook.

Still, there are news groups that got the message early and have since acted. Several of the major entities in northern Europe have initiated massive competence evaluation programs, aimed at:

  • Overall attitude change.

  • Raising staff awareness of the necessity of continual competence development.

  • Identifying and dealing with “the enemies of change.”

Schibsted-owned Aftonbladet is marching ahead, using successful Hyper Island as a competence development partner, mixing industry-based learning, personal and professional development, and practical experimentation.

There are several other ways of dealing with the competence gap, of course. My point is: You have to make active decisions for the industry’s sake. Even at great personal cost.

Copying the passive approach of your colleagues, believing it is wiser not to address this issue, since others might realise just how incompetent you are, is risky.

If you stay on that road, chances are that one day, just like in Andersen’s tale, someone outside your bubble will point at you and blurt out just how naked you actually are.

So, who will be the first to put the digital people in charge of everything?

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