You grow great crops in great soil. And the soil is the commons. Increasingly, we have monopolistic companies that try to take as much as they can for themselves. And we have a patent and copyright regime that makes sure that nothing goes back into the commons unless by an extraordinary act of generosity. This is not fertile soil for innovation.
Build a business that will undermine our own.
The mandate Macmillan Publishing has given to new hire Troy Williams in an effort to steer the company into the future. Macmillan has reportedly given Williams a $100 million fund to invest in publishing startups in the education space.
The plan is to let [the startups] exist autonomously… within the organization, as Macmillan transitions out of the content business and into educational software and services. Through the entity, called Macmillan New Ventures, Williams plans to do five deals this year and 10 to 15 over the course of the next five years.
He’s buying companies that will help Macmillan survive as a business once textbooks go away completely.
This includes Prep-U, a quizzing engine for classrooms, i-Clicker, a mobile classroom polling company, and most recently EBI, a data and evaluation startup…
…But what do those inside Macmillan think about his plan to kill their business?
Long pause. “I don’t know.”
“At the highest levels, everybody thinks it’s where we need to go. But they think it’s 15 to 20 years off,” Williams says. “I think it’s seven to ten. The people at the very top plan to be retired in 20 years so they think they have enough runway.”
FJP: A bold and necessary business model for planning for the future.
“nearly every invention in the engineering or sciences is an improvement on what has come before – such as Tesla’s improvements to alternating current.That’s what innovation is. It’s a social process that occurs in a social context.As Robert Heinlein once said, “When railroading time comes you can railroad—but not before.”In other words, inventions are made in the context of scientific and engineering understanding. Individuals move things forward – some faster than others – but in the end, the most intelligent person in the world can’t invent the light bulb if the foundation for it isn’t there.”
“Any market where unnecessary middlemen stand between customers and their successful use of a solution is about to be disrupted. Any service putting the burden on end users to string together multiple applications to produce the final working solution should consider its days numbered. Any product with an interface that slows people down is ripe for extinction. And any category where a disproportionate number of customers are subsidizing their vendor’s inefficiency is on the verge of revolution.”
““I am emphasizing the self-service nature of these platforms because it’s important for a reason I think is somewhat non-obvious: even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation,” writes Bezos. “When a platform is self-service, even the improbable ideas can get tried, because there’s no expert gatekeeper ready to say ‘that will never work!’ And guess what – many of those improbable ideas do work, and society is the beneficiary of that diversity.””
“Another recurring theme is the importance of education.All of these flourishing cultures pioneered new forms of teaching and learning. Medieval Florence saw the rise of the apprentice-master model, which let young artists learn from veteran experts.Elizabethan England made a concerted effort to educate its middle-class males, which is how William Shakespeare—the son of a glover who couldn’t sign his name—ended up getting free Latin lessons.We need to emulate these ingenious eras and encourage rampant experimentation in the education sector, whether it’s taking the Khan Academy mainstream or expanding vocational training.As T. S. Eliot once remarked, the great ages did not contain more talent. They wasted less.”
“Yet all the time, Kodak seemed to want to drive digital behavior back to businesses it knew and could control.Rather than embrace digital, it wanted digital to fuel printing. First with the creation of cameras for the Kodak Easy Share line, then for printers and ink, Kodak wanted the warm glow of the bright yellow box and the family memories of a “Kodak Moment” to shift from digital sharing back to physical objects. Is it possible for a company with legacy business holdings, and a history of owning a narrow sales channel, to evolve into a thriving digital enterprise?Kodak isn’t alone in trying to sort out this analog to digital transition. Companies like Sony and Comcast have been using acquisition to remain relevant or even dominant in the new world. But Kodak didn’t do that. Rather than use the head start they had with Ofoto, they let companies like Flickr take the lead in the fully digital photo world.”
Pattern thinking requires that you keep your eyes open and actively seek out new ideas wherever you can find them. And you won’t truly have your eyes open unless you have enough humility to admit that the best ideas aren’t always going to come from you.
The digital revolution is almost as disruptive to the traditional media business as electricity was to the candle business.
Ken Auletta, media commentator for The New Yorker
““If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people,” Mr. Bezos told reporter Steve Levy last month in an interview in Wired.“But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue.At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn.””