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May 29, 2007

The Big Switcheroo

For the past three months, throughout the nine deep dives on media content, the Global Innovation Outlook team has seeded the discussions with a handful of different concepts. They are simple, high-level constructs, used to get the conversation going and keep it focused. Some of the discussion points have been easily embraced. Everybody found it easy to talk about user-generated content, for example. And piracy often generated heated, if not productive, conversation.

But one concept that deep divers struggled with was nicknamed “Let go to Grow.” It’s the theory that by letting go of traditional control over your business, you can build other, more profitable businesses around that which you give up. The phrase was popularized by Linda Sanford, an IBM senior vice president, who published a book on the topic. And there are a number of examples of companies giving away a valuable service or product (Google’s search, for example, or IBM’s own embrace of open source software) in exchange for a revenue model built around that service or product.

But most of the media executives at our dives, while familiar with the concept, just couldn’t see it happening in their business. Or at the very least, they had trouble conceiving of the business model that was going to arise after they let go of the very things they had been monetizing with great success for the better part of a century. So we desperately tried to get the groups to think around these corners. And one of the examples that Kris Lichter, IBM’s Director of corporate innovation projects and the man running the GIO, repeatedly used was a purely hypothetical example of George Lucas allowing fans to rewrite the ending to the Star Wars movies.

Well, the hypothetical is now reality. Last week Lucasfilm, the production company that manages the rights to the Star Wars movies, announced it would make 250 clips from the series available to the public online at starwars.com. The idea is to let the rest of the world mash up the clips, and remix them as they like. That this is coming from the man nicknamed “Lucas the Litigator” for his zealousness in protecting his intellectual property, makes it all the more astonishing. But starwars.com expects a huge boost in traffic, the Star Wars community will almost certainly grown, and a movie franchise that has no more movies to offer will sustain the business for decades to come. Makes you wonder what else might be possible in the world of media and entertainment.

Jarring Transition Alert! – Jarring Transition Alert! – Jarring Transition Alert!

Speaking of letting go, it’s about time for me to let go of the media and content topic area on this blog. Though there is still much to learn in this incredibly rich topic area, the GIO team is now transitioning its focus to the next topic area: Africa.

For the last couple of months, even as the media and content deep dives were wrapping up, we’ve been hard at work developing meeting agendas and discussion areas for our ten forthcoming deep dives on Africa. We will be focusing much of the discussion on how investing, lending, and business development can spur positive economic growth within Africa. This is no charity mission, mind you. Rather, the GIO wants to encourage innovation that can both create and sustain business opportunities, the ultimate goal of which is to create positive socio-economic change and bring Africa more fully into the global economy.

It’s going to be fascinating. We kick off with a double-dive in Nairobi next week, followed by dives in Dakar, Paris, Lisbon, Atlanta, Beijing, and a wrap up session in Cape Town in September. You won’t want to miss this, so stay tuned to this blog, and follow along as we dive deep into the world’s second-most populous continent.

May 29, 2007 in Africa, Media and Content | Permalink


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IBM's embrace of open-source isn't the same as what you would be asking, for example, film studios to do. IBM embraced something that was already free. If there was a serious open movement that produced studio quality full length movies then perhaps we'd be talking like for like. Linux, by the time IBM embraced, had already made significant inroads against a multi-billion dollar OS called "Windows". Find me a single 'open movie' that is comparable to a studio version. Also find me a similar case for music (including full album, original music, tour, t-shirts etc.) I'm sure there are adjacent opportunities by "let(ting) go to grow" but it is easy to ask, but harder to implement. Oh, and Google did search when it was already free but innovated in advertising. Do you think they are going to let go of that franchise ever?

Posted by: Nic Fulton | Jun 12, 2007 12:36:43 PM

very well Said Nic.

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