Thursday, December 18, 2008

Murder your darlings

Packing up your office yields many a trip down memory lane. This week I talked with newsroom staff at the Sacramento Bee and shared some notes I made in 1997 about newspapers and websites. (Yes, I tend to save stuff).

I had some decent insights back then, but perhaps none better than this one: "Newspapers are trapped by desire to own and control everything ..."

This resonated powerfully while reading this insightful post about how Apple handles change. After noting that "Most large and successful corporations are afraid of change," John Siracusa notes that "While other companies are paralyzed with indecision, or cling relentlessly to what has worked in the past, or are seduced by sentimentality, Apple is busy murdering its darlings."

I was at the think-tank session at Rand in 1987 that led to New Directions for News. It was the first time I'd ever worked with professional "facilitators," the first time really that I knew such things existed. I was fascinated by their contention that that could apply the same principles across many industries to foster innovation, and asked one how working with newspapers compared with other clients.

"Great question," he replied. "It's so different. Everybody else just wants us to help improve their widget. Thy want a better widget or a faster widget or a cheaper widget. But you newspaper people are in love with your widgets."

And indeed I was was. I loved pretty much everything about newspapers from the first time I walked into the Anchorage Daily News newsroom as a high-school sports stringer in 1967. I loved the smell and the mess, the sarcasm and the profanity. I took my future wife to watch the press run on our first date. I have a handle from the old letterpress on my desk today.

The letterpress didn't survive the offset era, typewriters gave way to CRTs and eventually we banned smoking. Widget Worship passes into its honored, venerated place in the pantheon of lost gods.

A further taste of Siracusa:

Over the past decade, Apple has been using a different playbook. In Apple's estimation, the best time to kill off a successful product or brand is "as soon as possible." Dropping a winner means creating a new winner to replace it, and that's exactly what Apple has decided it must do to be successful: create great new products again and again. Brand momentum, product inertia, and all the other naturally occurring forces in large corporations stand in the way of Apple's execution of this plan.

Thanks @base10 for the Siracusa pointer, via Twitter

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:02 PM

    What in the hell will McClatchy Watch Blog do now that your leaving? One less person that useless blog will have to bitch about. Funny though, they use the name they hate the most "McClatchy" to even get people to visit their blog site. Good Luck, Howard