Tuesday, October 31, 2006

don't ask permission

We talked here not long ago about the death of Tower Records as an object lesson about change and adaptation. It's a powerful example of how to fail by clinging to a misguided notion and refusing to change.

I heard a report on NPR this morning that extends the point even farther.

Mitch Koulouris once worked as a manager for the now-defunct Tower Records retail chain. Five years ago he realized digital music distribution was the wave of the future. Now his company, Digital Music Group, Inc., is buying up old song catalogs and selling them online.

I'll bet that somewhere in your organization there are people who will be the Mitch Koulourises of the newspaper industry. The question we face is whether they'll be doing their pioneering work for us, or as start-ups emerging from our failed enterprises.

We have to provide the space and flexibility and opportunity for people with good ideas to implement them within our companies. Yes, it's hard right now. Publishers and others are often focused on short-term revenues and returns. Capital dollars are scarce.

But competitors (and potential competitors) are plentiful. If somebody at your paper has a good idea for running video obits (welovedthem.com?) you can bet that somebody outside your newspaper does, too. Are we gonna do it, or let them?

Some of this is guerilla warfare. We put the Anchorage Daily News online as a bulletin board system (bbs) called The Front Page in the 1980s – not by asking anybody, but by finding an old Macintosh and teaching ourselves how. I'm sure legal would have complained and IT (if we had any) would have objected.

So what? I'll cover your ass as far as I can, and after that we'll just both get in trouble together.
–Howard Weaver

1 comment:

  1. Howard,

    Our philosphy is slightly different: We don't ask permission, and we don't apologize. ;-)