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IPA Social: Principle Nine - Change will never be this slow again


Version 1.0  - author = Graeme Wood

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change #ipasocial"

Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again. This shouldn't come as a surprise; Intel founder Gordon Moore observed in 1965 that since the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958 that processing power had doubled every 18 months, and predicted that this trend would continue unchecked. So far he has been proved right, and the future of advertising is too closely linked to that of technology to escape the effects of Moore’s Law.

That isn't to say that people are changing. Without paraphrasing too much from Clay Shirky and Mark Earls, all the things we are evolutionarily disposed to do and have a cultural requirement for are simply quicker, easier and further reaching than previously possible. Most of those things are to do with other people, not technology. To get hung up on technology risks missing the point: as Henry Jenkins says,

“Our focus should not be on emerging technologies but on emerging cultural practices"

As an industry we have faced change before; early radio ads were print ads read out. Early TV ads were radio ads in which you could see the face of the person reading. In each case the rise of a new medium provoked a step change in the advertising industry, but one that didn't happen immediately. But each of those media worked in the same way, and the one-to-many assumptions of the 20thcentury about how brands communicate are fast becoming a casualty of the power laws of 21st century networks. While it is fun to speculate on how technology will change behaviour, most examples follow Bill Gates' suggestion that

“We overestimate the change that will happen in the next two years, and underestimate the change that will happen in the next ten”

Interruptive advertising won’t disappear overnight, but each change towards a more networked world will make it less relevant. We can’t predict the impact of new technologies on cultural practice, only prepare our businesses to embrace and foster change rather than reacting to it. Things are happening quicker, including irrelevance. In the words of AG Lafley, former CEO of P&G,

"..our company's success rate runs between 50 and 60 percent. About half of our new products succeed. That's as high as we want the success rate to be. If we try to make it any higher, we'll be tempted to err on the side of caution”

So the real step change for agencies is about not keeping control or making things perfect, it is about embracing business models that constantly evolve and communications that are designed to exist in beta, making the move from what Gerd Leonhard calls “protecting brands to projecting brands’. Charles Darwin said

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

We know that species of animal can remain unchanged for millennia, and then suddenly evolve in a few generations as their environment changes. The increasing speed of communications is eroding the 19th and 20th century assumptions that our businesses are built upon. Leading change rather than being lead by it demands that we don't err on the side of caution.


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Last updated 18/11/2013

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