Inteview with Anna Kirah, CPH Design 1 2 3
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IFRA: What are some of the key points from your latest work on the notion of crisis and how to innovate to succeed?
Kirah: I think the first thing that people need to do is stop thinking “crisis.” This is somewhat socially constructed. Yes, there is a bank crisis, and yes, people have been laid off, but it’s also, the fear and anxiety around it perpetuates it. One of the things about the new age that we are moving into is that in the old days we had our upswings and downswings and the timeframe could be three to five years.
We are in a new age, a new era, and it’s not about when is this crisis going to be over. It’s what is it going to look like, and what it’s going to look like is a fluctuation. It’s going to look more like an EKG, and that means there’s going to be lots of ups and lots of downs and much shorter business plans. We’re talking six months instead of five year plans.
So, one of the issues here for companies, is that, the global economy today is moving very fast, and it’s linked together. There’s nothing new, but it’s even more important than ever before. ...
If we look, what the global economy has done is, we have a fragile link between anywhere and everywhere because at the touch of a finger we can go anywhere and everywhere. And we can obtain knowledge and information anywhere and everywhere. When the butterfly in Brazil flaps its wings, we feel the vibrations everywhere around the world, and that’s not going to change. It’s here to stay.
It’s about the fragile links within our organisations with our vendors, with our vendors’ vendors, with our if we subcontract and our subcontractor subcontracts to someone else who does it to somebody else – all of this gets effected. All of those lines get affected. So, when we talk about this, news spreads in split seconds and panic occurs simultaneously, it has a huge effect on global stock markets.
During the old and slow economy of the industrial revolution it made sense to lay off employees because we knew things would take time before they would get better. But we live in the age of turbulence, we live in the age of chaotics now and everything moves much faster, and has been for the last five years.
Crisis is something we’re going to have to learn to live with. The two things they don’t teach in business schools are flexibility and adaptability to change. They keep teaching these same models, these same ways that have never worked. They didn’t work before and they certainly aren’t working now to solve the problem. Instead of massive layoffs during quiet times, companies need to reconsolidate, innovate, train, reorganise, build strategies and scenarios.
There are things you can predict and things you cannot predict. We couldn’t predict the Swine Influenza, but you have to be prepared for the unpredictable. When we do this, we do it in such a way that when things pick up again and turnover is high, you make sure that your company is ready for it.
The biggest mistake that companies make today is that they don’t involve their employees. They do not empower the employees. ... It’s very important to involve employees and be transparent and also empower them – give them both possibility, and more importantly, accountability and responsibility in making the company successful, so it’s no longer just leadership, it’s everybody. And then you start seeing, when everybody’s involved, you start seeing if you need to fire some people, you don’t fire them because there’s a financial crisis, you fire them because they can’t do their job.
Innovation is mandatory now. If you go back in history, the best innovations came in times of crisis. Historically, every time, war, the depression, everything, that’s when it happens, so if you cut back on that area, you’re taking away the only motivating thing in many people is coming up with new ideas. Innovation should become daily practice for everybody in the company.
Often when I go into companies who are having problems, even before the financial crisis, some of the people with the best ideas are the ones who never were asked, like the janitor, or the receptionist, or someone who has a teenage daughter or teenage son, who happens to know what’s really going on in the world. But you don’t ask those people because they aren’t the innovation director, or they’re not the expert. It’s about empowering everybody to come up with ideas.
IFRA: How can traditionally trained leaders adjust to the new age of chaotics?
Kirah: The first is a radical mindset change because the majority of leaders today are trained in a certain way that no longer fits. The Industrial Revolution models don’t work in today’s information-communication age. They have to stop thinking of their organisation as a top-down structure and most importantly they have got to acknowledge that as an organisation you can no longer work on isolated terms, particularly in the area of information communication. It needs to be adjusted to the currents of society.
We are facing a new paradigm in our way of interacting with information. So, now we have all these tools, there’s a lot of things out there that people are using, but we need a new approach and new tools in order to filter through what is relevant and what is not relevant.
We have to facilitate workflows that match the way we actually work today. It’s more like if you take a tangled ball of yarn, that’s how communication works today, and what we need to do is help untangle the information overload.
The best thing we can do is help knowledge workers help people with an understanding and a focus on relevance and meaning to your reader. This mindshift change for the leadership is about collaborative intelligence. It’s no longer the newspaper just informing people, but people informing newspapers, and it’s a continual process. It’s bi-directional and multi-directional and so collaborative intelligence is a very important way to think about this, but this radically mindshift change has to be also around adaptability and flexibility.
The leader of today must acknowledge that uncertainty is a fact of life. The immediate reaction based on good MBA programs is: You cut costs, and you reduce this and you reduce that. And that’s OK, you may have to do some of that, but why not involve everybody in what is the best thing to cut? Why are we saying we have to cut across the line? Why don’t we involve and empower our employees to find ways to cut where they are still motivated to work and excited about it? It’s fully possible to do something like that.
You know if teenagers are on to something, and they’re usually the ones to know what’s really happening out there. Why aren’t you having your employees who have teenagers come in, have those teenagers come in and see what do they want, what do they need? What are they doing now?
A mistake many companies make is they bring in the brightest, the nerdiest kids. Those are usually the ones who are the last to uptake trends and the ones who are the most adult-oriented and less rebellious. The trend-setters are the ones out on the edge, and they make us adults feel uncomfortable. Those are the ones you want in your focus groups if you are going to do focus groups. Those are the ones that you want to have working for you and understanding them and seeing, “Oh, I could be doing this!” But we always go to the safest, and this is a time to go out of your comfort zone and be unsafe. So, radical mindset change is crucial. Scenario planning, being able to not pick plan B, but pick from multiple plans on which way to go. Being willing to take risks and gamble.
Some of your gambles are going to be failures, but you’re going to have others already there that back you up. You have to be able to play that role and understand that this isn’t about risk aversion because today we live in a world where we don’t know what the next step’s going to look like. And it’s only going to be increasing, not decreasing.
IFRA: What are a few ways the news publishing industry can redesign its services to better meet the needs of readers and non-readers?
Kirah: … First of all you have to bring in the readers and nonreaders into the entire process. One of the things that really bothers me in Europe in particular, but it’s all over, is when we talk about user-driven innovation, or reader-driven innovation in this case, we think about it in terms of front-end innovation. You have to know your customer, and one of the most important things is to bring them in through the entire development process, because the problem in society is we do what I call front-end innovation, where you go and collect the customer information and then you go back and sit together and decide what to do with it, but you need those people along the entire journey, not just at the beginning. …
When you understand the aspirations and motivations of the people, you create meaning, and when you create meaning, you create value and value is where you get your profit, so your return on investment comes from understanding those aspirations and motivations and creating meaning with them. You can’t create meaning on your own, you need to create it with them.
You have to facilitate interaction with readers and non-readers and why non-readers? The only way you are going to grow your marketshare is to find out why people aren’t reading you. And we only focus on our target group, our readers, the ones who are already our subscribers. Start looking beyond. What’s really important to understand is that today people are able and capable of finding out information on EVERYTHING, and the major challenge for the publishing industry is to establish a framework that does more than inform.
One thing is to embrace this new media and the gadgets out there, and the other is to use these new possibilities in sensible ways. Instead of just thinking about information, you have to be thinking about relevance, and what is relevant to one person is not necessarily relevant to another person and you have to imagine, one of the thoughts I have is if you imagine a news outlet or a publishing house that did more than just pushing titles at people – like amazon.com.
Imagine it pushing and linking between relevant content to the person in question. Then imagine the inclusion of people’s involvement and everything that comes into it. As soon as the Internet started. the consumer became more empowered than ever before and that was moment to understand that consumers are going to look at each other, people they don’t know, and trust them. They’re more trustworthy than the ads that come in or the companies that say, “We do this or that” what other people’s experiences are very vital source of information when making decisions or wanting to learn something.
And this is so important to utilise this and provide a framework for this … so imaging pushing and linking between relevant content to the person. Imagine the inclusion of people’s involvement, imagine relational collaboration and what I mean by that is a framework for a tool that can detect what is relevant to you in any given situation, and at any given moment. So, you the individual have a framework provides you with the relevant information you need at any given moment and allows you to go out further.
Instead of only feeding information to one channel, you start facilitating the creation of content linking to a variety of sources such as mobile services and location-based services, particularly location-based services that know where I am, what I’m doing and can provide me with information. … The biggest competition in new media today is how people interact with data and how data interacts with data. … If you think of this idea of this data that could be used and linked in different ways from the personal to the global, this could actually enhance the value of a subscription greatly because it would act as a database of relevant information that links to the resources and the employees of an organisation and it would of course depend on very high quality journalism because the journalists have to not only possess a critical angle they also have to take on the vast chaos of information out there and help filter that chaos for the individual who needs the information, so quality content becomes crucial information.
All products whether physical, digital, newspapers, whatever it is, are all about a service. You have to understand your customer journey and your non-customer journey. When do people opt out? When do they stay in along your journey? Your best way of getting customers is not your advertising. Your best way is some reader who says this is the best damn newspaper I’ve ever read, and they tell everybody about it. That’s part of the customer journey, that’s the end and extend of a customer journey.
Interview by Brian Veseling, IFRA senior editor, Editorial, Advertising and General Management