One of the great parts of my job is the conferences I get to attend. And I’ve been to a lot of conferences this year. With media and technology evolving at hyperspeed, talented people around the world are looking for any kind of insight to better understand everything around them.
But I can’t help but feel that the more conferences you attend, the more you fall into the conference bubble. Wait, that’s an important point. Let’s call it The Conference Bubble.
Inside this Bubble, you are among peers who understand you and your problems. You don’t have to translate what you think for them. There are no “laymen.” A lot of Kool-Aid is drunk, for good and ill. Backs are slapped.
I can’t blame anyone for wanting to understand the changes in the world. Because the changes are plenty. At the recent International Content Summit in London, these changes were in the forefront of much of the discussion. But the day’s presentations were bookended by two different yet similar keynotes that caught, I think, the approaching zeitgeist.
They basically said: Slow down, catch your breath, stop running around. Get back to creating great work instead of trying to make your work fit into the new. In a way, the unintended theme of the day’s sessions may have been “enough.”
The age of consolidation and beauty
Many of the conferences over the past year have been “how to” over “why you should” and quantity over quality. But I’ve been getting that sinking feeling that there’s too much stuff.
Media is now like the endless aisle in a grocery store. And like a shopper confronted with that endlessness, you kind of lose your mind and want it all. Kind of like how East Germans reacted when confronted with the plenty of West Germany. We’re still too busy playing with toys to make the stuff we’re playing with good.
Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of the Ogilvy Group UK, and a columnist for the likes of The Spectator, said “the innovation in how content is consumed is outstripping how content is created.”
He said we’ve kind of hit that point where nothing much noteworthy is going to be released in the next little while (as opposed to the last five years where new products seemed to come out constantly), except perhaps for mobile (which he called “not yet baked”), and this should give everyone a chance to take a step back and take a deep breath and measure the landscape anew.
This slowdown in new forms of media should allow us to create content as opposed to strategy. The latter is still important, but should not obscure that strategy is nothing without smart, compelling content.
Richard Cope of Mintel spoke of reading as a form of “therapeutic slowness” and tied it into the various slow movements (Food, Cities, Living) around the world. Charlie Osmond, Creative Director of Fresh Networks, said he was sensing a move from “social media strategy to actual strategic thinking.”
And then Ben Hammersley, a technologist, broadcaster and contributor to WiredUK, came on stage and synthesized the whole thing. He called our view of the future “somewhat broken” given the staggering changes of the last few years and the weirdness (his word) of the world we live in.
He said that now was the time for a period of reflection for media owners and content creators. And he called for us to make “beautiful things.” To not worry about all the gadgets out there and to trust our own DNA. Go back to what brought us to the field in the first place.
The ghost of Steve Jobs
I couldn’t help but feel Steve Jobs hovering over these ideas somehow. His name never once came up during the conference but this idea – of simplicity, of brand unity, of good stuff combined with good strategy, of not being something you’re not – all of it reminded me of how Apple became the behemoth it is today. Jobs’ ghost informed the zeitgeist.
Simplicity. Beauty. Smarts. The rest will surely follow.