Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Second Life For All

I was privileged to be interviewed yesterday by Annette Moser-Wellman for a project she is doing for Northwestern University’s Media Management Center on innovation. She was very kind to put up with my rambling thoughts for an hour - I bet the audio is edited down to about 10 minutes! How much more efficient would I be if I could self edit down to the interesting 10 minutes ;-) But here I am rambling again and what I really wanted to write about this morning is Second Life.

One of the things that Annette asked me about was how to lead an organization to be innovative. In answering this question I observed that there are people that are more likely to be innovative and people that are less likely to be innovative -- so you can't just lead any given group of people to be innovative. As an example of this I went on a tangent (yes, too many tangents is why my 10 minutes took 60+ minutes...). The tangent was about how people deal with innovation. I mangled a quote from Douglas Adams which with the help of Google I can now bring you from the Douglas Adams website:
1) everything that's already in the world when you're born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you're thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it's been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
Then I went on a further tangent to reminisce about how I would argue with people when the fax machine first appeared in general business circles (only 30 years ago) about whether or not every business would ultimately have a fax machine. And then in the early 1990s I tried to convince people that eventually everyone would have an email address on their business cards ("just like we now have fax numbers"). And websites, and etc. At each step of the way, there were a set of people that said "no way, don't need 'em" -- my argument was that a sense of curiosity and imagination about the future is a key component to innovative people and some people have that and some people don't. You might be more likely to find this characteristic in younger people (Douglas Adams' point) although some young people are close minded and some older people are open minded.

This tangent of course led me to another tangent -- what is the example of something now that most of the business community rejects but, like fax machines and email addresses and websites, will be an accepted part of our business environment in 5-10 years? The example I came up with was virtual worlds, like Second Life.

Yep, a whole bunch of you out there are saying, huh? Second Life? That "game" thing? Yes, Second Life or something that looks like it is going to be an important part of your business life in the future. Don't believe me? I just saw my first business card two weeks ago with a second life ID on it. That made me start thinking about why this is going to become an important business tool. That made me go start spending time "in world" as the locals say, trying to understand what it is today and what it is going to become in the future.

Here is a really simple formula -- there are mediums to which people willingly give their attention. TV, Radio, the Internet, now Second Life. Anywhere people are willing to give their attention is a place that marketers will want to be with their marketing messages. Where marketers go, a whole service chain will follow. And when all of these parts of the service chain get involved, new market opportunities are created that go well beyond the initial impulse to participate in the medium.

Second Life creates a virtual space that facilitates interactions between physically distributed teams and introduces a set of tools that encourage innovation, creativity, and engaged collaboration. Already there are classes, press conferences, parties, financial transactions and a lot of entertainment (from G to XXX rated) going on all over the virtual space of Second Life. Just like in your first life, there are different times and places for different kinds of activities.

Go ahead, pooh-pooh the idea that you will be doing business in a virtual world. After all, its against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization.

1 comment:

PatK said...

I agree with you 100% Ted. Although I am getting some interesting feedback from by Generation-D'ers at work who look at Second Life and go "oh - the one for old people". I am interested in what vspace captures them. Apparently something between Club Penguin and Second Life.