Structurally incentivized smartness

Philip Morgan

(Readin' time: 3m 58s)

It struck me yesterday that the "sea change narrative" almost forces you to talk about big-picture business outcomes.

This is a structural incentive (an incentive that's baked into how something is designed; an intrinsic incentive), and structural incentives are pretty powerful.

If no social media platform had a like or comment feature, that would be a big change in structural incentives. I'd post a picture of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east of here and then I'd not check back a bunch of times to see if anyone has liked the picture. My behavior would change because the structural incentives have changed.

The sea change narrative comes out sounding really dumb if you focus the narrative on some sort of low-level tactical change rather than a high-level broad sweeping sea change.

Let's cook up an example, and let's make it one that highlights the dumbness of a sea change narrative that's written to focus on low level stuff. (I'll make up details for this example, and I'm talking about something I don't know a ton about, so focus on the big idea here and don't get distracted if I make factual errors.)

The world has changed, and you can't afford to work with a corporate events videographer who's living in the old world.

4k video has truly arrived. It's table stakes now. Yet, if your videographer is using outdated hardware--old i5 processors, slow Thunderbolt 1 storage, and other last-generation tools--it'll take them longer to edit your event's raw 4k footage. 4k video's much higher resolution is the source of its power, and also produces much much larger files that take a long time to render unless you have the newest hardware like I do.

This means, since you're being charged hourly, your old world videographer is costing you extra money. Sail with me to the new world of fast, cheap, great-looking corporate events video!

See how dumb that sounds? In the first place, why should your clients care about the speed difference between Thunderbolt 1 and whatever the latest version of that standard is? Why should they spend any non-zero amount of time caring about it?

I get that the speed diff matters to the person editing the video, but about the best you can do for turning that detail into something a client would actually care about is to make a cost-reduction argument.

Differentiating on cost is the differentiator of last resort--meaning you don't have a better differentiator to offer--and the only direction you can really differentiate in at that point is lower cost than your competitors (not higher), which doesn't work out well for you unless you have some crazy good operational magic at play to deliver profitably at low price. I don't need to get into detail on the other drawbacks, which include: filtering for cost-conscious buyers, and forcing you to innovate around the imperative to reduce delivery cost rather than innovating around other more fruitful dimensions like expertise. That last drawback leads to another structural incentive that incentivizes you to focus on connecting and building trust with your peers--who will find your "inside the factory innovation" much more interesting than your clients will. (Actually maybe I do need to elaborate on these drawbacks. Noted for a future email!)

Anyway! The sea change narrative comes out sounding dumb and out of touch if you focus on something other than a high-level, sweeping change in the world of business. Now let's cook up an example where our videographer from before focuses on this kind of high-level change:

When did your world become so dominated by video? Like a frog getting boiled, it seems like just yesterday, a YouTube presence was something only outsider brands focused on. Now... if your brand doesn't have an impactful YouTube presence, you're perceived as an out-of-touch grandpa brand.

Even if you are a legacy brand, you can build an impactful YouTube presence that connects you with a new customer segment that you simply can't reach through other channels. In fact, as the world's second largest search destination (first largest if you look at the tight integration with Google search!), you simply can't afford to not be on YouTube in an impactful, relevant way.

If you think that calm, talking head videos will create this kind of impact, I'm sorry to tell you you're wrong. You need a much stronger--dare I say aggressive--visual style to stand out on YouTube and connect with this new buyer segment. That's the main reason you might want to reach out to me. I help legacy brands use edgy, impactful video to create a powerful YouTube presence that reaches a previously inaccessible buyer segment.

Not perfect, I'm sure. Video isn't my expertise, but this should give you an idea of what a sea change narrative that's more focused on high level business issues looks like.

That's what I mean when I say the sea change narrative almost forces you to talk about big-picture business outcomes.

If you don't write it that way, it sounds dumb.


This sea change narrative thing seems to be turning into a sort of series around here! Here are the previous emails about the sea change narrative:


If you'd like help figuring out how to extract business value from what you've been doing for companies as a coder, can help. A few seats are open now.