Who invented the automobile? Wasn’t Henry Ford. It was Karl Benz, the Benz from Mercedes Benz. Ford took the idea and found a better way to mass produce cars and make them popular. And him, rich.
First-mover advantage isn’t an advantage. It’s usually a stepping stone…for someone else.
That applies to those pioneering the principles of content strategy in this increasingly digital and content-driven world.
The king’s taster gets to taste the food first. What an honor, right?
Depends on what honor it is to be the first to find the poison hidden in the King’s food.
The innovators aren’t always the ones left standing to win the accolades.
First-mover advantage is not always ideal. Sometimes you simply win a minor place in history as an unwitting validator of an idea…or you make room and space for other people to step in and bask in the success.
Or in other words, you thought you were the scientist doing the breakthrough research that could change the world but found out you were actually the world’s lab rat. You solved the problem, only to find others getting more credit or benefit from the solution.
I should point out, I’m not trying to discourage innovation and innovators.
I know that, with true innovators, this warning doesn’t matter.
They must innovate. They will take the risk. And they will feel satisfaction in cracking the code and unlocking secrets and ideas. It’s just that, as their passion and innovation clear a path, those less brave or smart, the imitators and the trend followers will walk comfortably and leisurely in the once treacherous space the innovator’s hard work help to clear.
They may even brag, rebrand the innovator’s work, and except accolades for their expedited version of the journey (See yuppies climbing Mount Everest as vacation years after Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climber in 1953). All I’m saying is that innovators must accept that as the circle of life for innovation.
Innovators and leaders as the canary in the coal mine.
Sometimes, I have driven over the speed limit. I like the ability to get to where I’m going a little faster. But I always remember, “be fast, never be the fastest.”
Why not? Doesn’t being the fastest get you to where you are going even faster? It might. But the fastest also does something else, catches a state police car’s attention.
That’s why I lay back, follow the faster car and let it lead and act as cop bait. Barreling down the highway, it attracts all the problems and resistance that I can then see and avoid. So thanks, Mustang with the top down blaring Free Bird on the radio.
It just goes to show that being the first is not always the social winner in the long run. But what’s implied in “first-mover advantage” language that is used by the same tech companies and businesses that also use the word “synergy” too many times is the idea that if you get there first, you get the high ground in the marketplace.
The belief is that the high ground is a much better position in which to fend off the competition.
However, what looks like space and high ground is just being out in the open field and a clear shot for snipers.
You embodied change, you stepped out ahead in an innovative space all by yourself only to find that your peers pointed at you and said, “fire!”
Innovators. People will “shoot” at you for a variety of reasons.
Some will honestly believe your idea is preposterous or crazy (ask Steve Jobs who was fired from then only to come back and save Apple).
Some will feel your ideas threatens the current order (see Tucker as his advanced-design automobiles threatened the big automakers).
Or people are just jealous ( I think the Millennials call then “haters”). Even in my career I’ve seen and had many projects or idea sabotaged by a manager or colleague when the results could threaten their position or reputation.
This is especially true in content strategy.
For many firms, setting content strategy as a pillar and practice is threatening to some other disciplines because it crosses over into other disciplines and fiefdoms and can question their authority and purpose. I’m looking at you design, UX, marketing and account executives. The sling and arrows from peers are often the attempt to downplay its importance and keep the current order.
While the forces may be against you, like a fish swimming upstream to spawn, innovators and content strategy innovators keep going because that drive to create and solve a problem in our industry is almost genetic.
Successful people often survive the “shooting.” It may have required you to give it your all. You deserve credit. Just be prepared to realize that you will also give a lot more to your competitors as well.
They will build upon your idea faster and easier as you saved them the problem and time of finding all the mistakes and minefields. You’ve created a platform that they can use their energy to evolve from instead of invent.
Facebook, Google, as big and famous as they are, came on the backs of the first innovators in their industries. MySpace for social and sharing and Yahoo for search. Yahoo was THE search engine in the late 90s. They both succeeded in the heavy lift to validate the category. But others and now leading competitors built off of them to create the product or infrastructures that takes hold.
I see content strategy slowly being championed by a few pioneers.
That includes Ann Handley and Kristina Halvorson who through their advocacy and content really fight to make content an equal player on the stage. Their work is making content strategists, lose the self-esteem issue, of being treated like content generators. Or to be able to leave a place where, like one where a former design colleague used to say, “squirt words here.”
Content will take its place among the other disciplines. An event that’s happening quicker on the client and product side. And those pioneers who are pushing content strategy and the practice further will survive the slings and arrows of their peers. Some will serve as the King’s tasters or my fast-driving friend. That could be me as well.
If I’m an evolver more than an innovator, to them I say, “Thanks for doing the heavy lifting. We’ll take it from here.”
I still laugh at when a former colleague, not a content strategist and if I stayed was likely soon to be my manager, ask me to edit our content offering from a sheet she gave me. A sheet that was Ann Hanley’s content strategy terms and ideas copied and pasted.
It’s one of those signs that, looking on the positive side, tell you, as a content strategist the haters really like you and understand the value you offer. Even as they try to stop you.
Content strategy will continue to grow and stand side by side as a digital discipline. Like the internet. A platform that ad agencies laughed at only to pivot to the point where it now sounds like they swore they invented it.
I can already see the day “where big firms that shun content strategy” will proclaim that “this firm has always been about content strategy” as they walk potential clients through their hallways.
It’s not a rant. Just a look ahead and the admission of the cycle that happens not just in business but in life.
Jackie Robinson endured slurs and threats to be the first black player in baseball. And now, we don’t blink at it. It’s how people are. One day we hate the change. We fight the change. Then one day comes where we embrace it. Even take credit for it.
I happen to work with great people and clients who truly value content and the asset value of well optimized and structured content.
But I came from places that didn’t. And I know a lot of people are currently toiling in those places. And during a time I took a sabbatical and met with content people, I’ve met some very talented and true content strategists, many who get frustrated because they can’t unlock the skills they have to help clients create better digital experiences.
Strategists who like “once more unto the breach” try to sell their value not just to the client, but to their own peers. Sometimes making little progress, but feeling like it cost them their own blood and sweat.
So to those content strategists who have those days when the firm doesn’t seem to be listening to you, if you are pioneering, thank you for your struggle-and likely your sacrifices.
For those waiting for change, there are some really talented people working on it.