What an anarchic, widget-y year. As someone who craves a certain degree of structure, it was admittedly tough sometimes to look at all these new companies coming out and see…the company. Better search, better social networking, more and better tools for self-expression—I’m there. But companies? With strategies and business models and plans and revenue and all the stuff that is the lifeblood of what we do? No, not so much.
It used to be that to call something a “widget” was pejorative: You’d often hear: “That’s not a product—that’s a feature!” or “That’s not a company, that’s a product!” But at some point in the year I started to realize I was thinking about this the wrong way. A good widget, or…whatever…has within it the potential to attract people to do something. And within that potential is the seed of a business, sometimes one we can’t even envision yet. So a good widget is sort of fractal: it holds its business model within it, and it’s up to all of us—marketers, investors, founders, evangelists—to recognize the source of that attraction and tease it out so we can try to explain it to everyone else.
So what does that mean for our industry in 2007? A few things, actually: 1) A healthy suspension of disbelief. Remember the PR agencies who turned down Google’s business in 1999 because they thought the search market was already saturated? 2) The ability to let go of our comfortable but increasingly archaic tools when they don’t make sense. The so-called “smart” press release is just part of this. 3) A better planning model. Hierarchical, linear plans with long time horizons are over. Doesn’t matter if you’re Digg or GE—the world moves just as fast.
All this change isn’t going to be easy: after all, Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” provoked a riot at its premier in 1913. But somehow, by the next few performances, people had learned how to make sense of it, and a whole new era of music was born.