Change in a traditional organization - how does it happen?
Most have placed their bet on the use of social technology. If we add lots of social links, we will be different. Others hope that somehow it will bubble up from the people. The people will force the change on the reluctant leadership.
I think that there is no evidence that either of these views actually work in practice.
What I have seen is that real change in a traditional organizations depends mainly on the character and the values of the leader.
Only the right kind of leader can hold the space open and defend against all the naysayers and bring about the right scale of change in the time. For time is short. If you operate a traditional organization in any field now, you face disruption in the next 3 years. You have to be a new player in time. There is no time.
What does it takes to be such a leader? This story is an answer to this question.
The traditional media has been one of the earliest sectors to be confronted with the disruptive power of the new technology and the societal shifts that it brings. Most leaders of traditional newspapers, Radio and TV have done nothing but hoped that this would go away. But a few have understood what is at stake and have stepped up to the challenge.
Tim Eby, the GM of St Louis Public Radio is one who has stepped up. I first met Tim back in the olden days of 2005 when he was the Chairman of NPR and the sponsor of a project that I had been hired to run called New Realities. The project was designed to confront the NPR system with a self examination of the future.
This involved meeting with over 800 NPR radio executives across the US and working with more than 200 NPR staffers in Washington. The objective was to use a process where all involved could experience for themselves what the future might bring.
Every key feature of how the future of media would evolve was discovered in this process. Content any where, anytime, any how was the central message. Audience participation and choice was another. Digital means anything that has a bit was another. An image, audio and text are all the same. So if you are digital you cannot confine yourself to one part of this mix. Today, no one thinks twice about these as factors. But then in 2006 this was all new. And what was also clear was that there was a window of time to act. We agreed that by 2009 the web would be the new main playing field.
We all met at the end of the process in Washington and it seemed that there was an agreement to go for it. So I looked forward to a rapid and general movement. I was naive. Inertia and fear are so powerful. Most leaders froze.
But all was not lost. Some leaders did act. Not many but enough and many at NPR itself.
It also all took much longer than I had imagined. Again, I was naive. But now in several areas in Radio and also in TV - The Nine Network in St Louis is another stand out thanks to Jack Galmiche and Amy Shaw - the leading stations and much of NPR itself are right in the sweet spot for the new.
So here is Tim's and St Louis's Radio's story.
See how a medium sized public radio station in a large mid market has become one of the pre-eminent news organizations in the country. See how they got the support that they needed to go all the way. See how they have chosen their partners with such care. See the barriers and how they overcome them. See how a novel crisis was the event and force that made it all come together.