If you’re a music fan, you probably know the name Clive Davis. If you’re not though – and heaven help you – Clive Davis is one of the most successful music producers and record industry executives of all time. He’s worked with a who’s who of rock and pop musicians, from Janis Joplin to Rod Stewart to Whitney Houston, over the last 50 years. Now 85, he’s still in the game as the chief creative officer of Sony Music Entertainment. By any measure of success and longevity in what is, after all, an extremely precarious and fickle business, Davis has earned his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
What, you may be wondering though, does the archetypal A&R man have to do with “digital transformation?” Well, let me explain …
The “digital” alarm bell has been going off (literally and figuratively) now for over 20 years. The transition to the cloud, the slow decline of ERP, the rise of Google and Apple and Amazon, the primacy of “consumer IT,” the move to Agile and containers, the awakening to the power of data, the importance of design thinking – none of these are new. And yet, in the second half of 2017, many, many organizations still struggle to master them, let alone leverage them, to thrive in markets changing all around them faster than ever.
The question is, why? In my humble opinion, it’s because the executives running these organizations don’t think like Clive Davis.
It’s Not About You
Clive Davis’s success can be attributed, in no small measure, to his ability to separate his own personal tastes from those of the market. As an octogenarian, Davis probably favors Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett when he’s doing the dishes or mowing the lawn (as if). But when he’s working, he’s listening like an 18-year-old and can hear the magic in Lil Uzi Vert or Rex Orange County – music that to his contemporaries must sound like the aural equivalent of a dislocated shoulder. Or at least the decline and fall of Western civilization.
Davis recognizes that he is not the target audience, that the music is not aimed at him and has nothing to say to him. He knows he wouldn’t buy the music. But yet, he can still make judgments about its quality and its commercial appeal. And he can do this precisely because he knows the music isn’t being made for him.
This is the mistake that is hampering so many executives in so many businesses facing the onslaught of change being rendered by digital technology. They don’t personally like the new generation of technology and technology mediated solutions, and they don’t appreciate that the new technology/solutions aren’t aimed at them.
Twitter is ridiculous. Facebook is for egotistical blowhards. What even is Snap? Why do my kids spend so much time on it? Social media is destroying a generation. We can’t do this transaction online because of the threat of hackers. Pokémon Go? Give me a break. Virtual reality? What are these guys on? The cloud? But we’ve got a data center. Monetize our customer’s data? Why? Isn’t that illegal? How does this Slack thing even work? What’s wrong with e-mail?
How to Love What You Don’t Love
To the average 50-year-old, running an insurance company, a bank, an airline, a retailer, contemporary technology, contemporary business approaches and contemporary norms are the commercial equivalent of Lil Uzi Vert – terrible, ugly, ridiculous, not nearly as good as the things we listened to, aka, the technology solutions we built and used.
These executives fail to see they are not the target audience. That new solutions shouldn’t be built for their contemporaries but for their kids. They fail to separate their own personal tastes from the tastes of where the market is going.
Doing this – separating your own personal judgments from those of the market – is terribly hard (hence why so few executives can do it). It’s tough for people who have ascended slippery career ladders to admit they don’t know something. It’s tough for them to even contemplate that they are “aging out,” that they are no longer “hip to the hop,” in touch, on fleek. But mostly, it’s hard to admit – privately to yourself, let alone publically to your staff/boss/board – that you’re no longer that interested in something and that you don’t really like X or Y.
To truly grasp the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, you’ve got to really love it, and everything about it. Or, if you can’t, you’ve got to surround yourself with people who do. In Clive Davis’s case, this means A&R people who trawl the clubs and SoundCloud and YouTube and Spotify and SXSW. In your case, it could be a youth mentor or a digital whisperer you trust in the industry.
So next time you’re in a meeting with your team trying to inch forward with your digital transformation initiative, remember to think like Clive Davis. It’s not about you – it’s about the next generation and the stupid things they’re interested in. Play your Sinatra or Costello or Counting Crows tunes all you like at home. But don’t pretend that, now that you have the turntable (aka the digital transformation budget), the kids are going to dig what you all say. They ain’t lit with that.
This blog originally ran on our Cognizant Center for the Future of Work site.
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