I have been thinking a lot about Kendall Whitehouse's March 18th interview with Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft, in the recent issue of Knowledge@Wharton . Having connections to both men help make the interview particularly enjoyable; I had the pleasure of getting to know Kendall and his team from the Wharton School when they were the rock-star, go-to team for telling the Macromedia Flash platform story in education and I have continued to be an avid reader of their Knowledge@Wharton e-zine since those days. Stephen was our EVP of the worldwide field organization at Macromedia when I started working in solutions marketing, and my boss, Penny Wilson, was a direct report of Stephen's, so I have my "close to greatness" connections here as well. I have positive memories of Stephen's leadership at both MACR and ADBE, so it was great to catch up on what he is doing up in Redmond.
In the interview, Stephen shares a great point with Kendall, about how in tough economic times it is incumbent upon smart companies to think about where they want to be when things improve and to make investments in those areas to build future capacity. I do remember his talking on this topic in a number of education customer meetings - when there's no market for your goods, don't spend your money where it won't matter. Instead, invest in where you want to be when the markets turn around. This was regarding the Macromedia decisions to focus on Flash research. One direction, looking at RIAs Flex and AIR, is now the daily bread of many a developer. The other direction, Flash on mobile, is now coming into its own as an issue for North American businesses to attend to, finally.
Stephen's point is reminiscent of the advice that was supposedly given to Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretsky by his father when teaching his son how to play the game. Walter's advice included to "skate where the puck's going, not where it's been."
Two parallel thoughts. One relates to the ongoing discussion I've been having with industry friends over the past several weeks about how now is the time for forward thinking individuals and enterprises to consider how to take advantage of the great economic and market changes that are going on around us. The other relates to my recent diatribes on the topic of rethinking professional preparation for instructional designers so that this profession has a shot at ongoing relevancy.
I think it would be enlightened self-interest to demonstrate the value of crawling beyond the online course management swamp, sharpen our learning, programming and production skills and reach out into the metasphere, the game zone, the mobile web and the cloud. We owe it to ourselves to learn how to flex business muscles. Big questions really need to be answered before diving into the middle of an audience analysis, like "How many people out there are likely to care about this?", and "What are the problems that my innovation can solve, and how much is it worth it to them for me to solve it?" An innovation without much likelihood of adoption may be a great intellectual curiousity, a worthy candidate for a research project. But during times when "just the right app" may be just the right thing to spark new business success stories, we need to know how to figure out "who cares" and "how much" right along with "what if". Metaphorically speaking, it's all part of learning to skate to be in just the right place at just the right time.