By Joshua Reynolds We all track advances in mobile, social, data or nano technologies. But the real impact of all this disruptive technology shows up in evolving human behaviors and attitudes, and that impacts our PR mandate even more than the technology itself. At the Blanc & Otus 2014 Tech Marketers Playbook event on March 20, which included a panel discussion with Charlene Li of Altimeter and Mike Weir of LinkedIn, we looked at three shifts in particular: [caption id="attachment_2295" align="alignright" width="210"]Joshua Reynolds Joshua Reynolds[/caption]
  • Our relationship with innovation (and the rise of ingenuity)
  • Our relationship with risk (and the cost of doing nothing)
  • Our relationship with data (and the rise of small data over big data)
Ingenuity over Innovation Innovation is beginning to give way to ingenuity. It began with Facebook, which didn’t have to invent anything to launch a modest little web site that changed the world. It continues across multiple tech categories today. Innovation is the creation of a brand new component that’s never been seen before, such as the wheel—new and impressive, but by itself, useless. But ingenuity is the creative recombination of proven, existing components into something more useful. So when somebody took two wheels, put a stick through them and set a box on top, and created a cart, that was ingenuity at work—and it resulted in something immediately useful. But innovation usually dominates in a time of surplus. The wheel came along after we’d learned to farm and store food and discovered free time. Ingenuity, on the other hand, prevails in moments of great need, when we need to make do with what we have to accomplish difficult tasks. That’s the reality we face today.  And that’s why we are entering an era of ingenuity. The good news is that ingenuity is an inexhaustible human resource, one that allows us to challenge the myth of scarcity. Too often PR begins with pitches about cost, complexity and what we lack. Without realizing it, we perpetuate this stupid zero-sum game that assumes we just don't have enough to work with now.  Increasingly, PR is able to flip the script on scarcity and pose the viral question, “What if we do have everything we need? What if we just need the ingenuity to make better use of what we have?” This approach also fosters constructive dialogue across entrepreneurs, technologists, economists and influencers. And as Li and Weir concur, this is tech PR worth doing. 5964727769_0a003f9edc_z Changing the Relationship with Risk Related to this shift toward ingenuity is the shift in our relationship with risk. This shift is most prevalent in certain risk-averse vertical markets, such as automotive, health care, and manufacturing, which have to navigate strict regulations, cultures, public safety concerns and brand positions. But companies in these sectors face massive disruption from new technologies and business models, so they must embrace technology risk, ready or not. Gartner calls this “Digital Business Advantage”, and in a recent report, they make some fairly startling predictions. By 2017 …
  • 20% of all market leaders will lose their dominant position to a company founded after the year 2000 because of a lack of digital business advantage
  • 25% of all companies will lose significant market share because of “digital business incompetence”
  • Corporate strategists will begin conducting daily competitive scans because of a loss of sustainable competitive advantage 
In other words, fast followers have to become fast evolvers, or else they risk extinction. Creative PR professionals can help these conservative companies see their relationship with risk in a new way. First, by focusing on ingenuity over innovation, we can diminish perceived technology risk by pointing toward proven technologies being used in creative new ways. Second, we can move away from hyperbolic benefit statements and instead focus on quantifying the biggest cost they face—the cost of doing nothing. While it’s difficult to predict hard ROI from an unproven technology, it’s easier to predict the impact of not changing course as new competitors erode market share. In this way, tech PR can assist conservative industries in their inevitable evolutions. As Weir noted, more and more traditionally tech-conservative companies are now engaging in new ways on LinkedIn simply because that’s where their most important audiences are choosing to engage.   [caption id="attachment_2297" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Photo credit: John Morgan Photo credit: John Morgan[/caption]   Small Data vs. Big Data Even as we embrace ingenuity and risk in new ways, perhaps the most profound shift is in our evolving relationship with data. For years we’ve heard about the impact of data on our lives. Stats get more startling each week: silicon-based computing power will soon outpace the collective cognitive powers of every person on the planet, and the rate at which we generate data is only growing exponentially. But until recently, the Big Data discussion has centered around large-scale data analytics and big picture trend analysis that, for the most part, looks backwards. While this is occasionally useful, the ubiquity of analytics now means we are drowning in data, but starving for insights. That’s why Big Data is hitting what Gartner calls “the trough of disillusionment”, as we struggle to redefine what data can do for us as consumers, professionals and companies. At the same time, enormous value is being driven by data solutions that pinpoint particularly useful pieces of data that make a big impact on business. Be it social media insights, cyber-security analytics, marketing data or business KPIs, small data—when it is the right data—is having the biggest impact on real-time human decisions. So we are now seeing a shift in how we think of Big Data. It’s not about understanding what happened. It’s about what happens next. It’s about empowering human decisions with small pieces of digestible data. Oddly enough, extracting the right needle from the right haystack at the right time takes no less computing power than creating impressive-looking infographics. But instead of focusing on size, we’re focusing on utility. Li pointed to how specific insights into customer and employee behavior can drive big decisions with lasting impact. That’s the power of small data. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 3.40.43 PM And ultimately, tech PR should be about showcasing the utility of technology and why it matters more than showcasing the speeds, feeds and factoids about how it works. By telling more stories around ingenuity, intelligent risk-taking and human-centric data strategies, we in the tech PR community can have a more positive impact on our companies, communities and clients. Joshua Reynolds is CEO of Blanc & Otus based in San Francisco. Featured photo credit:  Scott McLeod