Column: Change Agent -- The Physics of Change

When Bainbridge recently launched its online media practice group, we sought to offer tools companies could use to effectively plan, given the rapidly changing media landscape. The idea was that major corporations and start-ups alike are being forced to adjust to planning at Internet speed.

This need for speed results from the profound changes taking place in media distribution and consumption patterns. As we looked at the market and evaluated scenarios for clients, we realized that understanding the speed of change is important for planning, but it's not the whole story. For a better understanding, one really has to look at the momentum and force of change.

Momentum is measured as mass times velocity; force is mass times acceleration. There is little argument that acceleration and speed are profoundly driving changes online. But if accelerated change exists without mass, it will not have the force to knock a company off its plan. Similarly, there can be speed without mass, which will not have the momentum to carry the market. And, as one would expect, it takes proportionally more force to affect the Fortune 500 than to shake a start-up.

In the current equation, there is a significant "m" that represents mass: media. Changes in distribution, consumption, and monetization of media affect all stakeholders. But it's not merely shifts in media technology; those shifts are nearly constant. It's when companies find the magic mix that allows consumers to follow the shifts in media technologies that significant mass is achieved.

To put this into perspective, a recent CNET story cited a JupiterResearch estimate that up to $15 billion in tv advertising will be wasted in 2006 due to DVR technology. That is only one aspect of the shift. So we have our mass, and it's a planet-sized mass with gravity all its own.

Companies like MySpace, Google, Yahoo, TiVo, Apple, YouTube, and others are driving the pace of change. Because consumers are following en masse, these changes have force and momentum. Now it's up to the rest of the market to keep pace. The pace of media change is the timer by which success will be measured, and the key to beating this clock is reevaluating the traditional strategy and planning process.

That's not to say that everyone can plan like a start-up or a Google. The idea is that the force and momentum of the media shifts now taking place can affect a Fortune 500 with the speed and severity normally reserved for start-ups and Internet companies. Because the force and momentum of media shifts can affect the largest of companies as if they were start-ups, there are lessons to be learned from the ways successful start-ups and online companies plan.

Companies need to plan with the understanding that they must adapt in real time. Exploring multiple solutions, and accepting failure on a majority of those, is necessary to ensure that you're positioned to catch the next wave of momentum.

The new media sherpas - the agencies, media companies, and the companies driving the shifts, such as Google - are the ones that really feel the full force of tectonic media shifts. Strategy and planning differentiates them from their competitors in an area where products and services can be copied, but innovation and leadership cannot.

So how should your company plan in the age of media speed? First, research and planning isn't linear; it's alive. The traditional methods of gathering data, performing analysis, and formulating strategy can't always happen in sequence and annually. These activities now need to happen concurrently and continuously. Second, visions and goals for what media mean to the company are set with the understanding that how those goals are achieved is a road for which a map might not yet exist. Third, there is a balance to everything. Too little adherence to a plan and you can't capitalize on new opportunities. Too much adherence to a plan and you can't react to shifts.

Companies are forced to plan at Internet speed because media are rapidly evolving. But don't worry: There are still laws governing these changes that can be discerned and planned for, it just takes a new way of looking at the equation and the physics of change. It requires constant study, testing, and discussion. You just have less time to do it. Better TiVo that show you were going to watch tonight.

Joseph Marchese is the head of the Online Media Practice Group at Bainbridge Inc., a research and management strategy consulting firm. (

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