Rethinking Media: Combatting ‘groupthink’ in the broadcast industry

Eric Blais

Happy New Year.

Let me offer a quick series recap and then jump off from the last column’s discussion on user experience. We began this philosophical odyssey on the state of media by acknowledging that the landscape has changed. In turn, we questioned whether content is still king, and we continued by discussing the rise and proliferation of new media channels. I then proposed a thorough review of the user experience. Our work now is to explore “service design,” but first, a detour into “groupthink,” a term coined by social psychologist Irving L. Janis.

Groupthink occurs when people in a team set aside their own beliefs and adopt the opinion of others, often motivated by the desire to avoid conflict, peer reprisal and rejection, and to achieve consensus. The sole benefit of this phenomenon is that decisions get made quickly. Its many downsides include idea stagnation, blindness to new opportunities and obstacles, and poorly considered decisions. It is the antithesis of innovation and definitely a hurdle to the diffusion of innovation.

In the Canadian broadcasting industry, groupthink is endemic and, I believe, very problematic. Only a small number of us are innovating and genuinely thriving; the remainder are copying and surviving. Groupthink erects a nearly insurmountable hurdle to the diffusion of innovation. Media organization leaders would be well served by weeding out groupthink and planting collaborative processes in its stead. In true collaboration, decisions are honed by team members’ diverse views, understandings and beliefs.

Where does one find the inspiration and models to eliminate groupthink? One great way to combat groupthink is to study how other teams, organizations, industries, and governments make decisions, and to learn about the philosophies underlying their processes. In other words, “explore new worlds….”

If you have the courage to explore mostly uncharted waters, then The Misfit Economy (2015) is for you. Authors Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips illuminate how the underworld creates innovation (Before taking the moral high ground, take note: many of the ecommerce and streaming technologies you’ve adopted for your websites originated with porn sites). Clay and Phillips study how pirates, hackers, drug runners and gangsters creatively change their world, often by necessity. They also demonstrate how some bad actors redirect their talents towards more socially just and beneficial endeavours. One example of the latter is how a set of former inmates, graduates of the Defy Ventures entrepreneurship program, tapped into their talent for the hustle to launch successful, legitimate start-up businesses.

Taking a gentler, more academic route, you can find studies from other disciplines with similar problems as those we strive to solve in media. Last summer, my friend Josina Vink earned a PHD in Business Administration, Service Design of Health Systems. Like me, Dr. Vink is trying to understand why promising ideas so often don’t get adopted. In many cases, even when the design research is sound and the results are very promising, the innovation dies at launch.

Dr. Vink’s thesis, In/Visible, unwraps this conundrum, and invites readers to reconsider existing notions of “service design.” Generally understood as the act of planning the interactions among people, infrastructures, materials, space and communication materials, service design aims to optimize or improve the relationship between an organization (or a brand) and its client (or customer). In popular parlance, the terms service design and user experience are often interchanged. In my experience, though, user experience is used when referring more narrowly to how people interact with a user interface, specific device, or consumer environment. Service design more often refers to the broad plan and its intended effect: how service is delivered to a person and how it is received.

Then In/Visible introduced me to Service-Dominant (S-D) Logic, a fundamental shift in mindset from a goods-dominant focus (that equals content in the media world) to a frame of thinking wherein markets deliver services for the benefit of consumers. In other words, products become services. Moving away from a specialist-only point of view to one that includes co-design, this framework invites organizations to include customers in their marketing activities rather than unidirectionally marketing to them. In S-D Logic, organization and customers create value for each other.

Pure fantasy, you say? But look — it’s already happening: you attract audiences; audiences get entertained and/or informed; you get revenue (from subscription fees and/or client advertising where your audience shows).

Service-Dominant Logic

If content is no longer king and communication channels are a dime a dozen, the most important commodity for channel operators (a.k.a broadcasters and digital platform producers) is their audience. Since most of Gen X, Y and Z consume most of their content from one single device, the threat of substitution is higher than ever. How do you attract, sustain and keep your audience coming back? Experience and service become of outmost importance.

A Service Blueprint

Let’s simplify for a moment, and say that broadcasters have two customers: the content consumer and the advertiser. If you want to adopt S-D Logic within your organization, first you need to map out how you currently deliver service to your two sets of customers. A service blueprint is a great tool to visually represent your organization’s service processes. Search “service blueprint” and you will see that most are swim-lane diagrams with a timeline at the top followed by correlated customer-journey steps. For example, a customer visits a retailers’ website (5 to 25 minutes) then visit a store, then look for product using store signage (5 minutes) or ask a clerk (10 minutes) where the product is located. Then they make their way through the aisles (10 minutes), locate the right shelf (2 minutes), look at the product (1 minute) and decide to purchase or not. If they choose to buy the product, they put it in a cart or otherwise carry it to the cash register (5 minutes). They either choose self-checkout or to allow a cashier to help them (30 seconds). Perhaps they wait in line (0 to 10 minutes). Once the item is rung up, they choose payment method and pay (5 minutes). They carry their purchases out of the store, either in or without a bag, which might be from the store or that they brought with them (5 minutes).

A service blueprint may include observable evidence of each step, from the website, retail store, signage, store map, cash register, etc. It may also include illustrations of what happens in the store (front of the stage) and in the background (back of the stage), such as inventory, warehouse retrieval, etc.

For media organizations, I suggest making two separate service blueprints: one each for content consumers and advertisers. Alternatively, you might draw multiple service maps, organized, for instance, by persona. For example, a morning map would begin the service journey when the consumer wakes-up. They get an alert announcing the appearance of special guest stars on their smart phone (30 seconds). They click on the app and play the morning show on their phone, watch/listen on their TV, or listen to it on a radio (5 minutes to 2 hours). There could be recaps of the interview for those commuters who missed it (10 minutes), there could be a podcast with additional content for fans (30 minutes).

In a service blueprint for advertisers, you might chart: how you attract their target audiences; how you facilitate the interaction between them and content consumers; how you demonstrate the true size of your audience; how you definitely show that that you delivered on your promises? You might chart the time it takes to deliver results to advertisers, and then evaluate the result’s usefulness to them based on timeliness, relative to the end of their campaign.

Developing these blueprints are an excellent way to really see all the service touchpoints for your consumers (or advertisers) and assessing them. Are they minimal, or are you adding value at each step? Are they repetitive, incremental, or new? Are they (each and collectively) useful to your consumer (advertiser)?

Once these blueprints are completed, circulate them within your organizations to get feedback. Leave them up in the kitchen along with Sharpies. Let people draw on them, add to them or redesign them. Use them as a starting point to develop new services or use them as a tool to vet existing ones.

To avoid groupthink, share them with people in various departments who are outspoken or divisive within your organization or better yet share them with clients or other stakeholders to get their views. Let the feedback collected from these conversations inform, support or contradict company-wide assumptions.

If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Vink’s work, email me at eblais@statsradio.com. I’ll put you in contact with her.

 


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