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September 11, 2013
Everyone and everything is an actor on a digital stage
By: Mark McDonald

Nothing is inert in a digital world as individuals, institutions; instruments all interact to create connections, context and capability. The ‘internet of things’ is a world of “makers”, individuals and organizations that create rather than consume the future. Their actions make innovation the velocity of market change – another one of the 12 things that will become self evident in the digital decade.

Technology potential creates limitless business possibilities when everything connects to everything. If everyone is an actor on the digital stage, then where is the audience and who is directing the show? It’s a legitimate question, but a limiting analogy for digital strategy and solutions.

Staging current business models

Players on a stage follow a script and a director. The actor playing Hamlet does not say is own and Ophelia’s lines, if he did then the play would not make sense to the audience, or it would be written off as performance art.

Applying the actor, stage, play, director, etc. are metaphors executives find intuitive and incorporate into their digital strategies. A play or script is a basic metaphor for business. Actors are your people, the stage your market, the play the processes, the director the executives, the audience your customers etc. Putting on a play connects well with ideals of customer experience, human performance and creativity. It seems natural to use technology in new ways to move the current performance to a digital stage.

Living on a digital stage

“All of the digital world is a stage and we are all merely actors in it,” to paraphrase Shakespeare’s As you Like It. Digital actors are different. Digital actors are both player and audience driven more by their goals and motivations. They are all real ‘method’ actors delivering a real life performance rather than speaking on cue. This is where play-performance to business process analogy breaks down in the digital world.

The digital stage is crowded with people, devices, sensors, data, location etc. Crafting a predetermined performance amongst all these actors may be desirable, but its practicality is questionable. The unpredictability of the interactions on a digital stage limits the value of end-to-end scripting of business processes and business models. The digital stage is dynamic creating diversity, complexity and opportunity and act in new ways.

Digital Improvisation

Following the script, playing a role or meeting expectations imposes business terms on the market stage. This is effective so long as customers do not have the ability to create experiences for themselves. Unfortunately digital technologies give people both the information and the ability to define their own roles and replace premeditated scripts with improvisation.

Improvisation connects the audience, actors and stage. Improvisation requires people find their own way to realize value, to accomplish tasks, realize their goals using products and services in the ways that fit their motivation and ability.

Improvisation can be risky, costly and unpredictable. It starts with a defined context – two guys walk into a bar – but quickly deviates. All reasons why executives favor end-to-end business models but factors that undermine those models.

Improvisation plays by different rules. Always saying YES is one of those rules. Saying YES opens doors. Yes creates opportunities and keeps the conversation going. Much of today’s business scripts concentrate on when to say NO, not because its not possible, but more often because its not part of the script. Saying YES is nothing new; Nordstrom’s legendary customer service comes from saying YES.

It is hard to say YES when following a business script. Yes in a predefined process presumes you know what customer will say next. Something that is unlikely in a digital world. This makes improvisation look like chaos. The chaos view is amplified by corporate systems cannot capture improvisation outcomes because the concentrate on instrumenting the script.

Improvisation in the digital world is conditional on the customer not the company. It requires technologies raise human ability rather than reduce people to puppets who follow their lines. This places new demands on management structures to be more outcomes centric, technology to be more adaptive and everyone to be more collaborative.

Digital actors want to engage you on a digital state. If you are not there, or only present on your own terms, then they will go elsewhere. Customer churn and online shopping cart abandonment rates provide ample evidence of the conditional nature of digital commerce.

If everyone is an actor on the digital stage, then where is the audience and who is directing the show?

No one and everyone is the answer. What do actors on a digital stage do? They use technology to gain the information and means to act on their own motivations. They post their actions for everyone to see, learn from and respond to. Just look at apps on your smart phone, or read about the latest hot start up and you will see a model based less on following a script and more on finding an answer that best fits the situation. Improvising is something becoming evident in the coming digital decade.

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