Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 15, 2010 2:43 PM

Presentist

Where is all of this Social Media and Internet stuff heading?

That is - without question - the #1 question I get asked in boardrooms and in front of audiences all over the world. While anyone can appreciate the ability to look into the future and help a business get a few steps ahead of their competition, the truth of the matter is that I don't have crystal balls (and neither does anybody else).

Being called a Futurist always feels weird.

Mostly because I know the deep dark truth (which is that I have no idea how this will all pan out, because - like you - I cannot see the future). Do you remember the first time you saw YouTube? My reaction was this: "why would anybody want to watch a poorly recorded video on a 2x2 screen with buffering issues when they can buy a 42" plasma for $600 bucks?" What did you think the fist time you saw Twitter? My reaction was something like: "why would anybody do that and who would care?" More often than not, any new media needs time to decant like a bottle of fine wine. It needs to sit. It needs to find its audience. It needs to find its purpose. It needs to be socialized. It needs to aerate.

Don't be a Futurist. Be a Presentist.

Too many business are worried about where things are going when they really should be focused on where things are at. Be in the present. Does your website really live up to (and deliver on) everything you're doing on YouTube or Facebook? Are you really in touch with who is connected to you (instead of how many people)? Are you engaged and connected to your community in their channels, or are you still trying to drag everyone over to your own pages? When someone does a search for you, your competitor or has a question that your products and services can answer, how great are you at helping them to find you (or better yet, if it's not the right fit do you happily refer them to someone who can help them)? Are your platforms open? Do you allow people to share, comment and create content with your brand and for your brand? Can people say anything they want about your products and services on your website?

We're falling short because we're looking too far into the future and ignoring the present.

It's a classic business model: brand misses the Internet wave, so instead of starting slowly now and engaging, they feel they may be best served by waiting on the sidelines for the next wave to hit. They mistaken the complete shifting of our world for a fad instead of what it truly is: a fundamental shift in how people are connected, consuming and creating media. The opportunity is still here for you to be present. Become a Presentist.

So, where is all of this going? Who knows and who cares.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Tod M
    Mitch Joel

    Part of the problem with the title "futurist" is it's widely misunderstood. The proper role of a futurist is NOT to PREDICT the future, but rather to help organizations PREPARE for the future.

    I've been a member of the World Futures Society (http://www.wfs.org) for more than a decade, and nearly all the work done there is about risk assessment, planning for "wildcard events" (totally non-predictable), and so on.

    Reply
    • Agreed, but I still grapple with how one prepares for something none of us can know or be aware of. Let's face it no one saw this crazy Internet happening or us man-hugging at Podcasters Across Borders (was that out loud?).

      Reply
  • Posted by Morriss Partee
    Mitch Joel

    Reminds me of the time that a client of mine asked me what the next "internet" would be, back in about 1999. I knew that was the wrong question to be asking back then. Doesn't that seem pretty silly a decade later?

    Reply
  • Posted by Octavian Mihai
    Mitch Joel

    Waiting for the next wave is just an excuse. Your client is the marketing coordinator making 45K a year, not the marketing vp or the board. She would love to wait for the next wave, solely because she won't do much in the meantime.
    I preach the common sense. For some the future of social media is already here.
    Lets urge companies to live in THEIR present.

    Reply
  • Posted by Will Burns
    Mitch Joel

    I would build upon your argument, Mitch, that ideas are the result of present forces coming together. Not future forces (they don't exist yet), present ones. Those most in touch with the present, then, have the best ideas. Nice post and good reminder.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kyle Roussel
    Mitch Joel

    Part of the comfort of talking about the future is that if nobody knows where it's all heading, then it's easier to dismiss the entire social media issue and ignore the reality of it's impactfulness TODAY.

    I get the impression that those reticent to embrace are still waiting for the whole thing to come packaged with a big easy button, complete with benchmarks and ways to measure everything. They're waiting for a point in time where it's no longer avoidable, guaranteed to work, and freer than free.

    Reply
    • It has to be something they understand. For it to be something they understand, it has to be something they know. The future doesn't allow that. More importantly, neither does a lot of the new stuff.

      Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Being a 'futurist', however, can have benefits as far as creating thought-leadership within your industry.

    I work at HubSpot, an Internet Marketing Software company that has been known to try some non-traditional marketing tactics, even as far as the online realm is concerned. Some of our efforts are flops, but some are home-runs that pay off for the flops. And even the flops help establish us as a leader in our industry.

    In summary, while being a 'futurist' may not have immediate financial ROI, it sometimes does, big time. Even when it does not, it gives you useful experience in moving on, and establishing thought leadership.

    Reply
  • Posted by dannybuntu
    Mitch Joel

    I perfectly agree with Mitch's key points on engaging things "as they are" rather than "as they will be".

    One must note however that the lure of the present is not as powerful as the lure of the future. We have always been enthralled about the things that we don't know rather than the things that we already know (and maybe, want to forget)

    In fact, I'll go out of my way to say that being a futurist treads the fine line between a "visionary" and an "escapist".

    Some people, (including me sometimes) focus on the future for its promises and hopes. The present, as dreary, as wonderful or as exciting as can be, would always be a focus on a condition. That's why we don't use the terms "future condition". But we say "present condition."

    That's my diagnosis on why a majority of people tend to be futurists. Even Google is guilty of this sometimes, in that they recently acquired a company which claims to predict the future - (See Recorded Future)

    Having said that, I will now "try" to apply a balance between the Presentist and Futurist frame of mind, in my hope that I could gaze at the stars while keeping my feet planted on the ground.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Responding to your paragraph "Too many businesses are worried about where things are going when they really should be focused on where things are at...."

    It comes back to being self-centered, versus customer-centered. If you go into it with the attitude of 'What can I get out of it? What can I get you to buy from me or to donate to me, etc..., you lose the whole relationship factor.

    At that point, it turns into, get me the most followers so I have better chances of 'getting.' Or... other more obvious ways of selling, which essentially turns people off. This leads to that 'Futurist' mentality, because these people can tend to look for the next big thing that's going to be the miracle to bring me new customers without me having to actually do any work.

    What they are missing is that by focusing on the present moment... and being present to customers/friends/etc... they are able to be sincere in building those relationships that will essentially follow them to a new form of medium when it comes, because the 'bond' has already been formed.

    A great example of this is Ann Taylor Loft (and no... I don't work for them :). It doesn't matter where they go... I will follow. Why? Because I have had relationships built through the local store manager all the way to the Loft Twitter and Facebook accounts. When they finally decided to take the Twitter plunge... I was waiting for it. They got me hook, line and sinker... essentially because of what you would call their "Presentist" mentality.

    Reply
  • Posted by Lisa Stockwell
    Mitch Joel

    It's possible that those who say they are worried about where things are going are just so uncomfortable with where things are that they can't connect in the present. Marketing and advertising professionals are jumping over themselves trying to prove how much more they know than the next guy about the relatively new world of social media, online analytics, sticky content, etc. that old school marketing folks who haven't kept up to date may be afraid or embarrassed to admit they not only don't understand the lingo, but they don't get the concepts. It's a time when companies really need in-house continuing education courses and I'm not sure how many are willing or able to put that in their budgets. Anyone have experience in that area?

    Reply
    • Push that further Lisa: let's say you could bring that in-house. What sources would you use and where would you find the instructors? This is so new, with so few people who really have a grasp on it (and that includes yours truly). I Blog to openly grapple with the new channel and seek answers by prying and pushing. Not sure how this would all come together via in-house training.

      Reply
  • This weekend I re-read a book by one of my favorite mystery authors, Jeffrey Deaver, entitled "The Vanished Man". Reading this post reminded me of a section in the story where the main character echoed what you've written here.

    The past is behind us, it's history. The future is imagination. The present is now.

    Reply
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