Walk in the PARC

When Steve Jobs visited the Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Company (PARC) in the 1970s he saw several groundbreaking innovations for the first time. Newsweek reported that Larry Tesler, one of the PARC researchers who demonstrated the graphical user interface of the Alto to Jobs, remembers the Apple co-founder’s barely restrained enthusiasm. “Steve knew what we were going to show him on an intellectual level, but he needed to see it to really understand it”. Jobs went on to iterate the products, and changed the computer industry forever.

You are likely well aware that technology is fundamentally disrupting media, and at an ever increasing pace. We’ve already seen huge investments in AR & VR by major media organisations. Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain are poised to transform the media industry, perhaps as much as the Internet did. And because of the accelerating speed of change it is now more challenging than ever for media executives to keep up with all the new innovations, let alone predict their impact.

The widely respected VC Fred Wilson (who has investments in Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare amongst others) recently blogged that meeting entrepreneurs is invaluable if you want to “see through the fog of emerging ideas”. In this fast paced environment direct interaction with the people that are literally designing the future provides more profound and lasting insight than your typical conference or consultancy report.

Imagine visiting Snapchat mid-2013. The product team had just discovered how much millennials loved to create and watch vertical multi-media so they started building Snapchat Stories. Whilst it took the BBC (and the entire Facebook family) years to copy the concept anyone lucky enough to meet the team back in 2013 would have had an incredible advantage over the competition.

Snapchat is still innovating and is likely to be designing how publishers will use augmented reality three years from now using insights from its Spectacles and Lenses, but Snapchat Labs is now almost as secretive as Apple’s Industrial Design Studio. Luckily there are many other places where you can learn about exciting innovations for your business. So, where might you find your Xerox PARC or Snapchat Labs?

Silicon Valley is still considered by many as the most innovative place on earth. A few European cities love to proclaim that ‘Silicon Valley is not a place, it’s a state of mind’, and London, NYC and Berlin indeed have thriving startup eco-systems, but Silicon Valley remains king. For now.

The throne is being challenged by a city just a little further south: Los Angeles (aka Silicon Beach). As the cost of living in San Francisco continues to skyrocket, entrepreneurs and engineers are moving south just when Hollywood as we know it is over. This cocktail of entrepreneurs, engineers and entertainment is giving rise to an exciting new generation of startups working on virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, C.G.I. actors and algorithmic editors — many of which will impact media and publishing for years to come. Los Angeles is also the birthplace of Tinder and Ryot games. Plus of course Snap, whose IPO this year has brought more attention to the city in addition to making a few new millionaires locally, who may in turn go on to found and invest in new tech companies.

Be it Silicon Valley or Silicon Beach, California is thriving with new ideas and technologies. The best way to understand the impact of these technologies is to visit these companies and talk to their inventors: no report on Virtual Reality will come even close to walking around for a few minutes with an HTC Vive headset painting on a blank 3D canvass.

If you think the worst of media disruption is behind us, think again: the pace of innovation is actually accelerating and it is more crucial than ever for executives to understand and predict what’s coming next. Channel your inner Steve Jobs and ask yourself: where is your PARC?

— —

Join me for an Innovation Tour this October, or for Leadership & Digital Strategies for Women in Media in January 2018.