100 years of broadcast: learning for digital transformation

Life takes many twists and turns. Some are in our control and choosing, others can never be anticipated. External events create an opportunity as much as they create a challenge. One person’s creation becomes another’s consumption.

The British Broadcasting Century by Paul Kerensa illustrates this pairing. It found its way onto my podcast list and so I discovered that today, 15th June, marks 100 years since the first ‘professional’ broadcast: The Melba Concert.

The word broadcast wasn’t used in this definition at this point, and it would be another two years before the BBC was founded. Broadcast was a farming term — to disperse upon the ground by hand. Just as the early farmer had little control where the seed would end up, so they released the broadcast message to a potential but unknown (and unknowable) audience.

Intention is not a destination.

Adjust the dial forward 100 years to today and consider how things have changed. I remember being asked by a customer what significant changes in technology had, in the last couple of years, affected the workplace. Whilst technology has, arguably, been invented at an ever-increasing pace, we feel its impact slowly. Even today as we find ourselves as a dispersed and remote workforce, how I can work is not substantially different from 20 years ago.

Technology is faster, cheaper, available and more reliable (though not necessarily less painful or awkward) but the fundamental approach is the same. A new transmission in a crowded airspace will suffer just as much interference as those that went before.

Technology speeds up when behaviour changes.

As Paul explored the early broadcast years, it struck me that whilst we’ve made great technological progress we’ve not been able to achieve the behaviour shifts that would have released the greater benefits. With 100 years of communication experience, it remains the case that any group, when asked, will inevitably say communication could be better in their workplace.

In her 2015 book, Reclaiming Conversations, Sherry Turkle said: “My argument is not anti-technology; it’s pro-conversation” and for me, this gets to the heart of the challenge we face.

Broadcast’s potential was to disperse a message to the mass audience and overcome the one-to-one constraint that earlier forms of electronic communication had. This was the ability to bring about change, but only if people changed. Disappointingly, the result has been a focus on the message we want to deliver rather than the action that it should inspire. Tools we use today to disperse our messages reinforce this indiscriminate distribution. Perhaps one day someone will explore the psychology of the ‘speaker view’ within a video conferencing session and how it affects the listener.

Hierarchical power gives a stronger voice in the broadcast which may be heard, but changing behaviour is the result not of hearing, but of listening. Achieving change requires a shift from power through broadcast to influence in narrowcasting.

We increasingly understand narrowcasting as the targeted delivery of a message to a small group of people. The shift is in focus, knowing the audience and personalisation. It’s not that narrowcasting is new, it’s the adoption of the approach that organisations need to look at.

Narrowcasting has been undermining the corporate broadcast message and creating resistance to change, but hierarchical power has overcome that. The nature of a distributed and remote workforce and the emergence of the digital age marks a new epoch. If we’re going to do more than suffer the disruption of digital transformation and unlock the greater benefits of this digital age, we need to rethink our communication approach.

With 100 years of broadcasting experience to draw upon, it is now time to not just build on what has come before but take a step back and consider. The consideration is not what comes next or how do I adapt what has gone before for the future. Rather, the question to explore is given all of this learning, all of this potential, all of this technological innovation what will bring the greatest benefit today.

Over the next four days, ironically through a broadcast medium, I will set how you can have a hand of ACES for your digital transformation. These are:

Ambition

Culture

Engagement

Situational Awareness.

Accessing this powerful hand will need you to rethink how and what you communicate.

Like many things, an understanding of the history and the experiences of the past helps to create a better future. 100 years of broadcasting seems as good a place as any to start.

Written by

An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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