It’s hard to know what to expect when a renowned actor makes an appearance as a keynote speaker at a technology conference. When Kevin Spacey was about to make his entrance onto the stage at this year’s IBM Impact in Las Vegas I found myself wondering the same thing.
After three days of hearing about clouds, "composable business" and big data, you can only wonder what meaningful business ideas may come from someone who has probably never set foot in a data center, built a mobile application or architected the enterprise of the future. I don't think I was alone in my skepticism.
“How drunk are you people?’ Spacey asked as he took the stage. At the last day of the conference, I’d say his humor wasn’t lost on the crowd. In fact, it drew a big laugh. Then he asked the question, “You probably wonder what the heck I’m going to tell you about these devices and all of this technology? I don’t know a f#cking thing about any of this!”
But what he does know about is how to disrupt markets and industries that seem unyielding. Here is a few takeaways from his keynote speech on the radical disruption that’s happening in every industry.
Seek out the people willing to take a risk. When Kevin Spacey pitched his idea of House of Cards to various networks they all were interested in his show: politics, sex and corruption -- a timeless formula for successful media. But there was a problem: Every network he pitched wanted a pilot.
“We had an idea for a show that developed over a period of time and a pilot wasn’t in the cards,” said Spacey.
Instead of pushing on the networks or changing his vision for the show, he did something else. He knew he needed to find someone who was willing to take a risk, so he pivoted and brought the idea to the executives at Netflix. Spacey was solving a business problem: He was disrupting and perhaps forever driving to change the way content is delivered. Furthermore, he was looking at what the industry is going to become, and he was responding and leading change. In many ways he was an innovator. It was as if he saw just a little glimpse of the future.
Try, try and try again. Netflix looked at the concept and vision of the show and the team Spacey had built and decided to give him a commitment for at least two seasons at the time of inception.
This was a complete pivot from the norm. (In the world of television this would never happen.) There was no proof that it would work. But as Spacey said, no amount of data can predict the future, It can just give you a good guess at probability. There are just too many other factors -- particularly in entertainment. “Sometimes you just have to throw things at the wall and see what f#cking sticks.”
Of course, House of Cards is now a wildly successful show and this is just one example of disruption that he gave.
It all comes down to the connection. It was story after story that he told. Little stories weaved within big stories. Such a good storyteller he is, it would have been easy to forget why we were there in that room. We were there to learn, create and grow our businesses -- primarily as technology companies. It would only be fair to ask what did we learn from Kevin Spacey? If we merely wanted to be entertained, we could have watched a movie.
Spacey’s stories made disruption easy to understand to everyone. It made the endless techno-garble of cloud, mobility, analytics make sense as well, because he reminded the masses that in the end those words, buzzwords if I may, aren’t the reason people connect to brands. People connect to the story, and the way the story is told is the way a brand is perceived.
As businesses we have to tell better stories. And we have to tell them in a way that grabs the hearts and minds of our customers and prospects.
In a world full of bits, bytes and jargon, the story may be the most disruptive element of all, and those that tell their story the best may just be surprised at how f#cking well things work out for them going forward.