Science fiction, fantasy, & horror - web design, graphic design, interactive media development by greententacles

Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror - Web Design, Graphic Design, Interactive Media Development by Greententacles 2019-05-24 GMT

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Business Lessons in Speculative Fiction

~ by N. E. Lilly (January 2001) ~


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Myths, fables, legends, tall tales, and even nursery rhymes were all designed to help us cope better with the cosmos at large. They were little candy-coated lessons from the past. But where are our myths and fables today? You guessed it. The myths and fables that we live by today are in great works of speculative fiction.

My first experience with using speculative fiction came from a political science class that I had in college. The professor had the great foresight to use George Orwell's 1984, among other works, to teach us standard concepts in political science.

Just look at the great works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Edgar Allan Poe, George Lucas, and even Douglas Adams, and you can't help but to come away with some lesson about life, the universe and everything.

So, all the while our mothers thought we were wasting our time with these so-called childish things, we were actually learning valuable lessons that we would take into the business world. Here are some great works of science fiction from throughout the 1950's to illustrate the point...

War of the Worlds (1953)

'Martians invade the Earth. With their technological superiority they overwhelm mankind in a very short time. The entire might of the U.S. Army isn't even enough to stop the Martian invasion. Just as the Earth lay in ruin, inexplicably, the Martian machines begin falling lifeless to the ground. It is soon discovered that the Martians are dying, not from any attack made by mankind, but by the common bacteria and microbes in our air and water, that we have become immune to.'

The lesson here is that you should always plan, and then double check your plans for errors before you act on those plans. If you plan on invading any 'foreign' markets, then make sure you don't make any mistakes that would normally be inconsequential in the environment that you are used to operating in.

In the early days of the World Wide Web, 1994 to be exact, TSR (then maker of Dungeons and Dragons products) found itself in this position. Back then TSR wandered around the Web, only to discover that there were numerous fan sites that were using multiple and varied references to the TSR role-playing worlds. An excerpt from their policy at that point was as follows:

'...when gamers begin sharing their creations with the public, whether for profit or not, they are infringing our rights. If we don't make an earnest attempt to prevent this infringement of our trademarks and copyrights, our ownership of these extremely valuable assets may be jeopardized...'

So, using that policy, TSR responded with threats of litigation, which literally appalled the fans. There were other factors involved in the demise of TSR, but I'm sure that the alienation of the core fans (who incidentally had the surplus money to own computers and actually be on the Web at that time) didn't help matters. Now it's too late.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

'A mild mannered doctor, Dr. Miles Bennel, returns to his small town and finds that a number of his patients are suffering from delusions that their friends or relatives have been replaced by lookalikes. He is initially skeptical, but he is eventually persuaded that something odd is happening, and becomes determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. He discovers that the people of his sleepy little town are being replaced by human-like aliens which grow from enormous pods, but no one will believe him. They think he is simply a lunatic. Luckily, as Dr. Bennel is being carted away, the authorities discover that a truck has overturned, carrying the strange alien pods that Dr. Bennel had described. The alien invasion is promptly put down.'

By listening to some of your most outrageous (and outspoken) customers you could learn things about threats to your product that you wouldn't have learned otherwise.

An example of this is when the World Wide Web first became popular. All of a sudden there was a new technology to exploit that few people were comfortable with. And then these people appeared that began to proclaim that the Internet was the coolest thing since sliced bread (in fact I remember Ken Newquist, GreenTentacles co-founder, being one of them in 1995). That if you didn't get your act together and tackle the great big mystery that was the Web, and soon, then your company could find itself in dire circumstances. The point is though, that few people in any position of power at 'real world' companies listened.

When The Blairwitch Project was released there were few web sites created by major movie studios for individual movie releases, but, due to a successful online marketing campaign, The Blairwitch Project became a major box office success, especially considering its independent film-maker roots and miniscule budget (for a movie). Since that time we've seen the major movie studios, and people in other entertainment based industries, follow suit. The major movie studios see the potential threat, now, that exists from independent film-makers using the Internet. Now it's too late.

The Blob (1958)

'The Blob arrives on Earth inside of a meteorite, which is found by an old man who releases the monster. The Blob then goes about the rest of the movie devouring more and more people, and growing larger with each meal. Eventually the Blob grows to such enormous size that it cannot be ignored. Unfortunately it is also so large that it can only be taken care of with great difficulty. The Blob is finally frozen and then airlifted by Navy plane to the Arctic.'

Even a small problem can grow into a great big menacing threat before you know it. The sooner that a problem is caught, the less money it will end up costing a company to fix it.

Look at Napster. They popularized a technology (P2P, or, Peer-to-Peer) that will destroy the music industry as we know it.

If you think this is a problem that won't have an effect on speculative fiction businesses, think again. Right now it's music, but when broad band (high-speed connections) takes off people will be swapping full-length movies with the same ease that they currently have with music files. Some companies even use P2P technologies allow you to swap nearly any file that you can imagine.

Now that Napster and the other companies like it have become extremely popular, they have become much more difficult to deal with. When Napster first came out it probably could have been crushed, or even bought out, very easily. Now it's too late.

The Lessons Learned...

Plan ahead, don't ignore people with innovative (crazy) ideas, and fix problems before they get too big. They all seem pretty obvious, but how many companies do you know are caught off guard by similar situations? These and other lessons can be derived from great works of speculative fiction, and sometimes even not so great ones.

However, the real lesson that I see here is that speculative fiction can be justified as something other than just pure entertainment. It can give you a clue about your business that you might not get from a marketing book and it wraps it up in an entertaining package too.


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