The Wisdom of the Opposite

One of the most insightful voices in the media world today is that of Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and a blog by the same name. Anderson’s genius is in his understanding of economics in the new world, and the book is a must-read for anybody who wants to do business in Media 2.0.

In a presentation at Pop!Tech, Anderson spoke of what he calls the “Economy of Abundance,” which is what we find now that anybody can be a publisher or broadcaster. Our old models are all built on scarcity. Heck, advertising rates are built on scarcity, so talking about abundance is counterintuitive to Media 1.0.

Thankfully for all of us, Ethan Zuckerman was at the presentation and posted a delightful summary, including these four “business changes” that we all would do well to study:

  • In the past, we built business cases based on ROI. Now we build it and build the business afterwards.
  • In the past, “everything is forbidden unless it’s permitted.” Now everything is permitted unless forbidden.
  • Scarcity is about paternalism, a decision that an editor knows what’s best. Abundance is about egalitarianism.
  • Scarcity is top-down, abundance is bottom-up. Instead of command and control, it’s out of control.

The first business change is the one that fools most broadcasters (and all media companies), because our training and instincts demand that we have a profitable business plan in front of us before proceeding to do anything. This is a trap in the Media 2.0 world, because entrepreneurs in the space aren’t so bound. Consequently, they leapfrog companies who, for a very small investment, could be seizing the low-hanging fruit that these entrepreneurs are seeking. By the time they “build the business afterwards,” it’s too late to get into the game.

In my presentations, I often use a slide featuring a picture of George Costanza from Seinfeld and a quote of George’s from one of my favorite episodes, “The Opposite.” In it, George has decided that his whole miserable life was built on bad decisions, and that if he’d just do the opposite of what he thought was right, he’d end up better off than his current state. The show is filled with hilarious lines built on the premise, but none is more memorable than the one repeated in the slide. In the diner, Jerry, Elaine and Kramer convince George to try his new theory on a beautiful woman sitting at the counter. He does, and she shocks him by agreeing to a date.

For media companies, this “wisdom of the opposite” is more than a script in a sitcom; it’s a real-world challenge to all of us, and getting past it is what will free us to engage the real competition of the Media 2.0 world.


  1. hey terry, great minds must think alike, eh?

  2. Hi, Sergey. I know you hired me to build ad revenue at this new company you call Google. So here’s my idea. I think there is more money in pennies per click as opposed to dollars per thousand. Really, there is much more money outside Madison Avenue. I think if we build it, we’ll start racking in the dough. So let’s build it — do I have your green light?

  3. Great minds, indeed, Sean.

    LMAO, Randy.

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