The Content Trap. A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change

“Create some great content, and they will come” is by far one of the most dangerously wrong ideas in the media industry—and it has been spreading like a virus for decades now. But history taught us that the great value of newspapers lied more in their inherent strength in defining and connecting groups of people, ideas and conversations, rather than merely conveying information about the world to single readers.

The Content Trap, written by business consultant Bharat Anand in 2016, argues instead that industry leaders – from Apple to Schibsted to Amazon – were all able to dominate their markets thanks to the value of the networks and the connections they built, rather than on their stand-alone products and services.

Why you should read it

Books like “The Content Trap“ challenge the way we think about why some products are more successful than others, while giving us a useful mental framework that applies to most businesses and industries.

Three key takeaways

  • On the importance of connections between user: “The language for success in media, as in technology, is less and less about content and more and more about connections”.
  • On content producers: “The future of content producers will depend not only on what they make, but on how effectively they manage value-creating opportunities in adjacent areas.”
  • On business strategy: “Business strategy is about two questions: where should you play, and how will you win”.

My favourite quote

“Navigating digital change is all about having a certain mindset. It’s a mindset that I came to see in people who have managed or led digital change successfully. They are humble in recognising what they can’t control, yet primed to take advantage in what they can.”

Design Thinking in the Digital Age

Thirty years after publishing his seminal book Design Thinking in 1987, Peter G. Rowe re-examines his own findings through a new lens—during an Harvard lecture that explores, how he puts it, “how the capacities of the digital age have changed the way we perceive and understand creative problem-solving in architectural design.”

The lecture has then been transcribed and wrapped into this short book, titled Design Thinking in the Digital Age and co-published by Sternberg Press and Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Why you should read it

The essay expands way beyond architecture, exploring how we can apply different approaches in problem solving, looking for solutions through different perspectives.

Three key takeaways

  • On the existence of two different kinds of knowledge: “The first is referred to as ‘domain knowledge’ and encompasses how much someone knows about a particular field, such as architecture […]. The second is ‘structural knowledge’ which involves knowing how concepts within a domain are related, as well as cognitive structures regarding various kinds of problem-solving approaches and when and how to apply them.”
  • On language as a cultural prism: “The semantic structure of language shapes, or limits, the way in which we form conceptions of the world. […] languages and particular foci of representation oblige us rather than allow us to think in particular ways. [Similarly] in the more circumscribed world of architectural design, it is reasonably well-known that the manner in which we depict or draw, often if not invariably, defines what draw and, ultimately, how we design.”
  • On the effects of digital in design thinking: “The digital age certainly seems to have altered significant aspects of design thinking, probably most for the better and without necessarily altering the deeper underlying structure and fundamental procedural aspects of the process.”

My favourite quote

“Incompleteness is productive, because it enables the continued search and restructuring of problem-spaces.“

Paid Attention. Innovative Advertising for a Digital World

As illusionist Apollo Robbins once put it, “attention is like water. It flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way.”

In his book Paid Attention, Faris Yakob explores how the economics around attention are changing in the fragmented media ecosystem we live in. Driven by a philosophical approach but filled with interesting case studies, “Paid Attention” challenges some of the most wide-spread clichés in modern advertising.

Why you should read it

Understanding the dynamics around attention is key to everyone working in the media industry, and this essay has the virtue of explaining intricate concepts in a thought-provoking, yet entertaining way, while trying to answer the question: how do we get any attention in an infinite space?

Three key takeaways

  • On the concept of viral: “Clients will ask for ‘viral videos’, to which one should reply: viral is a thing that happens, not a thing that is. [It] is a behaviour of the audience, not a property of the content. [Virality] is a measure of success. Having a viral strategy is akin to having an Oscar strategy. You can create better chances, but you cannot guarantee it.”
  • On media fragmentation: “Digital channels may now deliver massive reach but the almost infinite nature of the web means that individual elements can lack the cultural impact of television and the associated media that reports on it. Fragmentation leads to the counter-intuitive fact that things can be incredibly popular on the internet and yet you and I may never hear about them.”
  • On impressions and display ads: “To truly see, you must pay attention. This presents compelling challenges to the media unit of currency, known as impressions — they can only ever offer an ‘opportunity to see’, which by definition is also an ‘opportunity to miss’, if people are not paying attention.”

My favourite quote

“There are many ways to skin a content cat.”