If you know where that line comes from, if you can imagine the poorly constructed robot character from Lost in Space with flailing arms, then you are of a certain age. You either are a baby boomer, and watched the show during it’s heyday from 1965 to 1968 or you are most likely generation X and watched the show in syndication on your grandparents trinitron for a couple of decades afterwards. Today that syndication may still be happening, I don’t know, but i’m very sure a much smaller percentage of the upcoming generation would know that line and react to it as viscerally as those that grew up watching Lost in Space. But the warning is apropos because i’m about slip into old codger mode. So Warning, Warning Warning!! If you don’t want to hear a middle aged man bitch about the challenges of content in the modern era, you may want to look away.
I remember having a conversation with my brother about DVD’s. He felt that Blu-ray was a racket, that there was no reason to move beyond DVD’s they were perfect compared to the early days of Video Tapes. I disagreed because to me the improvement in visual fidelity was absolutely necessary to provide at least a single source of content at a decent enough quality. I know that broadcast was only available at 1080i and I don’t care what the cable companies say, most of the supposed High Def channels are so compressed as to be lower quality than standard def. The fidelity lover in me is heartbroken because In some respects my brother was ahead of his time. If there is anything we have learned from the adoption of MP3’s, of Youtube videos and spotify, it’s that quality usually doesn’t matter to the general population as much as quantity. My son doesn’t care if his 68 back to back episodes of Pokemon is being delivered at Netflix’s lowest setting of 240p, he only gets upset if the circular loading symbol interrupts his viewing time.
The challenge today is that there is so much good content. Look at the Peluso Presents blog and podcast. Is it Reply All or Planet Money? Nope, but is it generally good content? It’s my hope that it is because every time I sit down to write or to record, the first thought that goes through my head is “what can I say that will add value to the lives of those who are reading or listening?”
Continuing into my deep dive of codgerism, Back in the early part of the analog age we had three major TV networks and an additional three or four local TV Channels. Enculturation was universal because everyone watched the same thing. Then came Cable TV, and Satellite TV. All of this was still manageable.
Then the internet happened. Spotify, Netflix, Youtube and Millennials, oh my! For anyone who is a consumer of media, they know there is no way to watch everything of quality. The flow of information is so ubiquitous that if you pull away from it, it can cause real issues in the rest of your life. More realistically what’s happened is that the information has created uncounted silo’s of interests. We’ve gone from a few massive bands to thousands of little bands with small but vibrant communities, unfortunately they still can’t quit their day jobs. Ditto with video games, podcasts (the internet’s talk radio equivalent), and any other media you can comprehends. Want a show about pulp scifi novels? It exists. What about cosplay? You betcha! There are tons of them. This is because it’s really easy to specialize in your unique interest area at little or no cost.
Ok, this is a post about life, not business your thinking. Well it’s about both. The problem with this expansion of options crosses over into the professional worker. For business there is a desired specialization in every type of product or industry customization. Going back to my media analogy of three channels, the business equivalent would be hiring an engineer. So if a business is a manufacturer of plastic gas tanks and they need a design engineer, in the old days they would just put out an ad for a mechanical engineer maybe from the automotive industry. Today they will want someone with CAD CAM certifications who has a degree in fuel retainment systems, and 2 years design experience in plastic fuel tanks in the 10-20 gallon range and who lives in commuting distance because there are no funds available for relocations for an individual contributor. This is an example of the purple squirrel that I’ve discussed so frequently.
The explosion in specialization throughout the business world has at its core technology just like media. The tech allows more specialization and then you need someone who understands that specialization. The point isn’t to bemoan the existence of demand for the purple squirrel, it’s to point out the core difference between the two: the barrier to entry. It’s pretty easy for anyone to create a podcast. It’s also easy to create a blog or or even an animated movie. The tools are free and so is the availability of support to learn them. To be successful all it takes is time and commitment. This is not the case in the business world, in the business world all of your time is spent doing your existing job. We don’t have the ability to get the specific training to get to the next level, at least not quickly. It takes time and by the time you have achieved what you need to achieve to get the job, the job either doesn’t exist or isn’t available anymore. It’s why so many people aren’t bothering to invest in their next career move, too much risk. Cue the skills gap that most business are bemoaning.
If self-investment isn’t in the cards then what’s the solution? Like consuming all the quality media on the internet, I think it’s impossible to become the purple squirrel, your only option is to get lucky. If you are in the right place at the right time you may get a shot at it even if you don’t have your X years experience in CFC free inhaler housing design or whatever the oddball requirement is on the job order. So how do you increase your odds? It’s a lot like trying different podcasts or watching different youtube videos.
This is where the generalized training of the professional can be leveraged. You can take a look at what others are doing. You can analyze what you think the trends are going to be and pick a few areas to explore. Don’t forget to evaluate yourself as part of the industry and career analysis. Eventually you’ll happen across something good, it always takes longer than you think it should but it does happen. With new-media it may be a cool show and neat little community you can become a member of. With work it may be an oddball opening or industry expansion that no-one was expecting to happen. The best bet is activity, continuing activity in different areas. Keep trying new things and don’t give up.
In the 1960’s someone decided for us what good media was and made it available to us. Today everyone gets to define their own unique and personalized selection of what good media is. It just takes more effort to put it together. It’s the same with professional opportunities, it’s up to us to try a bunch of different things to eventually get to a mix that works for us. I guess that’s the one thing that our modern professional careers do have in common with media of old: every week is a new adventure!