Seth Godin has listed fourteen things you can learn from the music business (as it falls apart). The examples he uses are very specific to the music industry. But quite a few of the lessons have some eerie resonance in the government industry too:
The first rule is so important, it’s rule 0:
0. The new thing is never as good as the old thing, at least right now.
Soon, the new thing will be better than the old thing will be. But if you wait until then, it’s going to be too late. Feel free to wax nostalgic about the old thing, but don’t fool yourself into believing it’s going to be here forever. It won’t.
1. Past performance is no guarantee of future success
Every single industry changes and, eventually, fades. Just because you made money doing something a certain way yesterday, there’s no reason to believe you’ll succeed at it tomorrow.
The music business had a spectacular run alongside the baby boomers. Starting with the Beatles and Dylan, they just kept minting money. The co-incidence of expanding purchasing power of teens along with the birth of rock, the invention of the transistor and changing social mores meant a long, long growth curve.
As a result, the music business built huge systems. They created top-heavy organizations, dedicated superstores, a loss-leader touring industry, extraordinarily high profit margins, MTV and more. It was a well-greased system, but the key question: why did it deserve to last forever?
It didn’t. Yours doesn’t either.
6. This is a big one: The best time to change your business model is while you still have momentum.
It’s not so easy for an unknown artist to start from scratch and build a career self-publishing. Not so easy for her to find fans, one at a time, and build an audience. Very, very easy for a record label or a top artist to do so. So, the time to jump was yesterday. Too late. Okay, how about today?
Governments don't tend to go out of business - at least not in the way in which private sector companies do. But nor are their service delivery models preserved indefinitely in amber. The music industry has transformed itself into a comic soap opera, providing huge entertainment from its fundamental misunderstanding of the world it finds itself in. That is a fate better avoided.