Seeking a New Kind of Genius … Mashing Up the “Ultimate Insider” and the “Ultimate Outsider”

A couple of weeks ago I attended one of the most interesting conferences on media (media writ large, not the narrow ad-agency definition) that I have attended in some time. I have written a bit about it since (just poke around the blog).. but I wanted to devote a week of blogging to it now that I have had some time to digest. So… welcome to Day One of “Monaco Media Forum Week” at — a highly-subjective kind of Cliffs Notes.

One of my favorite panels featured two people. One was billed as the “ultimate insider” — Maurice Lévy of ad agency conglomorate Publicis Groupe. The other was billed as the “ultimate outsider” — Niklas Zennström of Kazaa, Skype, and now Joost — and his venture firm Atomico. The two were interviewed by Financial Times editor Lionel Barber.

The twain shall meet!

After setting up the insider-outsider schtick, Barber said: “Mr.  Zennström, as we know, has helped to destroy the music industry, the telecoms industry and he is now trying to destroy the network television industry… and Maurice and I are here to…”

Almost without missing a beat, Lévy said “stop him.”

Barber finished: “you said that without my lips moving.”

(BTW.. I’m not sure Barber is quite as old-school as he made himself out to be in this exchange. The FT’s digital coverage is some of the most solid (and least breathless and hyperbolic) that I have read.)

I was interested in what Lévy and Zennström had to say, of course, but actually more interested in what they didn’t say — what you might call the “negative space” of the panel.

I really wanted to know what each secretly wants to know about the other — what he feels the other has that he does not — even if this is totally subconscious.

Each of the two is clearly brilliant in his own way. Levy speaks of the sensual.. of feelings that communications can evoke. Zennström speaks of platforms.

Zennström’s platforms, of course, carry very sensual, emotional material. Kazaa carried songs, Joost carries video, Skype carries voice and video data and, as such, is the new way to “reach out and touch someone.”

And Lévy knows a thing or two about platforms. His emotional/sensual communications have been pushed over platforms — like TV networks — and made consumers on the other end laugh, cry and buy. Plus.. he actually started at Publicis as an IT guy!

But still…

Communications, branding, advertising and media today needs leaders who are, in effect, mashups of these two guys. People who are A NEW KIND IF GENIUS– a genius that understands both platforms and emotional content.

This hasn’t been the case for a while. Platforms (like TV networks) became so established that the underlying technology became basically irrelevant to content creators. And that made sense.

But  we are in too crazy a time right now characterized by emergent platforms/technologies.. each different.. each with very (or subtly) different characteristics. … a time where the platform cannot be separated from what is carried on it.

As emergent forms of media settle down and achieve scale, there will again be a time for people who understand one half really well. For now though… we need people who know both.

If you wish.. the panel is here:

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