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Planning for the Next Hundred Years


by Glen Emerson Morris

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One of the most of remarkable qualities of the last hundred years is that so much evolved with so little planning. It's almost enough to make it seem like planning isn't needed, until you consider the billions of dollars the Y2K problem has cost. Evidently, at least some things go better when planned for. The trick seems to knowing what you need to plan for, and what you can leave to chance.

In their haste to jump on the Internet bandwagon, the advertising and marketing industries may be overlooking the new, and long term, kind of planning needed to successfully do business in the digital economy. In fact, even short term planning seems to escape many Internet e-commerce ventures.

A good example of this is the e-commerce scene in San Francisco, where a number of major corporations decided to launch e-commerce sites, evidently without considering that San Francisco doesn't have the engineering talent available to support them. There may have been the assumption that talent could be recruited from nearby Silicon Valley, but it's turned out that few in the Valley are willing the face the 90+ minute commute into the city. So, companies in SF are offering $60 to $70 per hour for Web development and quality assurance positions, and finding few takers.

The problem isn't limited to San Francisco. The advertising industry is facing a serious shortage of qualified people to develop and maintain e-commerce Websites, and the shortage is only likely to get worse over the next ten years. The US currently produces 40% fewer engineering graduates than it did ten years ago. Of these, many are foreign nationals who will return to their native country after graduation, taking their skills with them. Adding to the problem is that software engineers have about half the average career life of a civil engineer. They either burn out from the 60 to 80 hour work weeks at startups, or they've made so much money they don't need to work anymore.

The trend in Silicon Valley is to import workers from Asia and Eastern Europe to replenish the talent pool. While this has managed to keep wages down, relatively speaking, it's also added impermanence to the equation. Silicon Valley has, for practical purposes, become the most expensive, affluent, migratory work camp in the world. With homes starting at $350,000, and rent for two bedroom apartments frequently exceeding $2,000 a month, few of the people who move to the Silicon Valley to work will ever afford homes there. Unlike the great trade cities of the industrial revolution, the skilled population base of Silicon Valley is rootless, and constantly changing.

The advertising and marketing industries need a reliable, dependable, talent pool and are facing a future where that may not be available. In the past, some industries facing similar talent shortages have managed to do something about it.

In the late 1940's, Bell Telephone became worried about a declining enrollment in the sciences and ordered a series of yearly one hour specials produced with the idea of selling science careers to kids. There had been a backlash against the sciences following the use of the atomic bomb, and Bell was concerned that there might not be enough scientists and engineers in future years to keep the phone system going. The series, produced at Warner Brothers, and starring the bald, bespectacled, Dr. Frank Baxter as Dr. Research, proved successful, and probably launched as many science careers as Citizen Kane launched film careers.

The Bell System was successful, in part, because long term planning was part of their culture. Unfortunately, this can't be said for most businesses.

In the past, the business environment changed so slowly that it was seen more or less as static. It was difficult to see a need for planning for changes in the business environment, so most businesses never developed a planning methodology to do it. This is becoming a problem now, even businesses that want to plan ahead are finding they don't have the internal processes in place to do it.

Given the current state of affairs, it may take some effort to establish a business culture that values, and supports, long term planning, but it will be worth it. The consequences of not doing so will mean a repetition of the Y2K problem, in a variety of different forms and flavors of economic disaster.

The advertising and marketing industries can't afford to leave it to chance that there will always be enough of the right talent available. The industry needs to either make plans to increase the talent pool (like the Bell System did) or make plans to make do with less talent. Currently the advertising and marketing industries are doing neither, which is unfortunate. Like the Y2K problem, the talent shortage can be ignored for a while, but not indefinitely.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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