The SSP “IN” Conference

25 September
2009

IN2009LogoI just left the SSP IN Conference in Providence, RI, a new meeting with a very different format (it has replaced their former September meeting, Top Management Roundtable). At SSP-IN, participants broke into 8 teams representing various types of STM publishing organizations (e.g., Society, Social Media Start-up, Foundation, University, Search Engine, etc.). I was afforded the privilege of serving as Leader for the “Large Commercial Publisher” team. We each assumed our personae upon arrival Wednesday and stayed in character for the entire conference. Each of the groups was assigned a set of organizational characteristics and assets, which we used as the foundation for exercises that led us through a strategy review, a product development effort, and a go-to-market plan. We were provided with a set of tools (a guide to our deliverables, a conference wiki, etc.) and then sent into small group sessions to work through these business plans. Results from each group for each stage of exercise were shared with the entire conference audience.

My Silverchair colleagues who attended (Elizabeth Willingham and Pam Harley) agreed with the sentiment, expressed by virtually every participant we spoke with, that this novel conference was fun, energizing, and useful. No sneaking off to skip sessions—one’s active engagement was required throughout. The opportunity to work through a series of ideas by means of small group discussions among fellow STM experts was quite effective, and while some of the resulting product strategies may be overly ambitious, ideas developed by each of the teams are worthy of serious evaluation and development in our real-world organizations.

Unless we all fell victims to mass hypnosis (or acute groupthink), it was instructive to observe several definitive trends that emerged contemporaneously from the various teams. First off, taxonomy strategies featured heavily in many of the proposed solutions, either as a key enabling infrastructure or an end-product (or both, as in the case of our faux-publisher, Van der Prophett NV). Second, the development of robust social communication tools (and defined well beyond Web 2.0 buzzwords) were essential to most of the groups. “Content-enabled Social Media Network” (I think that coinage belongs to Mike Beveridge at AACR, who was on our team) seems to capture the concepts best, and each team had a dimension of this notion in its offering.

It struck me as fascinating that there was such a consensus of vision, and a set of conceptually compelling products, very little of which is likely to be executed (well, and seriously) anytime soon by the major publishing organizations. It’s more probable that startups from outside the traditional industry will make some of these concepts into successful, market-redirecting services. Why is the deep thinking being done in the absence of “low technology/high authority” (thanks Kent Anderson, NEJM) executives who could marshall the necessary resources (and make the attendant difficult structural decisions) to execute these plans?

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