Today’s problems might be horse sh**

There’s a lot of hand-wringing these days in the field of communications
and marketing.  The good news for
individuals (technology makes us all more empowered and connected), is bad news
for organizations (it is now even more difficult to earn trust and cut through
the noise).  In response, firms are ripping
down the walls between advertising, public relations, and editorial.  Media companies are blurring the lines
between paid, earned, shared, and owned. 
And companies are tearing up their org charts to make room for digital,
mobile, social, and data. 

With all these moves, there is more hope than
confidence.  We know we must let go of
the old trapeze bar, but the new bar hasn’t yet come into view.  In a cutthroat marketplace, there is no net
to catch us when we fall. 

In times of rapid change, the future is often hard to see.  It can be helpful to look backward instead of
forward.  The past can reveal lessons to
inform our future. 

In 1898, major cities in the US and Europe were in crisis.  Urban planners were at a loss for what to
do.  They gathered from all over the
world for the first urban planning conference in the hope of finding a solution. 

It turns out the crisis was horse manure.  More than
four million pounds of horse manure were deposited on the streets of New York City
every day, and no one had any idea how to get rid of it fast enough.  For
a time, farmers were able to use the manure as fertilizer, but supply soon
outstripped demand.  Soon a whole
industry sprung up to address the problem. 
For a small fee, sweepers would wait on street corners and clear a path
for pedestrians.  Sanitation workers
would pile the manure in vacant lots, some reaching as high as 60 feet, and
then move the piles to new lots as they became developed.  

The conference of urban planners was scheduled to last 10
days.  After only three days, the attendees
went home, frustrated at their inability to find a feasible solution. 

Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying, “Problems
cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”  Little did the planners know, or could they
imagine, that within 15 years there would be more cars than horses in New York
City and the manure crisis would be a fading memory.   

Is it possible that the problems facing marketing and
communications professionals today are simply piles of horse manure?  Could there be a solution – a new level of
thinking – that will make these problems fade away? 

As part of The Hub community,
the purpose of this column is to provoke and catalyze new ways of thinking for
those in the field of marketing and communications. Most of today’s points of view are still framed in the context of old models. As a result, we end up spending most of our
time clearing paths and moving around the piles.  Instead, we should look for ways of making
the piles disappear.

If you are getting tired of shoveling, stay tuned for more.   (Hint: this paragraph contains a clue to the solution.)

Mark
Bonchek, PhD is the founder of ORBIT, a designer of social systems and catalyst
for new ways of thinking in a digital age. 
Follow him at @MarkBonchek.

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