Being hip is good for business

Rarely has it been written that a financial institution has to be hip to succeed.

Even less common is the idea that all a business needs to get hip is a little perspective.

Yet, in any business category — finance, media, construction, retail, whatever – it can be difficult to assess what’s going on outside the walls of your operation. When you are inside, it is hard to get a complete picture of the market.

If you don’t step back and study what’s going on across your industry, especially in tech-heavy sectors, you may miss real developments and trends. Those mistakes can leave you behind the competition in very real ways, not to mention all the poorer for having invested in the wrong tech.

But that requires being hip to new developments.

A recent piece about the New York Times and Twitter illustrates how being unhip can be costly.

In the deluge of reporting on Twitter’s upcoming initial public offering, Quartz offered this cheeky review of all the different ways the Times has described Twitter over the past seven years.

The headline says it all:

The Complete History of Twitter as Told Through Tortured Descriptions of it in the New York Times.

As you might imagine, “the Grey Lady” often struggled to understand Twitter, especially in the social network’s early days.

In 2006, the Times called Twitter “a blogging-like tool for quick updates.”

In 2009 it was “a service that lets people mass-mail short entries or ‘tweets’ in real time from their phones or computers.”

In between, in 2008, the Times said Twitter “lets users send short messages with updates on what they are doing, is popular with a tech-savvy crowd but crashes frequently and has not figured out a way to earn significant revenue.”

What the Times failed to realize – from a lack of perspective – was that Twitter was evolving into a news platform. It failed to identify and therefore react to a new and potentially very powerful competitor.

Yet any hipster, looking at Twitter and the Times from the outside, would have told them their industry was shifting, 140 characters (or fewer) at a time.

For a financial institution starting a development project, outside perspective could help ensure that the user experience on a new product is as good as that of a Silicon Valley-backed financial startup. Or that a new system gains all the efficiencies of the latest development standards and practices. Or that requirements are generated with an eye on the competition’s best and most popular features.

In the early stages of any tech-related project, this kind of hipness has immense value because it focuses resources on projects which matter. Yet when companies invest in technology they often overlook this value.  They might react to an immediate or perceived need, then look for vendors to serve that need.

But just as important, they should look for a technology partner with an outside perspective, and the ability to share it.  Is this the right project for us?  Is our strategy in alignment with the market?  Will our customers want this?  Will they use it?

Did the Times eventually get it? Perhaps. But it had to learn the hard way — on Jan. 15, 2009, when big news happened in the Times’ backyard. The story, accompanied by a now-iconic image, was broken by a Twitter user. And it went viral:


The New York Times is now very active on Twitter – but has some scars to show for its early unhipness to the future of its own industry.

Brad Powell

Brad Powell

Brad Powell is President and CEO of Axiaware, a custom software and user experience design firm that helps credit unions bridge the gap between a business goal and a software ... Web: Details