Get the Book: Surfing the Black Wave

I once heard it said that the greatest of all riches cannot be found in any bank. You can’t find it on Wall Street or in the vaults of Fort Knox. The greatest riches cannot be found in any financial district, but in graveyards.

Yes, graveyards hold the most profound wealth. In them are buried businesses never started. Partnerships never formed. Nine feet deep is forever contained love that was never expressed. Inventions abandoned. Films never produced. And, volumes of books that were never written. This thought haunts me.

My only dread is that when I die, I will face the person I could have become.

That’s why today I add a new title to my resume: author. Surfing the Black Wave: Brand Leadership in a Digital Age, is available for purchase today

Almost four years of dreaming, writing, editing, tweaking, designing, and tweaking again, much to the chagrin of my team. (I love you for it.) I’m humbled by the work of authors before me. I finally understand what an endeavor like this takes. Next comes the speaking engagements. I’m super excited to launch my tour with the marketing team of Quicken Loans on stage at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

In recognition of this day, I want to share with you a reboot of a blog post I wrote in 2013 that sparked the idea for the book and something I call, “The Participation Age,” which was also the original title of the book. The post, “Selling Buggies on Facebook,” begins with a Detroit legend in the Industrial Age …

Selling Buggies on Facebook

Being a Detroiter, I am enamored with how the Industrial Age was born in my hometown. I’m especially drawn to the legend of Billy Durant, the spring-suspension innovator of the horse-and-buggy industry. In the late 1800s, Flint, close to Detroit, was flourishing — as was the Durant-Dort Carriage Company. That is, until Henry Ford introduced the Model-T.

Almost a decade after the automotive industry was taking over Detroit, Durant saw sales decreasing each month, but he was reluctant to change. His carriage company was still No. 1 in the world. He was a famous man in his town. Why retool? Why change things? After a series of layoffs, the unemployed buggy workers of Flint came to Durant with one desperate request: Save this town! 

He joined with David Buick and used his buggy distribution network to sell automobiles built by Oldsmobile, Cadillac and Oakland (which eventually became Pontiac). He joined with the famous race driver Louis Chevrolet to form General Motors.

The reluctant innovator became a national hero, and Flint became the epicenter of the automotive “roar” in the “Roaring ‘20s.”

As our team was doing some work with the bank that gave Durant his first loan (Citizens Bank), we took the opportunity to tap into the local history. The marketing director there described Durant’s legendary role in building the bank itself. We learned how GM survived the Great Depression: Billy bet it all by putting his personal wealth into his company to save his town. He died penniless, but Durant made his mark on mankind — leaving behind banks, hospitals, universities and one of the world’s largest companies.

Today, a new industrial revolution is taking place. This time, the communications industry is being disrupted, and it will be a great time of impact on mankind — for both good and bad. Forgotten names who led the Industrial Age like Durant and Ford were replaced by newly memorable names like Jobs and Gates, who led the Information Age.

But our kids won’t aspire to become like any of those legends of industry. The new gold rush is social media apps and the gamification of everything. Enter the age of Zuckerberg and Bezos.

The Participation Age has begun. Like all organic movements, this one is not being defined by its leaders, but by the people who empower them. And, the people have true power this time. All broadcast media as we know it will become digital and interactive over the next decade. Print media is being replaced by social media. Newswriters are being replaced by bloggers. And, our digitally connected neighbors will be the trusted sources of news. Broadcast TV, radio and home video will follow this same trend, becoming digitized and socialized. Next, all linear commercial messaging — like the interruptive TV spots we love — will eventually go the way of the horse and buggy.

It’s not too late to join the digital revolution as a leader. Consider this: Billy Durant incorporated General Motors on September 16, 1908. That was five years after the Packard Motor Company built the “world’s most advanced factory,” as touted by the media at the time. Only two weeks after GM was issued their certificate of incorporation, an unknown wannabe named Henry Ford introduced an awkward little vehicle named the Model-T. By the time Henry Ford was pulling down $100 million in car sales, GM was still a tiny startup trying to find its way.

Durant was not satisfied to end his life as a washed up horse-and-buggy innovator. In a relentless push to ride the new wave of automation, he drove GM toward the next innovation, sporty automotive design and powerful V-8 engines. Although Billy himself went broke investing in this future, GM built on his legacy with cars like the ‘57 Chevy and the Cadillac Eldorado, surpassing Ford in vehicle sales. Even the great Packard Motor Company with its stylish Studebaker could not compete with the innovative changes introduced by GM.

No, it’s not too late to catch the next wave. And, if you are already ahead of this wave, don’t get cocky. Most people don’t even know who Packard is anymore. Today, the Packard Motor Company building has become a tourist destination for photojournalists who take the pilgrimage to Detroit, just to capture the essence of the world’s largest abandoned factory. And it’s a favorite set for post-apocalyptic movies.

What drives such radical market change in times of disruptive innovation? What was the secret of GM? How does this caliber of leadership arise and maintain such a culture of sustainable innovation? A man saw the wave coming.

You can try to market your buggy on Facebook. You can even add social media links to your horseless-carriage blog. But, if your business doesn’t continually innovate and digitally “participate” with your consumers, you won’t be relevant very long. If your business is losing ground already, now is the time to make the change. If your business is a booming buggy-works, it’s time to innovate. It’s going to be hard. You might not even experience all the benefits in the current marketing cycle, but the world will eventually thank you.

[Based on the first blog post that initiated our journey four years ago.]