Friday, February 9, 2007

The death of the Gaussian curve

I had a very interesting, entertaining and stimulating lunch today with a curious, smart and witty entrepreneur. We had a fairly long exchange (although I did not see the time fly) about the dramatic changes now taking place in the media, entertainment and marketing & communication space. The challenges are indeed momentous for established players and one of my friend's point was to say that it is not so much the change in itself that is a problem but rather the fact that incumbents are in denial because they have to deal with the constraints of their traditional business and organizational models. He went on to describe how what is now happening is actually increasing the level of complexity and fragmenting the "mass" market to the point of making it almost meaningless to be thinking along the lines of the Gaussian curve: we live at times when individuals do have an influence and and impact because the world is increasingly interactive and therefore the very nature of uncertainty is changing. He and I agree that the Gaussian curve is slowly and surely becoming less relevant.

Another thing my friend made me realize (again) is that evolution and innovation cycles are not binary in their outcomes: traditional media will remain relevant, people will still need some form of print and television will not suddenly disappear, even though new ways are emerging and the traditional ones are being reshaped by the power of electronics / digital / computing / always-on / networking... And a number of new players will perish simply because of their illusion of absolute power. The war between Madison Avenue and Media 2.0 will cause many casualties on both sides and like with "brick & mortar", the winners are likely to be those businesses that manage to combine new technologies and traditional activities in a harmonious way.


  1. Someone does care about and will restore the Gaussian curve : the Insurance Companies. As the Future is more and more uncertain, people will want to insure against all risks (Unemployment, Retirement, Violence, Accidents, Health problems...).Insurance companies will care for taking back people into the Gaussian curve in order to insure their own risk...
    You'll have three kind of people :
    1. the ones who are out of the Gaussian curves because they are too rich to comply with rules : they cover their own back,
    2. the ones within who are afraid of the future and are rich enough to be insured, they will have to behave "Gaussian" to be protected
    3. the ones who are not rich and/or Gaussian enough. They will suffer from precarity.
    If you talk about "the winners" of those who will be exploiting what will be left of our freedom in the media industry, it doesn't matter if they are incumbent or not. The winner will always be the Capital which is always at the right place to leverage the offer and demand curves. Whatever the distribution...

  2. Thanks for your comment JF Declercq. I enjoy diversity of views and I think they actually add a lot of value.
    I see insurance companies as the entities that will end up taking over a number of functions we currently consider as the province of government. So, yes, from retirement to health and other areas for which we humans require a degree of certainty, insurance companies will provide solutions and try to derive profit. I would not go as far as to say that they necessarily will care much about restoring the Gaussian curve.
    While I found my friend's points quite interesting and excellent food for thought I believe his point was more than the bell curve is dying as a universal paradigm.
    I am not certain your categories of types of people will actually be verified in fact and I do think that they are largely inherited from a world view that opposed labor and capital. Whereas this opposition may still be valid to a certain extent, I do believe that today's game is influenced not only by capital but also and perhaps mainly by talent. So, I think that talent will be the winner whatever the distribution and call me a shamelessly optimistic analyst :-)
    That being said, I am not a supporter of a world divided between "winners" and "losers" as I do believe that every single person has his or her own very unique place. Here is perhaps the greatest challenge of our times: to strive for true equal opportunity for talent and for adequate level and type of activity for each individual... which brings us to education, yet another field which we cannot keep managing with mostly meaningless bell curves.