Clark Gilbert and the ‘Inscrutable Dilemma’

Clark GilbertClark Gilbert, speaking to newspaper industry executives earlier today at the Multimedia Key Executives Conference said:

“A complete transformation is necessary to move forward and to
be competitive” with new businesses entering the marketplace, adding that he believed the industry has a three-year window
to make the necessary changes.

“The industry is forever broken. It will bounce
again, but three years from now will be the permanent reality.”

Gilbert, a former Havard University business professor, is president and CEO of the Deseret News Publishing Co. and Deseret Digital Media in Salt lake City, publisher of the Deseret News and the oldest business in Utah.

He also has been a consultant and a founding partner of the Boston-based consultancy Innosight, which works with media companies among others.  Much of his academic work centers around innovation, entrepreneurship and media companies.

Innosight also includes Gilbert’s friend and mentor, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, whose “Innovator’s Dilemma” book, published in 1997, cogently makes the case of the difficulty of successful companies have in adapting to new disruptive technologies and innovations. In fact, they almost never do.

In a Salt Lake Tribune article on Gilbert, he is quoted as saying:

“The survival rate of [companies] overcoming a disruptive innovation is
about 9 percent. But of the 9 percent that made it through, 100 percent
set up a separate group to focus on the digital innovation.”

One of his key moves has been spinning digital operations into a separate group, Deseret Digital Media, run by “digital natives.” He also laid off 43 percent of the Deseret News’ workforce as part of the remaking of the business.

Despite Christensen’s book of 13 years ago, a body of research from Gilbert and other’s on newspapers and the disruptive technology of first the Internet and now mobile, the many speeches to media groups, consulting to newspaper chains and the radical changes Gilbert has made in Utah, few media companies are following heeding his advice of fully separating newspaper digital and print operations. The trend has been quite the opposite: more fully integrating print and digital responsibilities.

And, in what might be called the “Inscrutable Dilemma,” he’s among the most influential thinkers in the industry, bending the ear of almost every top newspaper executive at one time or another.

The Multimedia Key Executives Conference is being held at the Poynter Institute by the Inland Press
Association, the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and
Suburban Newspapers of America.

(Photo from Deseret Digital Media)

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