Playing with Elephants


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I can't remember the first time I was admonished to play well with others. I don't remember if it was in the playground or the park, but I can still hear a voice (that uncannily resembles my mother's) coaxing me to be good, to share, and for heaven's sake, to play nice.

Recently, I read an excerpt of Throwing The Elephant Zen and the Art of Managing Up by Stanley Bing. While that whole Zen and the Art of thing gives me an unpleasant chill, Bing has some sound points (unfortunately couched in pseudo-new age terms). I have to admit that I don't remember the first time someone explained managing up to me either, but over the years that adage has proved almost as useful as my mother's reminders about team playing.

Successful teams need leaders, visionaries even, and they also require a whole lot of folks to get out onto the field and play the game. In Bing's field, the players are animals. "Many animals walk the earth," he writes "Only some of them are elephants. The rest of us must deal with them." Yes,there are lions but you rarely see one dining on a healthy elephant. Elephants, according to Bing, exult in their own size and power; they hate doing nothing unless they can call it a meeting; and they cannot be ignored. But, he says, in spite of their size and power, elephants need direction and they know it. The trick, it seems, is to feed your company's precocious pachyderm on a steady diet rich with information and complexity. As such, you will become a valued handler, but more importantly, the company itself will flourish as its elephant does.

I, for one, have little aspiration to achieve such elephantine proportions in my company or in my own mind. However, I value the leadership of such a beast because, in concocting a daily diet of information, I too flourish. It seems likely that, among EContent's readers, there are many such purveyors of content and that the creation, cultivation, and circulation of information feeds business success.

Some of technology's biggest elephants recently wrote a letter to a group of equally sized leaders in the film industry urging them not to support government-mandated digital copyright protection. This legislation, the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA), prohibits creating, selling or distributing "any interactive digital device that does not include and utilize certified security technologies." While this legislation initially focuses on entertainment content, like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, all digital content could feel its effects. The letter, penned by CEOs at Compaq, Dell, IBM, Intel, Intuit, Microsoft, Motorola, Sybase, and Unisys called for a "fruitful collaboration to achieve our common goal." They cited the success of voluntary groups like the Copy Protection Technology Working Group (CPTWG) and the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) and pointed out that, by working together, all parties could contribute to the success of the digital marketplace without government mandate.

To date, however, the movie industry has not been able to make digital editions of its content theft-proof, in part because it requires that digital rights management instructions be embedded in entertainment content and that playback devices must be prepared to react to those instructions appropriately. At the moment, this type of interaction doesn't exist. It seems likely that until the heavyweights on both the computer and creative sides throw their might into this battle, robust and flexible DRM will not arise.

In other areas of digital content, organizations like the open eBook Forum, an international standards body of digital publishing, are pushing for a standard rights language for DRM. Many believe that computer companies don't want a single government-mandated standard because it will limit their competition to market individual DRM solutions. Clearly, as the market saturation of broadband and mobile content access grows, so do the opportunities for digital content. The consumer and business professional see the potential for digital distribution and are ready for us to deliver. And while they want access to quality content, they don't want to be bogged down with myriad cumbersome copyright protection schemes.

Perhaps Hollywood will lead the way to a unified content protection front; perhaps it will be the leaders of the technology industry. But in any case, we need to find our elephant and feed it so all digital content can find its way, adequately protected, to an eager public. And if we can't all play nice, then we have no business complaining when we are legislated into behaving the way our mothers have been telling us to for years.