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Are we entering a new Jazz Age?


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October 23, 2006

Are we entering a new Jazz Age?

Stephen Baker

Are you jazzy enough? We grew up in an industrial age where big organizations operated like orchestras. Everyone played a defined role in rigorous, finely-synchronized ensembles. At least that was the goal. Now, says Rishad Tobaccowala, a leading media strategist and CEO of marketing consultant Denuo Group, we're entering the Jazz Age. In his keynote address at the Monaco Media Conference, he explained why.

In jazz, each player has a unique voice. Each must improvise from one measure to the next. People play solos, straying from the group, and then come back and join it. Jazz, or at least good jazz, is surprising. Tobaccowala predicts that the quality people will look for, whether in products, companies or individuals, will be "jazziness."

Not everyone at the conference signed on. Bob Guccione jr., founder of Spin Magazine and now publisher of Discover Magazine, complained that jazz was a pretty small niche in music, and that the Jazz Age preceded television--while we're looking for what comes next. Thoughts? Is "jazziness" the quality we'll be angling for?

Yesterday, before the sun rose, I rode to the Nice airport with Tobaccowala. He's a big reader of books and magazines. He studies. He told me that he gauges online media by "the hour test." If he's been on it for an hour, does he feel like he's learned something? All too often, he says, he stands up from an obsessive hour at the computer feeling undernourished, as though he's been eating M&Ms. Even when you've been reading blog posts about yourself, Rishad?

I'll put a few more odds 'n ends from the media conference below the line.

I checked the search engines for posts on Tobaccowala's speech. Not one, even though a number of bloggers were present, including Rafat Ali and Loic Le Meur (who was busy angling for a podcast with his Serene Highness, Prince Albert). My problem was a lack of WiFi at the gorgeous Monte Carlo Bay Hotel. None in the press room, and a ridiculous 20 euros per day to get it your room. I resisted. As one panelist noted, why is TV free and the Internet a paid add-on, at least at expensive hotels?

One line in the hotel guide struck me funny. Tap water, it said, was perfectly clean. But the hotel still recommended buying water from the minibar, which cost about five euros a bottle. Hmmm. Should we use it to brush our teeth with, too?

There was a cultural divide at the Media conference. I was with start-up entrepreneurs the first day, and one of them looked at the invitation for dinner that night, hosted by Prince Albert. "What's "Business Attire?" he asked. He and a couple others hadn't brought ties. The confusion grew later in the evening, when some of the more clued-in diners started spontaneously to stand up. That's what you do, we learned, when a prince leaves the room.

It did seem strange to be a conference where we're talking about the relentless democratization of the media, and still hear one of those in our midst addressed time and time again as "Monseigneur." That title, which means "my lord," dates from the age when Albert's ancestors lived on the big hill, receiving tributes and taxes from the serfs laboring on the fields below. Prince Albert, by the way, spoke to us in a clear and unmistakably American English, a legacy from his Philadelphia-born mother, Grace Kelly.

After all my belly-aching about WiFi in Monaco, I came back to find our home WiFi-less. The problem: We signed up for Comcast's Internet telephone service. So the technician comes, connects a new modem, and we lost the Internet connection on Thursday. Comcast's response to my wife's call? We'll see about it on Monday. Gee, thanks fellas. If this lasts til Tuesday, Comcast is getting canned.

08:21 AM

mainstream media, society

Interesting post, Stephen. I don't know Tobaccowala or his consultancy, but I like the Jazz Age image a lot. Of course it's exaggerated, but so are most good images of the future. I'm in the tech industry, and lots of our clients (heads of marketing organizations) are looking precisely for folks with more of a "jazz" orientation, with the ability and inclination to improvise, feed off their colleagues (and customers), and generally go with the flow. We'll always need precise orchestration, but we can outsource more and more of those set pieces while keeping the creative innovation in house.

Posted by: Rob Leavitt at October 24, 2006 12:03 AM


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