The Chaos (Business) Theory

By Evan Shapiro, EVP Digital Enterprises, NBCUniversal

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”

– Carl Jung

“I accept chaos, I’m not sure whether it accepts me.”

– Bob Dylan

There is difference between Randomness and Chaos. Randomness is indeterminable–even if you know every detail about an environment at the start, you cannot predict the outcome of purely random events. Despite appearances to the contrary, Chaos is determinably determinable. If you know the details of a complex system, and can factor in instabilities, you can predict the outcome of its Chaos.

This is the Chaos Theory.

It’s how, in 1960, meteorologist Edward Lorenz created the first model to predict the chaos of weather, factoring in instabilities as minute as the flap of one butterfly’s wings. Chaos Theory is the scientific sub-discipline that studies massively complex systems such as the behavior of boiling water, the migration of birds and even the weather. Lorenz proved that beneath even the most chaotic behavior of a complex system, there is a “secret order.”

Complex systems contain so MANY factors that only computer technology can calculate their myriad possibilities. So, it took the invention of the computer to produce the Chaos Theory. The irony: that very same technology has produced enormous and countless ripple effects on our world. And, as we all know, the same technology that created the ability to determine the Chaos Theory is now having a chaotic affect on our industry.

Streaming television, the bingeing effect, social media, TVE, VR, mobile devices, connected devices, skinny bundles, cord cutting, cord shaving–in media, disruption is everywhere, every day (and night; #NetflixandChill). But, as with all Chaos, in all disorder, there is a secret order.

The media has faced disruption before. Radio was disrupted by television. Broadcast by cable. Advertising by the DVR. TV by the Interwebs… And each revolution spawned evolution, which resulted in greater choice, control, and enjoyment for the people we all serve–consumers. And, in each instance, the disruption ultimately resulted in a stronger industry with new, previously unforeseeable services–making the products of the media and telecommunication industry America’s most resilient, and significant exports.

While the velocity of recent disruption may seem especially extreme, as within all complex systems, the twists and turns of our industry are not random. The current currents of chaos are pushing our industry, purposefully, to reform into something stronger, and better, for consumers. Underneath the current chaos, there is order–if we weigh all the possibilities this chaos might deliver. Technology has made so much, so possible–and like Lorenz’ theoretical butterfly, small variables can have enormous consequences. Yet, Chaos Theory says that these variables offer us a nearly infinite set of opportunities–making this perhaps the most exciting and interesting time to work in what is already a super cool business. It also makes right now a perfect time to get together to compare notes, share best practices, and hear from smart people throughout, and beyond, our industry.

That’s why I am so excited for INTX: The Internet & Television Expo, this May, and why I am proud to announce the theme for INTX 2016: “Harnessing Disruption: Turning Today’s Chaos into Tomorrow’s Growth.” INTX is a truly unique gathering–a purposeful collision of all things entertainment, media and tech–and there will be numerous new and innovative features at this year’s show, offering fresh perspectives and ideas in entertainment, communications and digital commerce.

No one is smarter than everyone. By bringing together interesting people with new ideas from across the media spectrum, INTX invites the kind collaboration and community necessary to harness disruption to the benefit of our industry, and our consumers. No one can predict the future, but by embracing the chaos, together we can deliver on the enormous potential in front of us.

See you all in Boston, at INTX, this May 16-18.

Evan Shapiro is Executive Vice President, Digital Enterprises, for NBCUniversal.

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