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The pace of technological change means that in the eyes of today’s children there is little difference between the 1970s and the Stone Age. The idea that life could be lived without mobile or smart phones, without the wealth of information available from the internet at the touch of a button or without multi-player computer games is simply unthinkable to current generations. To them technology at their fingertips is simply a way of life; so much so that a recent survey revealed that 20% of 18-24 year olds would rather be without food for 24 hours than without their mobile phone.
Alongside this reliance on technology comes a constant thirst for technological developments with substantial financial rewards available for companies which hit the right notes. It is therefore unsurprising that one of the key announcements in the 2012 Budget was the Government’s ambition to transform the UK into the digital media capital of Europe.
In a way the Government’s announcement was simply building on a trend which had been developing for some time. The area of London surrounding the Old Street Roundabout in EC1 has gradually been transforming into a major digital hub, colloquially known as the Silicon Roundabout. Google moved into the area in 2011 and has since been joined by Amazon and, most recently, Microsoft who have chosen Silicon Roundabout as the site for its new social networking subsidiary, Yammer. In announcing their move into the area, the new head of Amazon’s Global Digital Media Development Centre, Paula Byrne, commented that they had chosen London as it is a “hotbed of tech talent”.
The presence of big name players such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft in the Silicon Roundabout has resulted in many smaller businesses starting up or moving into the area. Some are happy to act as support companies or to carve out a niche for themselves in the digital media scene; whilst others strive to catch the public imagination and become the next runaway success. But for every one which succeeds there will be many which fail, through lack of ideas, funding or structure.
In this, digital media start up companies are little different from any other new business. Astonishingly, the StartUp Britain website has tracked over 370,000 new businesses opening in Britain in the first nine months of 2012. Each one of these will be setting out, seeking to find their place in the business world and developing their culture as they go. Some will try to “go it alone” whilst others will take advice on developing culture and growing their businesses.
Those setting up in the digital media sphere may look to copy the culture and habits of already successful technology companies. And because digital companies live in the digital world, there are plenty of new stories and blogs to pick up on. But is the recipe for success simply to have chill-out rooms, games tournaments, flexible working patterns and brightly coloured offices? In truth, these only work because of the underlying culture of the company. Copy them and ignore other aspects of company culture and disaster is around the corner.
One other characteristic of new digital media companies which do catch the imagination is that they have the propensity to grow at a rapid rate. Here again it is important to manage that growth with one eye on the business culture and vision. In any organisation, engaging employees in the vision of the business is an essential element of the pathway to success but in creative organisations, a lack of culture fit can quickly lead to misunderstandings and strife. We are increasingly seeing organisations look to appoint personnel not only on their technical abilities but also having given consideration to the way in which those prospective employees will fit in with the culture of the business. Similarly we are seeing prospective employees turn down or accept posts based on their own perception of the business culture.
As the success of the Silicon Roundabout grows there will be increasing demand for those with key skills in the digital media field. Businesses with strong culture will be in the best position to attract top players and, rather like a self-fulfilling prophesy, these are the businesses which are most likely to succeed.