Moving into the long tail

It's not easy for successful enterprises to move into the long tail from the short end of big sales, revenue and brand names. It's easier to start out in the long tail and move back toward the middle like the breakout hits of indie filmmakers, bands, publishers and web start-ups. New business models are more likely to come from unknowns. Here are some of the challenges faced by the big providers and buyers of adult education.

Giving up control - Centralized providers are in control of the content, creative talent, production processes and distribution systems. If they acquire a monopoly domination of the market space, they also control price and available supply. Giving up this control appears self-defeating - like throwing money away and giving weapons to your enemies. Giving control to the learners means the content, production, distribution and revenue will be out of control. Inviting chaos, mayhem and disruptions when they are already in control appears ludicrous.

Trusting the low lifes - Hierarchical managers operate within a top-down model of intelligence. The big brain above the rest knows best. It's assumed the far reaches of the organization cannot see all the facets or make balanced judgments. Switching to bottom-up models of distributed intelligence looks like "taking stupid pills" and a dereliction of duties. Trusting the immediate supervisor, a community of practice or the trainees themselves seems reckless and irresponsible.

Learning from customers - Inherent factories which push controlled content onto passive learners -- have heard it all before. The stupid customers whine about how long the program takes, how much it costs and how boring it is. The customers want something for nothing and don't know enough to appreciate what they are receiving. It makes sense to close the corporate mind to their complaints and regard the customers as enemies. Responding to customers, learning from their feedback and solving their problems makes no sense when the customers need to be forced to learn.

Allowing learning to be emergent - Inherent machines that deliver content understand they made their success happen with effort. They believe in setting goals, taking action and producing results. When learning outcomes fall short of expectations, they turn up the heat and redouble their efforts. There's no way a car gets built or driven across town by watching it grow, gardening its landscape or nurturing its internal processes.

Out in the long tail, lots and lots of niche offerings are available in one place. Think of the variety and volume of each provider within eBay, amazon, iTunes or Netflix. For these aggregated, small providers and engaged followers, the world makes very different sense. Giving control to the learners ensures that the selection of content, the pace of learning, and the motivation to learn will be improved. The learning outcomes will be enhanced as a result. The people with the best information to make decisions, choose content and spend money wisely are close to the learners and the actual problems. The customers have the better insights into what's not working and what would be valuable in their situations. Learning cannot be forced any more than creativity, intrinsic motivation or love could be. Learning occurs emergently when its supported, validated, protected and trusted.

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