AG TECH: NOT ALL ABOUT SIZZLE AND SWISS ARMY KNIVES

Technology isn’t always about the latest bells and whistles, the newest tools and services with the most “sizzle” and the guys in black turtlenecks standing on a stage talking about how this new product is going to change your life and revolutionize the way you do business.

 

Sometimes it’s more like putting together a puzzle; you can’t see an accurate picture of those tropical fish in that seascape on the puzzle box without putting the pieces together in the right way. Other times, it’s like reading a comic book. And I’ll show you why in a minute.

 

While the mainstream view of new technology is one of “shiny objects” that can disrupt entire systems and change the way we live and work, the ones that are most effective are those that embody a few common characteristics. It’s not about being a solution looking for a problem, even if what you’ve got has the most “sizzle.”

 

Cisco Systems, Inc., gets this. For decades, it’s been a leader in digital networking hardware, telecommunications systems and, more recently, tools that manage artificial intelligence and machine learning. Cisco doesn’t have a single big-name device like Apple’s iPhone to vault it into the public eye, but has been part of the backbone of Silicon Valley for 35 years.

 

Cisco uses its vast resources to not just produce technology solutions for today’s problems, but also to look to the future and lead the tech sector by sustaining the arc of digital development with a growing emphasis on safety and security.

 

With this focus on security, Cisco has taken to a tactic that may remind you of your childhood. Video and interactivity have become ubiquitous in today’s digital world, but there’s an analog complement that Cisco’s found to be invaluable as a storytelling mechanism. Sometimes this storytelling takes on more of a Hollywood big-budget action film feel, but therein lies what makes this tactic so effective.

 

In a series of graphic novels, Cisco is partnering with industry-leading futurists and developers to tackle the myriad of potential catastrophic circumstances that can unfold as a result of today’s digital-dependent society. Yes, you could call them comic books with a message. But they’re much deeper than that.

 

The format exemplified here has some major strengths. First, it’s a format many of a certain age will recognize. I read my share of comic books as a kid, so I know well what they look and feel like, and how stories are told.

 

But the recognized format tells a story that’s not as familiar. Two Days After Tuesday is a threat-casting story, one that shows how the technology of today and the not-so-distant future can expose vulnerabilities in our society that can lead to disaster. It’s a cautionary tale that uses fiction to inform and inspire readers to take action to avoid the not-so-happy ending it spells out.

 

The story includes graphical icons representing key parts of the supply chain that are ultimately touched by Cisco technology. Icons explore parts of the story that illuminate a frictionless supply chain, privacy and security, on-demand manufacturing, safety, sustainability and autonomous machinery and equipment. They’re all key parts of the overall supply chain outlined in the story, and all areas in which Cisco has a presence aimed at preventing catastrophic outcomes.

 

The brilliance of this tactic lies in the way Two Days After Tuesday works the key components of today’s high-tech supply chain into a graphic novel in a way that clearly stimulates the reader to think about how they are all related. It’s a compelling story with clear information about each part of the system, and it shows an understanding about these parts that reaches well into the future.

 

What can the ag technology world learn from Two Days After Tuesday? First, it’s not always about the shiniest object in the room. Yeah, you might get a few headlines because you’ve got a hot new product, or might even land the blessing of one of the industry’s leading companies. The road to ag tech success is paved with products and services that at one time or another were anointed as the “next big thing” but failed to follow through. It’s more important to offer real solutions today that can lead to future successes.

 

Next, don’t try to solve problems that don’t exist yet. Becoming a technology leader often requires the ability to think ahead. Sometimes, by a long way. That may compel some to develop products and services today that could solve projected future problems. The only problem…those problems may not ever exist. It’s important to show the ability to think ahead, but your product or service has to be rooted in today. Only by solving today’s problems first will we be able to develop tomorrow’s big ideas.

 

And don’t try to solve all the world’s problems all at once. A Swiss Army knife may have a dozen different blades with a dozen different functions, but it may never be able to whittle a piece of wood as effectively as a single-blade Old Timer like my granddad used to carry in his pocket. Do one thing, do it well, and you won’t need to be the shiniest object out there.

 

The ag tech sector is buzzing with new ideas and startups looking to lock up the next big, disruptive thing in agriculture. It’s an exciting time to be in agriculture and agrimarketing because of that. But the shine wears off quickly when those big ideas don’t reach fruition. That makes it important for marketing partners to think on two separate planes: What’s important today and what will be important tomorrow. The latter can’t be reached unless the former is taken care of. The successful agrimarketers will be those who have a knack for telling stories like Two Days After Tuesday, but have strong roots connected to what matters most to today’s farmers and ranchers.

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