On Sunday evening, during a Facebook Live interview with the cast of the hit television show,  Mr. Robot (USA Networks), the show's creators gave those who tuned in an unexpected surprise: a sneak peak of Season 2's premiere episode, a full three days ahead of its scheduled release date.

In true Mr. Robot (a show about a renegade computer hacker) fashion, the Q&A session was abruptly interrupted by a masked figure, who announced, "Why waste more time on pointless speculation. You deserve something new, something unexpected, something you've never seen before." The feed then rolled through the first 40 minutes of the episode.

The PR stunt continued as the network, in an equally unexpected demonstration of digital marketing creativity, sent fans on a wild chase around the web to view the remaining segments of the first episode, eventually deleting any and all traces of them and leaving fans late to the party to wait until its official release on Wednesday.

This "digital first" release of a television show was a great PR strategy, creating buzz before the actual event was to happen, but it also signaled an important evolution of traditional cable networks. By leveraging digital to release content before it is available on television, USA Networks joined the likes of Netflix, which pioneered the digital first strategy a few years ago with the release of the full first season of House of Cards.

In reality, the traditional avenues for creating and delivering media and content, namely television and radio, are fading -- and fading fast. Both older and newer networks find themselves competing with streaming services and growing digital powerhouses (such as Netflix). Even ESPN has found itself in the midst of the content battle with its recent critically acclaimed, 10-hour documentary, O.J.: Made in America.

Many entertainment artists find themselves in the same situation. Musicians, whose art has been commoditized by digitization, are among the leading innovative minds, reinventing their own craft and finding new ways to take control of their intellectual property and profit from it. Taylor Swift, for example, made waves last year when she boldly copyrighted a number of her lyrics and bravely declined to join Spotify, a leading online music-streaming service.

So what can businesses learn from this?

Just like the media and entertainment industries, business is evolving at breakneck speed. Entrepreneurs and managers are finding it increasingly important to push the boundaries of innovation and management to stay relevant, especially in light of the following trends:

  • New online and mobile platforms are being introduced every day, constantly diluting the number of people (and "eyeballs") businesses have the opportunity to reach.
  • Countless new productivity tools, web applications and mobile apps are making it difficult for entrepreneurs to sort, choose and commit.
  • On the human side, an entire generation of individuals who have been raised on digital devices and social media are coming of age and entering the workforce, requiring workplaces and office cultures to evolve.
  • And finally, high-speed internet is becoming more readily available around the globe, closing the information gap between developed and developing countries and allowing billions of ambitious workers to tap into a workflow and income stream traditionally only available to privileged communities.

Just as artists, entertainers and cable media providers are finding new and innovative ways to exercise their creativity and make a living, business leaders have the opportunity to do the same. In order to stay ahead, here is what we can learn from these industry leaders.

Get uncomfortable.

Just as nobody can predict the future of media companies, nobody can predict the future of business. For this reason, we need to let go of the status quo and embrace a state of uncertainty. Only when we are comfortable with change will we be able to look beyond anxiety to find new solutions.

Continue innovating.

When Netflix began releasing entire seasons of shows, few predicted the impact it would have on an entire populace, ushering in new cultural norms and giving giving new meaning to the term "binge watching." This strategy was both innovative and brave, as it shattered paradigms that existed in the industry for decades.

In business, the next generation of successful businesses will be those that also break paradigms, challenge traditional thinking and ultimately lead inevitable change before the change becomes inevitable.

Empower creativity.

While I have never been in a boardroom of a major cable network, I have to assume the destructive business phrase, "That's not the way it's done," was common during staff meetings. Today, creativity and new idea generation are crucial for differentiating your company from others and empowering your staff and stakeholders to always be searching for new ways to get things done.

Embrace youth and data.

Not only are Millennials consuming more content -- and in new ways -- they are the eyeballs and wallets of the future. Netflix understands this and leverages countless data points to analyze trends and create content that is geared toward specific viewers. Because of this, shows today are infinitely better than those of just a few decades ago (case in point, The A-Team), which is a reflection the programming influence young digital consumers have through page views and reviews.

Today's businesses can (and must) embrace youth in their strategies as well, not only because they are the next generation of spenders, but also because they will generate the data that entrepreneurs can use to make better business decisions.

Published on: Jul 12, 2016