[Image: Sony's "Live Color Experiment." Source: www.777interactive.jp]
Above: Sony's "Live Color Experiment." Source: www.777interactive.jp

Transing, living in the age of multi level change

In this excerpt from the upcoming book "Transing, living in the age of multi level change", Professor Don Ryun Chang (Icograda Past President) and Professor Dae Ryun Chang take a look at the Trans Age that we are currently experiencing.

I. Transing

"The only constant is change"

As uttered by Issac Asimov in the 1960s, the famous quote sounded profound. Yet it still rang hollow to millions if not billions of people who back then lived relatively stable lives. Now in the midst of unprecedented turbulence in economics, politics, technology and social dynamics Asimov's saying can be more fully appreciated. In fact, the expression should be updated to "change is constantly changing" to reflect the more dynamic reality of our modern world.

What is Transing?

It comes from the prefix "Trans" that means "across, over, and beyond." We commonly use words like "transportation," and "transfer" where the former means "to carry or convey across," and the latter, "to bear across." In both cases "trans" connotes a bridging characteristic whether it is between places, conditions, or people.

"Transing" is a new term and a meta-concept that aspires to capture all the bridging that is needed to cope with all the dynamics of modern day change. It identifies and describes the physical, emotional, social and cultural phenomena of various change processes that appears to be occurring in almost every facet of contemporary life. In such an environment our ability to adapt to change will determine the winners and the losers in every profession.

A simple explanation of transing is to think of a prism. Of course, a prism deals with how a medium changes light but here we generalise it to non-light phenomena.

The Transing Process

 Existing pattern  Catalyst  Transcendent pattern

The prism concept tells us that there are three stages that have been labelled "Existing Pattern," "Catalyst" and "Transcendent Pattern." When a source (i.e. the light) passes through the prism, two related things can happen: (a) dispersion: what seemed singular (i.e. the white light) becomes varied, and (b) refraction: the directions of the separated patterns are altered.

The dispersion concept implies that the world of transing often involves intense fragmentation. The best example is the composition of most markets. Whereas before some companies could still continue to mass market their products, nowadays even in collectivist societies like China, consumers are demanding more and more that their products be customised. The catalyst for this change is the internet and other social media technologies where individuals can easily and inexpensively voice their personalised preferences. In essence, companies have become victims of their own success at catering to marginal customers. The "long tail" of many markets is becoming harder and harder to ignore. For products such as music, movies, clothing and books, marketing to niches is becoming economically feasible when implemented on the Internet. The same is true for small B2B marketers. A modest manufacturer of automotive parts can advertise on Google Adwords and look for potential buyers abroad. Not too long ago, such a strategy was unthinkable.

The refraction concept demonstrates that the magnitude of change can be mild or severe. Ironically, at least for light, the faster individual pattern (as measured in the wavelength) is less affected whereas the slower pattern is altered more severely (i.e. the indigo ray). Applying this analogy to trends or megatrends, the stronger the trend, the less impact will some catalyst have on its future path. With slow-to-develop trends, the chances are that they will be impacted greater by seismic events. An optimistic implication of refraction is that even though the directions of trends are changed, if the new courses are discovered, then we can predict and adapt to them.

Transing is related to such well-established paradigms as innovation, technological convergence, chaos theory and change management. Innovation deals with making changes to something so that it becomes better. Disruptive innovation or disruptive technology is a specific type of innovation that involves radical change. Media is a great example of this seismic shift and we are gradually experiencing the transition from print to screen based platform. When Steven Jobs announced the iPad we perhaps realised the inevitability of e books and pay per content.

Technological convergence is another term that has been much used of late and it explains how different technologies, usually all digitally-based, can be combined to perform similar or related tasks, a prime example being built-in cameras in mobile phones. The critical limitation of both concepts is that they tend to be defined and driven by a manufacturer or supplier. In fact disruptive innovation and technological convergence fail often because they ignore demand-related factors.

The literature on change management fills in these "human factor" gaps since it offers guidelines on transitioning individuals, teams, and organisations from a current state to a desired future state. Disruptive innovation, technological convergence and change management all are certainly important dimensions of transing but none of these alone explains it entirely. Transing, as emphasised earlier, is a "meta-concept" that incorporates elements from these paradigms.

II. Transing Domains

How pervasive is transing? As we can see in the following examples of "transing domains," it is occurring in almost every sphere imaginable. A better question therefore may be "what is not transing?"

Transing in Content Delivery Domains: Art, Movies, and Design Media

Transing in Art and Design is actually an old concept. One can argue that the Impressionists introduced us to the varied art expression that emerges when rules and dogma are relaxed. What is remarkable about their early works is that the "dispersion" and "refraction" of subject matter was envisioned by the masters without the aid of any technology and thus were purely creative thinking to see objects differently. With digital software like Painter these days any picture can be converted into an impressionist-like rendering by a mere push of a menu button.

In many respects, films have always illustrated the concept of transing whether it is in their references to "film reality," fantasy-making or the cardinal rule of never breaking the "fourth wall." What began with silent "motion pictures" then became "talkies," colour movies, digital movies, high definition movies and with the help of technology has now evolved into "immersion." In effect, the transing process is coming full circle where that "fourth wall" has been broken in movies like "Avatar" and "Inception". In both films, it is not only the protagonists who are experiencing the Na'Vi culture or the dream layers, but the audience are also embracing the emerging new multi changing realities. Even though the level of immersion is still quite primitive, the whole philosophy of film-making has changed. Woody Allen famously projected a futuristic world in "Sleeper" where even physical sex can be made unnecessary through a virtual experience in an "Orgasmatron."

There has been an outright explosion of "transing" in design and media. This has occurred in large measure due to the digital revolution. With all kinds of data now being converged in digital codes, there seems to be no limit in terms on how the permutations of media can be expanded. Film, music, broadcast and cable television, internet, radio, outdoor media, just to name a few media, can all be used together or separately. So called "one source multi use" enables a company to use a variety of experiential touch points that engage the customers. This strategy is also called "cross media," and even before digital technology, it had been employed by marketers to take advantage of "cross selling" products across different media.

In recent years the concept of integrated media has been constantly evolving and scholars like Professor Henry Jenkins of USC have coined new terms like "Transmedia Storytelling" that explains the transmission of various story lines across diverse media platforms with each contributing a different element and experience. Although this phenomenon was more evident in films such as the "Matrix Triology" and recently in "Inception" many telecommunication brands in Asia have already employed this tactic to promote various products to young consumers across a diverse range of media touch points.

Sony's "Live Color Experiment" was a clever mobile, internet and outdoor transdisciplinary design collaboration where viewers on live feeds or passersby at Sony's Ginza store could choose among Bravia's many colours and then personally and instantaneously change the LED colour of the building (see above banner). This new trans media experience enabled Sony to engage its customers in a direct and different way.

As corporate communications move dramatically shift more from print to diverse screen based media platforms the current standards of consistent and mundane uniform identity will no longer be valid and a new set of non-uniform expressive values will have to be articulated in a more stimulating trans experiential manner and in many cases include the visual participation of the end user.

Transing in Business and Corporations

The importance of "transing" in business can be seen in the foremost marketing guru Philip Kotler's latest book co-authored with John Caslione, "Chaotics: The Business of Marketing and Managing in the Age of Turbulence." He notes that the near collapse of the global financial system has sparked awareness that maintaining the status quo in business is no longer tenable. Kotler and Caslione cite globalisation and technology as being the key underlying forces of uncertainty and risk in business.

The modern corporation has continually been reinventing itself. It began as "brick and mortar" entities but now with many of the functions being shifted online, it transformed itself into "click and mortar" operations. Many companies such as Dell and Cisco conduct so much of their B2C and B2B business online that the interactions with their customers may be efficient but become much depersonalised. Some companies in fact serve only as a "fronting" role because many of its operations are outsourced. Indeed, the dispersion aspect of corporate activity has intensified as the value chain has become specialised. As the business environment becomes more uncertain, the temptation to reduce the costs of maintaining directly owned assets will increase and hence spur on more decoupling of the modern corporation.

Transing in People

Transing is happening with people. The acceleration in the dispersion of race has been increasing for many years now. Perhaps the concept of racial purity has always been an unattainable myth but now with unfettered travel between countries, ethnic composition is becoming ever more diverse. Even in once historically hermetic Korea, the infusion of other races will alter the cultural dynamic of this country. Transing is an old concept with gender. Of course there is the term "transgender," but while that description was limited to a person who permanently changed gender, nowadays it may refer to a more transient term. In effect, a more apt categorisation could be "transient-gender." Both men and women are now allowed to be more open about their "masculine" and "feminine" traits.

A major transing possibility for people now is plastic surgery. Unlike years ago when people kept such procedures a secret, today people openly boast about having a nose job or a breast implant. Even though, it is only performed in extreme situations, facial transplants are now possible. Therefore, it is not hard to imagine that in some not-too-far day people can "buy" a new face such as in the movie "Face-Off." Another type of transing is that occurring between offline and online dimensions, between actual and virtual realities. Popular sites such as Second Life have allowed people with their Avatars to lead dual existences. People living mundane real-life lives can fulfil their unrealised aspirations in a new world.

III. So what?

We have seen how we are surrounded by transing. What can us as people or institutions do in the face of such widespread and unpredictable change? Answering that question is fraught with fallibility since it involves not only forecasting an uncertain future but also responding to those changes. We can console ourselves, however, in that no one knows better than anyone else.

Although the specific corporate response will depend on the industry, product and other situational characteristics, transing dynamics should inspire the following modifications for organisations:

1. Redefine Strategy

A long held view on strategy is that it is the "fit" achieved by companies to its environment. Since business environments in the past were relatively stable, strategies could be formed with a long term perspective in mind. That kind of thinking is no longer tenable. The lines between strategy and tactics have become blurred as the time horizon is becoming shorter. A new definition of strategy is called for; one that reflects the more variable nature of the business domain. In particular, in place of fit, a better concept may be a "flexible" fit. Strategy can therefore be defined as:

"The flexible fit that a company achieves in relation to its changing environment."

The flexibility can be reflected in many ways such as in scope of the business, markets served, products manufactured, technologies and facilities used and in personnel. The flexibility modifier is added as a supply-side response to the added demand-side unpredictability that companies face. Companies that serve as a good benchmark are those in the fashion industry where variability in demand is a key feature. A company like Spain's INDITEX (maker of Zara) can shorten the product development cycle to as little as 2 weeks to capture the latest demand patterns. That kind of speedy time-to-market capability can be needed in more industries as the transing phenomenon becomes more widespread.

Another facet of transing-age strategy is that given the shorter time horizon and greater emphasis on flexible operational orientation is that the conventional demarcation between strategy and tactics becomes blurred. The strategist must have a strong tactical mind because he or she does not have the luxury of waiting as in pre-transing days for strategy to become translated into its various implementations.

2. Install a CTrO: Chief Transing Officer

Many companies have a CIO, a chief information officer or a CTO, a chief technology officer. With rampant transing, a department should be installed that manages such chaotic change. The person in charge will be the chief transing officer, CTrO.

Ideally, the CTrO should possess the following qualifications. One, he should be equally comfortable in the various technological worlds such as electronics, information technology, telecommunications, as well as have a background in marketing and a holistic knowledge about trans media management. In short he is a "Digital Renaissance Man" who like Leonardo Da Vinci in his time can move easily to straddle science and the art of understanding consumers. Steve Jobs is the perfect embodiment of such traits.

Two, the CTrO should be inter-culturally oriented. He is like the anthropologist who relishes approaching new cultures and is willing to understand them in their natural habitat. These new cultures can be found of course domestically such as the emergence of tribal cultures in cyberspace. His attitude is that each culture must be comprehended on its own terms, what ethnographers call an "emic" perspective. This ability enables the CTrO to transcend his existing views of the world.

Three, the CTrO must have strong "market-media sensing" capabilities. This means that he must be able to digest all the signals in the market to make relatively accurate predictions about trends that will come in media technology and the marketplace. Consequently, he will formulate a transdisciplinary management strategy that will position the various components of coordinated aesthetic change experiences. Market-trans media sensing is almost an innate talent that not everyone will have. Even when presented with the same sources of information, some people have a rare talent to communicate them and then incisively pronounce their implications to their respective organisations. A key feature of sensing is triangulation which is confirming that your varied prognostications about the future lead to similar conclusions.

3. Add a New Lexicon: 'Deconinting'

More than anything, transing will require that virtually anyone living in this period will have to assume a "deconstruct and integrating" mindset. This is what we call "Deconinting." The core essence of transing is that technologies, people and concepts are being deconstructed and then re-integrated.

The concept of deconstruction has a storied tradition in philosophy and refers to the dismantling of the structure of a text. That same approach is similar to the fragmentation principle found in the prism analogy. Deconinting allows us to determine how a business model, technology, company or brand can be split apart to find weak links and new opportunities for reconfiguration. In particular, in the face of transing in the business environment, companies need to deconstruct and reintegrate organisational bureaucracy.

Transing is ultimately about embracing and not being afraid of future possibilities. We started our thoughts with Asimov and we can end it with Andy Warhol who fittingly said:

"They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."

This article has been published with permission from the authors.

About the authors

Don Ryun Chang
is Professor of branding and design management in the department of visual communication at Hongik University and the immediate past President of Icograda. Alongside two PhD students and four Master students, Professor Ryun Chang has recently started the lab Brand Media Evolution, centring on evolving Trans Media Research especially pertaining to its effect on branding and correlated media platforms.

Dae Ryun Chang
is a Professor at Yonsei School of Business in Seoul, Korea and currently a Visiting Professor of Marketing at Singapore Management University. He has taught and given industry talks around the globe on advertising, branding, sponsorship, and digital marketing. He has published journal articles in outlets such as the Journal of Marketing, Management Science, and Decision Science and is a frequent blogger on the Harvard Business Review website.

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