When Ian Curtis sang. ‘radio, live transmission’ against the backdrop of a throbbing bass guitar, and ‘dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio’ at the song’s crescendo on Joy Division’s first single, released in 1979, it was a hymn to the ubiquitous power and one way control of that medium. The band did not own the means of communication. It owned them. The song that the lyrics come from is called Transmission and transmission is the transfer of energy in one direction. Curtis never lived to see the music industry turned upside down. He never experienced a world where anyone can start a radio station, and there are now tens of thousands of radio stations on the Internet to prove just that point. Some, ironically, probably play Curtis’ music incessantly.
Curtis’ song speaks from a bygone age. It is hard to believe that this distant voice echoes back to us across only three decades.The sentiment is remote, bleak and passive. In musical terms a complete revolution has taken place which has turned the industry inside out. That concept, however, of one-way transmission, is not dead but lives and, even, flourishes in other forms of communication.
If, for instance, you read the PR outpourings of many contemporary companies they are still back in the Curtis era; one way reverential pieces that absolutely no one believes. And, even in corporate learning where change is very much on the agenda, you still come across teams that have forgotten that handing out tablets of wisdom from the mountainside is a one-way transmission model in a era of multi-direction communication. That is a ‘we give, you receive’ paradigm when consultation and user-generated material is the norm. So do not expect shock and awe for your efforts, rather indifference and boredom. The dominance of a single voice has almost disappeared and for that we can thank the democratization of information through the Internet. It might be most dramatic in music, but it has happened in every sphere of our lives. So don’t let corporate learning be associated with old, obsolete models but only with new ones.
After Curtis’ death, Joy Division reinvented itself as New Order and is still more or less intact. The band seems to have made the leap from the past to the present. But if you listen to the album Total which charts that transition you realise that it was steady progress that took them from Transmission to Blue Monday. The seeds of the latter are clearly discernible in the former. It was an evolution not a sudden awakening or volte face.
The band left us with a few lessons:
1.Move forward steadily, make regular changes in order to survive the big shock.
2. But be prepared for the disruptive shift and jump when you have to.
3. Have some kind of vision about where you want to go.
4. Experiment and innovate.
5. Understand your audience. Try and anticipate what they might need.
6. Massive, disruptive change can be coped with. You can thrive in the new era.
The band moved on from the alienation of Transmission to the inclusion of World in Motion over about ten years. New Order sang: make your own play,express yourself, don’t give it away. Express yourself, it’s one on one. They are right again, indeed it is one on one.