Is Knowing Which Song Comes Next A Critical 21st Century Skill?

CurationI heard this new song by Jack White, Lazaretto. I’ve listened to it dozens of times. After the umpteenth time it occurred to me that what I really wanted was another song just like it. I wanted to know what song comes next. I tried Pandora and Spotify, but they just didn’t cut it. I see this as just an example of the challenges we face today trying to find what we’re looking for — or even what we don’t know we’re looking for — in an endless sea of content. I’ve talked about two important skills of the 21st Century: the ability to vet the content you consume and the ability to rapidly synthesize content. My third skill relates to my question about which song comes next. It has to do with being able to vet and synthesize, and then correlate, organize and disseminate. That skill is curation.

I was listening to an interview with Jimmy Iovine. A specific problem he’s looking to solve is answering what he feels is a very important question (and one which as it happens was important to me as well): Which song comes next? In the old days of music we relied on DJ’s and producers to give us guidance on this. Lot’s of thought went into set lists and deciding which songs to put on an album. There were even album compilations (Greatest hits of the 70’s, anyone), all attempting to place a layer of curation over the music we listened to.

The same is true for all content. Historically we’ve relied on institutions to curate content for us. Whether its text books and encyclopedias, as in my youth, or periodicals and broadcast news, we were trained to look to institutions like corporations, universities and government for expertise and authoritative curation. Digital tools and social media have democratized thought leadership. That’s the good news. The challenge is the confusion we face when looking for content. Maybe some day computers will be sophisticated enough to make these associations for us, but what we have today is humans filling that role.

Jimmy Iovine maintains there still needs to be some expert, human interaction. I’ll leave that for others to decide. I look at it as an opportunity. This is more than just personal branding. This is filling a need. Curation is an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and what you want to be known for (pancakes, anyone?), as well as provide a resource for others to get value from the that sea of content.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.