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The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change

The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change

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Dr. Bharat Anand, Henry R. Byers professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and author of The Content Trap, states in his afterword, “I knew that many things around us would change by the time I had finished it [and they did].” He recognizes, in an era of massive digital content generation, that content has not changed as much as the art of managing it, thanks to technology and the way in which connections are created. He sets the stage by explaining how content is valued and consumed by billions of people daily. As a result, businesses try to produce the best and most relevant content. The proliferation of content — five exabytes (five billion billion bytes) are generated every two days — creates “the problem of getting noticed.” The extremely low cost of digital content distribution, in turn, creates “the problem of getting paid.” The combination of the two problems is deadly.

Businesses fall into the Content Trap mindset by: first, obsessing with isolated triggers rather than recognizing the conditions that make them spread; second, preserving content at all costs rather than seizing the opportunities around it; and, lastly, searching for the right approach to confronting digital fires rather than understanding that the right way requires understanding the context in which the fires burn. These three expressions or errors cause businesses to miss the connections that shape the digital components of any business. Anand posits that being able to recognize, leverage, and manage connections separates companies that succeed versus those that fail. The Connections Triad of user connections, product connections, and functional connections can lead companies out of the Content Trap.

The Content Trap is organized into four parts; the first three discuss user, product and functional connections, while the last is entitled, “Everyone’s a Media Company.” I like this book so much, I’ve recommended that all of my senior leadership team read it and, for the first time ever, I’m publishing a five-part book review to assess it, including this introduction. I highly recommend it to anyone in a leadership role at a company trying to grow its digital components. Bharat Anand has done an excellent job at highlighting the way to grow a company digitally, as well as describing the interaction between the major connections.

*Author’s note: Unless otherwise noted, the factual observations and images included herein are the intellectual property of Dr. Bharat Anand and/or Random House Publishing Group.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and as a member of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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