Postcards from the Edge: What is a Janus Moment

In 1984 the United States saw the majority of its gross domestic product come from Service rather than manufacturing. It was not a surprise, in fact it was well predicted, but its impact has been no less profound.


In the period from May 2011 to February 2012, Smartphones have become the norm, surpassing other cell phones 46% to 41%. (Believe it or not, 12% still don’t have cell phones at all.)


And, on September 11, 2001 an unpredictable occurrence took place that also changed the world in several different ways.

These are examples of Janus Moments – the moment where a new norm is established. They may be planned or unplanned, predictable or not, good or bad; but they effect what is considered “normal” in society, technology, economics, and politics – on a personal and macro level.

The impact of these moments will be multi-faceted and meaningful if not to you personally, to those you market to, communicate with, and socialize with. And, they will be different for different segments of society, your audience, etc. Smartphone users tend to be younger; the shift in GDP impacted those with high school education and below differently than those with higher educations.

It is possible to see Janus Moments coming and to prepare and react accordingly. In fact, some would argue that it is vital to look for these and see them coming, but where to look?

Technology is the easiest as the introduction of new technology is often widely publicized and promoted. But with all realms, look to those on the edge – the fringe, the “early adaptors”, or the “cutting edge”.

The law of dangerous precedents says:

“Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.”1

It also follow that there is no way to see the coming of new norms without looking to the edge – to those doing things that set “dangerous precedent”. If you are uncomfortable, nervous, or uncertain, listen to that feeling.

But it doesn’t need to be so emotional. There are several types of change:

  • Quantum | these are the biggies that come from seemingly nowhere to change seemingly everything. Think printing press, personal computers, September 11th.
  • Additive | adding together two separate elements such as the computer and the cell phone. Technically possible for years, and tried a few times, but only recently the norm.
  • Adaptive | applying something meant for one purpose to another. Teflon is my favorite example when in 1954, French engineer Marc Grégoire created the first pan coated with Teflon non-stick resin under the brand name of Tefal after his wife urged him to try the material he had been using on fishing tackle on her cooking pans.
  • Incremental | from 1,100 participants at the first Occupy Wall Street protest on September 17th, 2011 to hundreds of thousands globally.

As the voice and reach of those on the edge continues to broaden, their ideas and expectations will move mainstream much faster. As marketers, be prepared, listen, and imagine the new norms to come. Then, determine how they can, should, and will be used looking forward.



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