How scarcity and necessity can help our industry
A view from Sue Unerman

How scarcity and necessity can help our industry

What links the UK, Estonia, Israel, New Zealand and South Korea?

The clue lies in South Korea's digital reputation, as these nations make up the Digital 5, a network of the most advanced digital governments in the world, with the goal of strengthening the digital economy. The members have a principle of openness: their focus is on changing government's relationship with technology.

That the UK is leading the charge in this area is something to be proud of. The advances evident from are impressive and matter to all of us. The relative ease of obtaining a driving licence or sorting out power of attorney from the government's websites really shows the success of Government Digital Service's mantra: "The strategy is delivery."

In the small European nation of Estonia, government digital transactions are super-fast and super-simple. Admittedly, there are only just over a million citizens. If you're one of them, your tax return will arrive pre-filled-in - all you have to do is check it and return it. Anyone who has laboured over that annual ritual in the UK will appreciate that. An Estonian government spokesman said in a statement: "We estimate that the average Estonian saves two weeks of time per year from avoiding paper-based workflows." I can believe that – and I would like those two weeks back too.

Francis Maude, the champion of the UK government's digital revolution, tells the story of how and why Estonia is such a digital pioneer in government. His equivalent in Estonia told him that significant disruption to heritage practices was the only choice because when the Russians left after independence, there was no legacy and no money. Siim Sikkut, the Estonian government's ICT policy advisor, says they have made departments comply by making it illegal for anyone to ask a single person for the same information twice: "We like to keep things simple."

In my experience, simplicity seems to be frequently sacrificed for the sake of belt-and-braces thoroughness. Not just in filling in a tax return (that is definitely getting simpler) but in most aspects of the media industry. All too often, the more detail we have available to us, the more layers of complexity we add. We build on our heritage with the new methods available to us rather than think radically about how to change everything.

It doesn't have to be this way, but it does require a change of approach in many cases. Fortunately, Adam Morgan (Eating The Big Fish and The Pirate Inside) now brings us a manual to force disruptive thinking. It's called A Beautiful Constraint and it describes how scarcity can be a stimulus for creativity and for real change. We should all adopt the behaviours of necessity to force real progress.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom