In Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda brilliantly encapsulates a working philosophy that we share here at West Monroe: "Do or do not. There is no try." In the scene, Yoda directs Luke Skywalker to bypass effort and attempt and instead commit, give it his all, and do.
Transforming from a successful business to a successful digital business requires the same commitment. Just having a digital element to your business or building out a digital capability does not make for a successful digital business. A truly digital business makes the simple commitment to understand, hypothesize, test, and learn from both users and technology—especially emerging technology that could disrupt their entire business.
Through my own exploration of emerging technologies, I came across a powerful example of an organization critically evaluating the world of emerging technology and how it could impact their long-term digital strategy: Someone at Shutterstock is clearly paying attention to digital trends.
In this post, I’ll highlight the emerging technology that is poised to impact Shutterstock, how it could threaten their current business model, and what they are doing about it—and why their approach is so important to businesses navigating a rapidly changing landscape today.
You may have heard about them: DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and others. At their core, these technologies are complex image generation tools that have been trained on large visual data sets from photography to paintings to digital artwork. They can create—with some creative text prompting from a user—new images that are a synthesis of everything in their training data.
This technology has sparked significant debate in artistic communities. One of the most prominent threads of discussion has to do with artist recognition, compensation, and ownership of imagery. There is justifiable fear around the impact this technology could have on their personal and/or professional lives as creators. Imagine a world where you can create stock photography for your marketing website with text prompts rather than photo shoots. Or where you can generate some vaguely Picasso-esque artwork on the walls of a house in your new indie video game.
Shutterstock sells creative content—like the stock photography used in ad campaigns, on websites, and in many other places you encounter daily. In their words: “We work closely with over 80,000 contributing artists to license their content…photographers, videographers, and illustrators from around the world.”
I think you can see where this is going.
Shutterstock finds itself in the middle of the “AI Generated Artwork” and “Stock Creative Content” Venn diagram. AI Generated Artwork poses a threat to Shutterstock because potential customers could potentially generate original artwork on their own or with the aid of a disruptive startup company. This could cut deeply into Shutterstock’s market share.
Rather than putting their corporate head in the proverbial sand, Shutterstock has made a bold move that signals their commitment to exploration and evolution as an organization by announcing a partnership with OpenAI. This announcement is important for three reasons:
Shutterstock is actively choosing to step to the forefront of emerging technology with a test-and-learn methodology. They have chosen to craft hypotheses, test them, and evaluate the results. This iterative process is a crucial capability for organizations that want to be truly digital and differentiated in the world—both for the effective management of their existing products and to push them to think differently about how, or if, those products and experiences deliver strong value to their users in a rapidly changing digital landscape.
Shutterstock is choosing to engage with empathy. They’re asking, “How might we compensate the people whose work goes into the creation of digitally generated artwork in a fair way?” They aren’t just cutting ties with the longstanding relationships they’ve built with 80,000+ artists. That’s how you build trust and a strong community of users. Acknowledge the change in the world, the challenges that come with it, choose a direction, learn, and pivot as needed. Be transparent and human-centered along the way.
Shutterstock is not reacting to the world of AI-generated artwork in a negative way, with bad press or an attitude of dismissal. Anyone remember the RIAA and digital music? Shutterstock is actively embracing an emerging technology that could massively disrupt their business with an attitude of exploration and learning. While I’m not a prognosticator of the future, I can imagine a world of digitally generated images and the finely wrought artwork of humans co-existing and even improving each other, all while the humans involved are fairly compensated. A company that waits around to see what happens won’t be the one that creates that future.
Would you like to know more about generative AI and how it can help or disrupt your business? Or do you think the concept of content generation via text, image, or video is a disruptor in your business? At West Monroe, we have deep experience working with generative AI frameworks, from ChatGPT to OpenAI and would love to have a conversation. Who knows? Maybe we can change the world 😉