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In a Flyover State: Get Out a Little, Will You?

I’ve written before in this space about how we all live in our little vacuum and how good it is to hear the voices of outsiders talking about our business. I am fortunate enough to do that when I teach my class Wednesday nights over at UCLA and hear a bunch of twenty-somethings telling us how clueless we all really are about content delivery.

But that’s not enough. If you really want to do your job better, you need to make an effort to step out of your bubble far enough to hear smart people talk about best practices going on in other businesses. Not only can you, um, borrow their ideas, but you can often find new and useful perspectives.

I was given the chance to do exactly that recently when asked to host an evening keynote conversation with CBS Corp. Chairman/CEO Leslie Moonves at Intel’s annual CEO Summit. It is an invite-only gathering of 800 top execs from companies of all disciplines. And while I had a blast talking with Moonves about everything from adultery-centered The Good Wife to why Tiger Woods should have kept his club in his bag, it was the few hours before our conversation that really were the treat for me.

I arrived at the summit in time to hear some of the other very impressive speakers, beginning with Intel’s own CEO Paul Otellini, who basically announced that our entire world is going to change in the next few years, so don’t get too used to anything.

Next up was Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn, who said that 40% of the merchandise bought from his company online is picked up in stores rather than delivered. Think about what that means to your business and how some old habits die hard. Many people will priceshop online, and they may even purchase online, but a lot of people still want a face-toface experience of some sort, especially when it comes to big-ticket items. Or maybe they just don’t want to pay delivery charges.

I also learned that people are now paying $300 for something called Beats headphones, courtesy of Dr. Dre and new American Idol cast member Jimmy Iovine. Haven’t heard of them? Don’t worry, not a single person in the audience had either.

Next up was John Major, former prime minister of the United Kingdom. If you are a political or economics buff like I am, this was heaven. In a very chic pink tie, Major pushed his belief that the Euro isn’t going anywhere (though England will never join it) and that the big budget cuts going on in England would probably not be a terrible playbook from which to borrow on our side of the pond.

Major’s blunt assessment of our economic challenges may not have frazzled everyone in attendance, but the next talk I heard would have scared anyone.

Major was followed by four breakout panels. I purposely picked the one I knew the least about, a panel called In Pursuit of Ubiquitous Computing, hosted by Stephen Pawlowski, the Intel Architecture Group’s chief technology officer. I’m relatively sure that 40% of what the tech company CEOs in the room were talking about was actually in a different language. For instance, they kept mentioning something called “Mega- Flops,” and they weren’t referring to My Generation or Lone Star.

But what came through loud and clear was what Pawlowski heard from a counterpart he deals with at the Central Intelligence Agency. The bottom line: Don’t use Facebook, don’t ever take your laptop abroad and if you use a GPS in a rental car, clear out all your destinations from it before you return the car. Don’t ask why, or the CIA guy will have to kill you.

What does all this have to do with the TV business? Absolutely nothing. And that’s the point. Get out once in a while and take your brain for a stroll. Get away from ratings and CPMs. Go hear really smart people talk about what’s going in their world; hear them share their best practices. And then steal them and take all the credit: That’s just good business.

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