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  • feedwordpress 21:24:25 on 2015/12/30 Permalink
    Tags: , book review, Kodak, , , Steven Overman   

    Can Business Get A Conscience? 

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    The post Can Business Get A Conscience? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

    Conscience Economy BookThis post is a book review, but it starts with a story from my past.

    Way, way back, before San Francisco begat hip startups with nonsensical names, I found myself on the second floor of a near-abandoned warehouse on South Park, now one of the priciest areas of SF, but then, one of the cheapest. I surveyed the place: well lit in the front, but a shithole in the back.  Detritus from years of shifting usage littered the ground – abandoned construction materials lurked in the poorly lit rear recesses, toward the front, where a wall of dusty industrial windows overlooked Second Street, a couch faced outward, and it was in this space I first met Louis Rossetto, founder of Wired and for all I could surmise, Willy Wonka’s twin brother from another mother.

    The floorspace around the couch was tidy and inviting, and soon Louis and I were joined by Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor – Yoda without the articulated ears. We bonded that day, and so began an extraordinary journey for me, all of 26 years old: A chance to work, play, and most importantly, engage deeply with all manners of extraordinary characters, all of whom were drawn by Wired’s early message of digital revolution.

    One of the most luminescent of these was Steven Overman, who joined Wired as Louis’ right hand. Steven brought a patina of order to our merry enterprise, but in those early days, as with so many of the band mates we called colleagues, I had no idea how fortunate we were to work with him.

    Steven is now the President of the Consumer and Film Division and CMO of Kodak, responsible for guiding a brand that once enjoyed near-infinite permissions on the difficult journey back to its birthright. Prior to Kodak, Steven held senior roles at Nokia, first during its remarkable ascendance, and then through its capitulation and ultimate defeat through combination with Microsoft. But in between, Steven’s also been a company creator – in the 20 or so years since we worked together, he’s launched multiple consulting, social impact, and services businesses – all focused on the core DNA that bound us together at Wired: The transformation of our world through a potent brew of business, technology, and culture.

    In 2014, Steven wrote a book that I now recommend to you all:  The Conscience Economy: How a Mass Movement for Good is Great for Business. That I initially missed the book’s publication, with its clear resonance with the work we’re doing at NewCo, is both a personal misgiving and a joyful revelation. That Louis wrote the foreword, in full and impossibly messianic voice, was pitch perfect – what a joy it was to once again hear his distinct tone, and then to experience Steven’s energy in the pages that followed.

    So yes, this “review” is flawed in its subjectivity, and if you’ve no patience for deep and abiding optimism, you best stop reading now. Because Steven hits the optimism pipe hard. He argues for nothing less than a global awakening to a more spiritual and conscious approach to business – a movement based on the arguably careworn idea of  “doing well by doing good.”

    This idea is not new – in fact, I’d argue the phrase has already run its initial course through business culture and been canonized – and therefore defanged – as “CSR” in Fortune 500 parlance. But Steven readily skewers mainstream approaches to “corporate social responsibility” as toothless bolt-ons to a dying business culture. CSR isn’t a sideshow, he argues, it’s the whole show. And I believe sweeping trends in society – many of which Steven details in his book – will prove him right.

    First and foremost is technology. Yes, cue the eye roll, but stay with me: As I’ve said for 15 years, technology is no longer a vertical industry, it’s a horizontal force enabling all manner of new value creation. Second is demographics: the two largest generations in our workforce are in legacy assessment phase: The purpose-driven, entrepreneurial millennials now dominate our economy, and the wealthy “joiners” we call Boomers are retiring, facing mortality, and wondering if they’ve left the world a better place.  Third is social geography: in three generations, two thirds of humanity has moved into cities, now the engines of our global culture and economy. And fourth – and most importantly – is the simple fact that all of humanity is now on a shot clock of our own creation: Climate change is the animating force uniting every person on this planet.

    These four forces are the heart of what I call the NewCo narrative, and they inform Steven’s book from start to finish. “The global wave of young entrepreneurship is an indicator not only of an increase in personal self-belief and empowerment,” he writes. “The once quaintly idealistic motivation to make a positive impact on the world has thrown off its unbleached, woven-hemp cloak of hippie self-righteousness.”

    Overman reminds us that it takes forty years for a Big Idea to move from the fringes to the mainstream, and argues that the core values of the Boomers in their youth are being embraced by their descendants, the millennials. Over those forty years, the rise of technology and the quickening of our global sustainability crisis have forged a new consciousness around how we do business. “An emergent global conscience is merely a practical prerogative for human continuity in a world facing the consequences of unchecked population growth and limited natural resources,” he writes. “We’ve reached a moment full of evidence from which we can’t turn away any longer.”

    If I have any criticism of the book, it’s that a fair portion of it offers advice to corporate executives interested in applying Overman’s ideas to practical, day to day work. While I understand the intent, it takes away from the work’s mainfesto-like qualities. Then again, I’m clearly not the core audience, and if you are laboring away in the marketing department of a large corporation, you’ll most likely find his suggestions and check lists quite useful.

    I’ll leave you with a few more quotes that I found particularly resonant, and encourage you all to read this book. It’s a keeper.

    “Businesses that engender a deeply felt sense of shared mission will be poised to attract and keep the most talented and committed employees.”

    ‘“Responsible” is patronizing and out of sync with the new culture. The next generation wasn’t introduced to environmentalism as a fringe movement; they grew up with it as a given.”

    “In this era, business innovation begins with a mission of social impact that’s as mission-critical to the enterprise as profit is today.”

    “Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is no longer invisible. It has revealed itself. The invisible hand is us, the connected citizens of the world, held out metaphorically and digitally—thumbs up, thumbs down. We like, or we don’t like, and we let everyone else know. We vote for the outcomes in which we most believe, not only with our voices but with our wallets.”

    The post Can Business Get A Conscience? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

  • feedwordpress 23:15:17 on 2014/03/24 Permalink
    Tags: , book review, dave eggers, , , the circle   

    Why You Should Read The Circle, Even If You Don’t Buy It 

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    The post Why You Should Read The Circle, Even If You Don’t Buy It appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

    thecircleLast month I finished Dave Eggers’ latest novel The Circle, the first work by a bona fide literary light that takes on our relationship with today’s Internet technology and, in particular, our relationship with corporations like Google.

    It took me a while to start The Circle, mainly because of its poor word of mouth. Most of the folks I know who mentioned it, did so in an unfavorable light. “Eggers doesn’t get our industry,” was one theme of the commentary. “He did zero research, and was proud of it!” was another. I wanted to let some time go by before I dove in, if only to let the criticism ebb a bit. It struck me that it’s not a novelist’s job to get an industry *right*, per se, but to tell a story and compel us to think about its consequences in way that might change us a little bit. I wanted to be open to that magic that happens with a great book, and not read it with too much bias.

    Once I began, I found the novel engaging and worthy, but in the end, not wholly fulfilling. I found myself wishing Eggers would reveal something new about our relationship to technology and to companies like Google, Facebook, Apple – but in that department the book felt predictable and often overdone.

    But first, a bit of background. “The Circle” refers to a fictional company by the same name, a rather terrifying monolith that arises sometime in the near future. The Circle has the arrogance and design sensibilities of Apple, the ‘we can do it because we’re smarter (and richer) than everyone else’ mentality of Google, the always-be-connected-and-share-everything ethos of Facebook, with a dash of Twitter’s public square and plenty of Microsoft’s once-famed rapaciousness. The Circle is, in short, a mashup of every major tech-company cliche in the book, which to be fair kind of makes it fun. It’s run by the “Three Wise Men,” for example, a direct nod to Google’s ten year rule of the “triumvirate” – Page, Brin, and Schmidt.

    The story revolves around Mae Holland, a young woman who jumps from a dull job at a local utility to the golden ticket that is an entry level gig at The Circle. Mae is overwhelmed by her luck and eager to please her new bosses. Early on, reading was a lot of fun, because the patter of the Circle employees feels so…familiar. Every problem has a logical and obvious solution, and nearly all of those solutions involve everyone using The Circle’s services. All employees of the Circle become citizens of the Circle, wittingly or not. They live, eat, sleep, fuck, and party with others from the Circle, because that’s how they get ahead. Mae is swept into this culture willingly, losing sight of her family, non-Circle friends, and most of the facets of her life that once defined her. And so the story is pushed along, as Mae slowly becomes a product of the Circle, even as she (unconvincingly) rebels from time to time.

    This phenomenon is certainly not foreign to any young tech worker at Google or Facebook, but Eggers takes it to extremes. He nails the breathless “save the world” mentality that often accompanies the pitches of young tech wizards, but offers no counterpoints save perhaps the reader’s own sense of improbability. For example, one exec at The Circle is working on a plan to implant a chip into every newborn’s bones, so there’d be no more child abductions. Another ruse is the sweeping adoption of “Transparency” by elected officials – every public servant uses The Circle’s technology to be “always on” while attending to their duties, so that anyone can check on them at any time (Mae ultimately goes transparent as well). Toward the end, much of government is close to becoming privatized through The Circle, because it’s more efficient, transparent, and accountable. And various ridiculous mottos espoused by The Circle – “Privacy Is Theft,” “Secrets Are Lies,” “All That Happens Must Be Known” – are readily accepted by society. All of these examples are offered as matter of fact, logical ends serving greater social means, but as readers we smirk – they are likely never happen due to issues the book fails to consider.

    Then again…It may be that the lack of contrarian views is intentional, and if you can suspend disbelief, you find yourself in the a place not unlike 1984 or Animal Farm – a twisted version of the near future where absolutists have taken over society. And it’s for the creation of that potential that I give The Circle the most credit – it litigates the idea of the corporation as Paternitas, the all seeing, all caring, all nurturing force to which individuals have forsaken themselves so as to allow a greater good. It’s too early to say whether The Circle will stand with such classics, but certainly it does stand as a warning. I found myself disturbed by The Circle, even as I found it easy to dismiss. Because its predictions were too easily made – I couldn’t suspend disbelief.

    But perhaps that’s Egger’s point. The Circle forces us to think critically about the world we’re all busy making, and that’s never a waste of time. And besides, the story has all manner of enjoyable and outlandish contours – if you work in this industry, or just find it fascinating, you’ll leave the book entertained. A worthy read.

    The post Why You Should Read The Circle, Even If You Don’t Buy It appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

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