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  • feedwordpress 00:58:35 on 2016/02/29 Permalink
    Tags: BigCos, management, NewCo, unicorns   

    Growth Is Hard 

    The post Growth Is Hard appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

    Zuckerberg1The business story of the decade is one of insurgency: Every sector of our economy has spawned a cohort of software-driven companies “moving fast and breaking things,” “asking for forgiveness, not permission,” and “blitzscaling” their way to “eating the world.” For years we’ve collectively marveled as new kinds of companies have stormed traditional markets, garnering winner-take-all valuations and delivering extraordinary growth in customers, top line revenue, and private valuations.

    But what happens when the insurgents hit headwinds? In the past year or so, we’ve begun to find out. The unicorn class has had its collective mane shorn. A quick spin through the “unicorn leaderboard” finds a cohort strewn with cautionary tales: Uber’s under continual attack by regulators and increasingly well funded competitors. Square and Box, both of which managed tepid public debuts, have consistently traded below their private valuations. Airbnb, SnapChat, DropBox, and many others have been marked down by their largest investors. And of course, there’s the cautionary tale of Zenefits.

    While this news has evinced a self-congratulatory whiff of schadenfreude throughout the tech press, I think the reckoning is more fundamental in nature. The hardest part of running a company, it turns out, is actually running a company. Put another way: Growth can be bought, but growing up has to be earned.

    Take Uber, for example. Once a poster child for a culture of “ask for forgiveness, not permission,” Uber is now taking a more traditional approach to new markets, meeting (and working with) local regulators, hiring seasoned pros, and learning how to play politics just like any other big company. It even gave itself a new grown-up “haircut.”

    Young companies built on venture-fueled cultures of grow-at-all costs are facing a shift: The essential truth of business is that you must create value for all constituents — your employees, your customers, and your community. That last part may sound squishy, but it’s the soft stuff that can kill you. Learning to become a respected corporate citizen isn’t on the minds of founders and executives chasing top line revenue and lofty private valuations. But at some point, it will be. I think that moment is nigh.

    Facebook is a good example. In 2014 it changed its internal motto from “Move Fast and Break Things” to “Move Fast With Stable Infrastructure.” Among companies I like to call “established insurgents,” Facebook stands out for mindfully transitioning from a culture of youthful arrogance to one of continual learning and partnership. I spend a fair amount of time talking to senior folks at large, established “BigCos,” the kinds of companies that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on platforms like Facebook and Google. Nearly all of them have commented on Facebook’s maturing culture, noting in particular that the company genuinely wants to learn from its big company partners.

    What could Facebook possibly learn from a Nestle, P&G, or a Ford, you might ask? We sometimes forget that the current crop of unicorns aren’t the first group of companies to transition from roaring startup culture to Blue Chip incumbency, or from regulatory outlaw to lobbying insider.

    Yes, the insurgents threaten the incumbents’ very existence. But they face their own existential questions as well: “How do I build a company that will last for generations? How can I maintain a strong corporate culture now that I have thousands of employees? How do I work productively with regulatory and policy frameworks, now that I’m an established player?”

    Turns out, BigCos have decades of experience with exactly those kinds of questions. Over the next few years, I predict the two sides will increasingly engage in a dialog about how each might learn from the other. In many cases, the dialog has already spawned partnerships: Whole Foods and Instacart, Ford and Lyft, Earnest and New York Life. In the end, the established insurgents and the BigCo incumbents have more to gain from working with each other than they do by tearing each other down. In the process, we might just re-invent the very nature of business itself — taking the best of both sides, and abandoning the worst. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

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  • feedwordpress 05:54:31 on 2016/02/16 Permalink
    Tags: BigCo, , , NewCo,   

    The NewCo-BigCo Shift or, These Nine Things Will Change Business Forever 

    The post The NewCo-BigCo Shift or, These Nine Things Will Change Business Forever appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

    VIP Dollar Shave Club

    Addressing the crowd at Dollar Shave before interviewing CEO Michael Dubin during NewCo LA last November.

    (cross posted from NewCo)

    Thanks to NewCo, I’ve gotten out of the Bay Area bubble and visited more than a dozen major cities across several continents in the past year. I’ve met with founders inside hundreds of mission-driven companies, in cities as diverse as Istanbul, Boulder, Cincinnati, and Mexico City. I’ve learned about the change these companies are making in the world, and I’ve compared notes with the leaders of large, established companies, many of which are the targets of that change.

    As I reflect on my travels, a few consistent themes emerge:

    1. Technology has moved from a vertical industry to a horizontal layer across our society. Technology used to be a specialized field. Technology companies sold their wares to large companies in large, complicated IT packages and to consumers as discrete products (computers and software applications). In the past decade, technology has dissolved into the fabric of our society. We all can access powerful technology stacks. We don’t need to know how to program. We don’t need a big IT department either. Now, technology is infrastructure, like our physical systems of highways and roads. This levels the playing field so new kinds of companies can emerge, and it’s forcing big companies to respond to a new breed of competitor, as well as a newly empowered (and informed) consumer base.

    2. Big companies are on the precipice of the most wrenching transformation in history — and tech is only part of the reason why. BigCos change very slowly. They are cautious by nature and extremely suspicious of “the new.” BigCos study new developments and wait for proof before they change. As digital technology spread through society over the past three decades, big companies were slow to get a web page, slow to conduct business over the web, slow to lean into mobile and social, and slow to respond to new types of startup competition. Of course, now that the web is mature and consumer platforms like Facebook and Google are massive, BigCos have shifted resources to digital. But that last point — responding to startup and business model competition — is far more problematic, because responding to new kinds of competition isn’t something you can outsource. It requires a fundamental shift in corporate social structure — and culture is hard to change.

    3. The next generation’s leaders don’t want to work at BigCos (if they don’t have to). In the past year I’ve met with senior executives at massive companies like Nestle, Publicis, P&G, Walmart, Visa, and McDonald’s. When I ask what keeps them up at night, all of them answer “hiring the next generation of leaders.” The best and brightest now see “launching a company,” “working at a startup,” or “working at a digital leader like Google or Facebook,” as a preferable career choice, starving BigCos of their most valuable asset: talent. While one might dismiss young professionals’ penchant for startups as a fad or a phase, there’s something far deeper at work, namely …

    4. A job is table stakes. To win talent, companies must compete on purpose, authenticity, and organizational structure. Millennials are now the largest force in the global economy, and they have a markedly different view of work: Purpose and “making a difference in the world” are central in their work-related decisions. They’d rather work at The Honest Company than Unilever, if given a choice — and the best and brightest always have a choice. Members of the next generation want to be at a company where work means more than a paycheck. They believe work can be a calling (Reich) or an expression of our creativity (Florida). BigCos aren’t currently organized to enable their workforces in this way (human resources, anyone?), but NewCos — even the very largest ones like Google — most definitely are.

    5. Today’s consumers are newly empowered and are making decisions on more than price. If millennials are choosing employers based on purpose and authenticity, it follows that they decide how they spend their money in similar fashion. Convenience, selection, and price are important, but new kinds of competitors are exposing weaknesses in big companies’ essential truths, and that’s an existential threat. Dollar Shave Club questions Gillette’s core premise, MetroMile questions Geico’s core premise, Earnest does the same to large financial institutions, HolaLuz to energy companies, and the list goes on. Companies profiting from practices or products that demonstrably create more harm than good in the world are threatened in an age of transparency and accountability. Regardless of good intent or excellent marketing, if your business makes people unhealthy, or depends on exploitation of vulnerable workers, or can be laddered to climate change, it’s at risk of mass consumer migration to businesses with better narratives.

    6. The platform economy means traditional competitive moats are falling away. Today’s largest consumer companies earned their power by consolidating and optimizing their access to commodities (what their products were made of), manufacturing (how their products were made), and distribution (where their products were sold and how people became aware of them). They were built on humanity’s first global platforms: television and mass transportation networks. We all know that the Internet undermined this hegemony; physical distribution is no longer a surefire competitive advantage (just ask Walmart). But what’s not well understood is how quickly other parts of the product stack have become platform-ized. Just as startups can now access technology as a service, they can also access sourcing and manufacturing as a service (Dollar Shave doesn’t make its blades, for example). This of course bolsters point #5 above: If any company can access the same economies of scale, brands must compete on more than price or distribution, they must compete on voice, innovative (and information-first) approaches to markets, and purpose.

    7. Cities are resurgent. I just returned from Mexico City, which earlier this month hosted its first NewCo festival. While there, I heard a refrain consistent with my visits around the world: The city is changing for the better and new kinds of companies are at the heart of that change. When people gather at NewCo meetups or inside NewCo sessions, I keep hearing “There’s just no way these kinds of companies could have made it in this city ten years ago.” Coupled with the horizontal force of technology and the rise of a purpose-driven zeitgeist, cities have become both the epicenter of humanity’s greatest challenges, as well as the birthplace of our greatest innovation. One generation ago, one-third of humanity lived in urban centers. Today, it’s more than 50 percent. One generation from now, more than two-thirds of us will reside in the tangled banks of a city center, and that number will surpass 80 percent by the end of this century. Cities offer access to capital, education, regulatory frameworks, and a collaborative density of human curiosity and connections. It’s where great companies are born and grow.

    8. BigCos are deeply aware of all this — and a massive shift is about to reveal itself. For as long as I’ve been in the media and technology business, I’ve heard big company executives proclaim they were committed to change. But it always rang hollow: Large companies expended far more resources preventing change than they ever did committing to it. Over the past year, however, I’ve sensed a deep shift in the tone of my conversations with BigCos. These are some of the smartest people in the world, and they understand the technological, generational, and social tectonics at play. In their board rooms and C-suites, conversations are already underway about changes so significant, they’ll be viewed as “calendar reset” moment: Before Shift and After Shift. We’re already seeing leading indicators — Walmart’s commitment to sustainability, GE’s move to Boston, Publicis’s rewritten purpose statement and organizational structure — but in the next year or two, the pace will quicken. New CEOs at category-leading companies like McDonald’s, Ford, and P&G will most likely announce stunning new initiatives that would have been inconceivable a decade ago.

    9. The best NewCos realize there’s a lot to learn from the BigCos. After years of feasting on BigCo markets, “established upstarts” like Google, Facebook, Uber, Zenefits, and Square are transitioning from cultures based on “move fast and break things” and “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” Their leaders are now turning to questions like “How do I build a company that will last for generations? How can I maintain a strong corporate culture when I have thousands of employees? How do I work productively with regulatory and policy frameworks, now that I’m an established player?” Turns out, BigCos have decades, if not centuries, of experience in answering these kinds of questions. In my conversations with leaders of both NewCos and BigCos, I sense a new kind of detente as each side realizes how much it has to learn from the other. In the coming months and years, I expect we’ll see a lot more cooperation between the two.

    In the coming months, NewCo will be focused on exploring these business trends, with new media and event products. If you’d like to join the conversation, please follow us on Facebook or Twitter, share this post, and/or sign up for our daily newsletter. We believe this the most important story in business, and we’re committed to covering it for you.

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    — —

    * A note on climate change: Our society’s response to climate change is one of the most remarkable issues ever to face humankind. More than 70% of Americans now believe that climate change is real, and more than half of the world views the issue as the most serious global threat to humanity. And climate change is to Millennials what mutually-assured destruction was for Boomers: An existential threat. Whether or not you believe in this threat, climate change is now a social and business fact, a force affecting billions of decisions large and small around the world. Consumers are voting with their conscience, forcing unsustainable businesses to adopt provable, net positive products and processes. When Unilever, Walmart, Pepsi and scores of others align with the Pope on sustainability, a movement is most certainly afoot.

    The post The NewCo-BigCo Shift or, These Nine Things Will Change Business Forever appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

     
  • feedwordpress 01:18:27 on 2016/01/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , NewCo, Obama, SOTU   

    Business, Meet Mission: With His Final #SOTU, Obama Reframed The Climate Debate 

    The post Business, Meet Mission: With His Final #SOTU, Obama Reframed The Climate Debate appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

    2011_State_of_the_Union

    President Obama’s final State of the Union address is currently trending on Medium, which is pretty much what you might expect given Medium is where the White House decided to release it (take that, Facebook! — though a piece about building Instagram has about twice as many recommendations, but I digress…).

    I watched the speech last night while at a company retreat with 18 of my colleagues from NewCo. Over and over, the President hit on trends consistent with our thesis of fundamental change in business and culture. For example, he spoke of decoupling benefits such as healthcare from employers, because in the NewCo era, people move between jobs a lot more (or are self employed, or want to leap into a startup). Obama spoke of living in a time of extraordinary technological and social change, of a deepening and troubling social inequality, of optimism and hard work and a right to thrive in “this new economy.”

    But what really got my attention was when he addressed innovation and coupled it to climate change, about halfway through his speech.

    “We’ve protected an open internet,” he said, “We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.”

    A very NewCo sentiment. But then he turned his focus squarely on climate change, which I believe will be the defining issue of both business and culture over the next 40 years. First, he set up those who would deny that climate change is real (pretty much the entire Republican establishment). Making a direct reference to the era of Mutually Assured Destruction — which until climate change marked the only time mankind created an existential threat to humanity — Obama ridiculed climate deniers:

    “When the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon.”

    Jabbing further, Obama continued:

    “Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”

    And then he landed a devastating left hook (the President is left handed, after all):

    “But even if the planet wasn’t at stake; even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record — until 2015 turned out even hotter — why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?”

    BAM! Nothing like turning the single biggest threat to humanity into a massive business opportunity with one rhetorical flourish! It was almost laughable to watch the gallery respond to that one, as the Democrats applauded thunderously, and the climate-denying right wing struggled to figure out if they just missed something important.

    Because, truth is, they are missing out. If the United States doesn’t lead in the transition to a business culture that values sustainability, clean energy, and a work ethos that views people not as replaceable “human resources” but rather as invaluable creative assets, well, the rest of the world will lap us within a generation.

    In my travels to NewCo festivals in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Istanbul, London, and soon Mexico City, I’ve seen the future, and it couldn’t care less about our internal debate about climate change, sustainability, and work culture. The future’s already happening. We can either lead, or get pushed out of the way. What excited me about last night is that for the first time, I heard a sitting President say exactly that. And once again, it gave me hope.

    Follow my work at NewCo with our daily newsletter here.

    The post Business, Meet Mission: With His Final #SOTU, Obama Reframed The Climate Debate appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

     
  • feedwordpress 23:54:02 on 2016/01/03 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , NewCo, , sports, ,   

    Predictions 2016: Apple, Tesla, Google, Medium, Adtech, Microsoft, IoT, and Business on a Mission 

    The post Predictions 2016: Apple, Tesla, Google, Medium, Adtech, Microsoft, IoT, and Business on a Mission appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

    Nostradamus_propheciesTwelve years of making predictions doesn’t make writing them any easier, regardless of my relatively good showing in 2015. In fact, I briefly considered taking the year off – who am I to make predictions anyway? And so much has changed in the past few years – for me personally, and certainly for the industries to which I pay the most attention. But the rigor of thinking about the year ahead is addictive – it provides a framework for my writing, and a snapshot of what I find fascinating and noteworthy. And given that more than 125,000 of you read my post summarizing how I did in 2015 (thanks Medium and LinkedIn!), it was really you who’ve encouraged me to have at it again for 2016. I hope you’ll find these thought provoking, at the very least, and worthy of comment or debate, should you be so inclined.

    So let’s get to it.

    1. 2016 will be the year that “business on a mission” goes mainstream. It started in the hippie era and gained ground with well meaning but outlying companies like Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia; but it took the technology startup era to prove its merits, and the climate crisis to push it to the fore. Businesses driven by more than profit are businesses that attract the best talent, create the most value, and ultimately provide the most benefit to society. Extractive, profit-first businesses are already on the way out, but 2016 will be seen as the year their dominance peaks. This trend will evince itself in many forms: We’ll see massive older companies shift their marketing focus to purpose-based messaging – both to insure top talent considers them as a career choice, and to maintain relevance to a new generation of purpose-based consumers. We’ll see mainstream media outlets start to cover the social and environmental impact of companies in more than just annual “Doing Well By Doing Good” roundups. In fact, the mainstream press will tire of ogling shiny tech startups and idolizing their newly-rich founders. We’ll see the launch of well-funded initiatives attempting to track the “true cost” of consumer goods and services, and rising support for triple-bottom line and B corps. And of course we’ll see politicians pick up the meme – particularly in Europe – appealing to voters by demanding businesses become true citizens of our society. Oh, and our little startup, NewCo, will play a small but I hope important role in all this happening!

    2. Mobile will finally mean more than apps. Last year I predicted that a new mobile startup will force a “new approach to mobile user interfaces.” I graded myself as half right – I think last year we laid the groundwork for that new approach, but no single mobile startup was responsible for what ultimately is an ecosystem shift. That shift will accelerate in 2016, and by year’s end, we’ll find ourselves interacting with our technology in new and far more “web like” ways – bouncing from link to link, service to service, much as we did on the original web, but with the power, context, and sensor-laden enablement of mobile apps and devices. This will be aided by the widespread adoption of deep links and services like Google’s App Streaming.

    3. Twitter makes a comeback. Ouch, 2015 was not kind to Twitter, especially if you were a stockholder. But in 2016, Twitter will find a way back to mainstream relevance (and stock appreciation). How? Well, I’m threatening my own chances at getting this prediction right by being too specific, but here goes: Twitter will take Moments, which was not exactly a hit with the Twitterati (IE, folks like me), and begin to evolve it to a far more granular level. At present, Moments are very lowest common denominator – NFL highlights, reality TV roundups, you know, standard Yahoo home page crap. But if Twitter can take each of our interest graphs and create automated “Moments” that deliver true value, well, that’s something everyone would appreciate. The first version of Moments was built for those who don’t really use Twitter. The next rev will be for those that do – and that could change everything. Extra credit prediction: Twitter will tap crowd-sourced curators to create Moments, and that will create a new ecosystem of value for both the company and its constituents.

    4. Adtech and the Internet of Things begins to merge. OK, this is utterly speculative, but it just makes sense to me. The Internet of Things requires several things to really take off: First, use cases where connecting the physical to the digital adds true value. We’ve now seen enough of these to believe that “every physical item will have a chip embedded in it.” Examples include sensors in jet engines (and just about everything else of industrial significance), exercise and health wearables, and home automation, to name but a few. But as I wrote earlier this year, we must not forget the Internet when we remember the things. And the Internet wants to connect all those things, and allow them to message to each other, run auctions where value is determined and exchanged, and then transact and account for it all based on a nearly impossible to comprehend amount of data and parameters.  Our current adtech system is perfectly engineered to do do that job. Sure, it currently slings trillions of ads around the Internet on a daily basis. And I’m not predicting that we’ll see ads on your Nest thermostat anytime soon. Instead, I’m suggesting that the underlying technology powering adtech is perfectly suited to execute the highly complicated and highly performant rules-based decisioning required for the Internet of Things to touch our lives on a regular basis. The groundwork for this combination will be laid in 2016. Related: We will most likely see a blockchain-based entrant in adtech in 2016, if we haven’t already (I couldn’t find one, but I may have missed it….).

    5. Tesla’s Model 3 will garner more than 100,000 pre-orders, but Tesla will have a rough year of news. I’m as excited as anyone about a $35,000 all electric car that has a range of 200 miles and a total cost of ownership well below your average mid-market sedan. And I’m guessing when Tesla opens pre-orders in March of 2016, more than 100,000 folks will get in line to reserve one. That’d be four times the pre orders for the Model X, but that car is priced four times as high. These pre-orders will drive Tesla’s stock to untold heights, but it’s not easy being Tesla, and the reality of building both the Model 3 and its gigafactory will force setbacks and delays, and the company will most likely have a volatile year of headlines.

    6. Publishers and platforms come to terms. I like Fred’s prediction that there’ll be a reckoning between large publishers and social platforms, and that it will end badly for one or more publishers. But I’m more bullish on how publishers will leverage platforms, and in 2016, Medium, LinkedIn, and Facebook will all make strides in helping all publishers succeed – especially mid-sized ones. Twitter may as well, if the details in prediction #3 bears out.

    7. Search has a dominant year, thanks in large part to voice and AI. In the past few years, search has fallen out of favor, as industry watchers focused on the shinier new social and mobile platforms, and pointed out that search is, at its core, the product of the PC-focused web. But I think we’re very close to an era of ambient intelligence, where the world becomes query-able. It’s now quite common to ask Siri, Google, Amazon’s Alexa, and Cortana just about anything and expect a decent response (my experience is that Google runs circles around Siri, but then again, I’ve never used Alexa or Cortana). And increasingly, search happens without a query – anticipating your needs before you even make them. If you count voice and contextual queries along with more traditional “type in” traffic, search volume will be way, way up in 2016. The only question is – can revenue models shift as quickly as use cases have?

    8. Apple endures a boring year. Yes, those of you who know me well may think this is projected schadenfreude, but in fact, I think it has more to do with the laws of corporate gravity. Apple is the most highly valued company in the world, and therefore has almost unmanageable expectations to meet. With the Watch and Apple Pay already in market, most folks expect a slew of incrementalism from the company in 2016 – updated models and software versions, but short of yet another iPhone folks feel obliged to purchase, there’ll be nothing spectacular. I don’t think folks will be calling for Tim Cook’s head, but many will wonder if Apple is meandering its way toward a boring, profit-milking middle age.

    9. Microsoft and Google get serious about hardware. Microsoft has already committed to its well-regarded Surface line, and Google has been dabbling with hardware with what have essentially been limited-run, high-end products in the Chromebook Pixel and Nexus line of smart phones. But the benefits of tightly integrated hardware and software experiences will prove too tempting to both companies, and I expect them to expand their offerings in 2016.

    10. Medium has a breakout year. I’ve been watching the Medium platform closely ever since it launched, and I think 2016 will be the year Medium breaks into the world’s consciousness in a big way. Key to this happening: A native revenue model that allows publishers to really leverage the platform, and a tightly integrated loop of product development that makes reading Medium feel like reading your own, intelligently curated but still serendipitous personal magazine. Expect a slew of notable publication launches on Medium, as well as a growing number of “traditional” publishers who commit resources to the platform.

    11. China goes shopping. It didn’t really happen this year, did it? We all expected Alibaba et al to start snapping up US-based companies, but perhaps valuations were simply too high. But in 2016, highly capitalized consumer and enterprise companies with large customer bases will start to look for exits, and Chinese companies eager for a foothold in the US will start to open their wallets.

    12. Sports unbundle. The one thing keeping me from abandoning cable altogether is watching broadcasts of my beloved Giant’s home games. That’s pretty much it. I know it, Comcast knows it, the Giants and the MLB know it…and finally, I’ll be able to buy home games digitally. Most likely they’ll be offered a la carte, at a ridiculous markup, but from that toehold will come the eventual demise of the cable bundle altogether. Fear not for Comcast’s margins, however, because by 2017, Comcast will have become a major streaming competitor in its own right. But that’s a prediction for another year.

    Well, that’s a dozen, and while I could go on, I probably shouldn’t. And yes, I didn’t talk about VR (everyone else has already said it’s overhyped), or AI (it’ll be the talk of the year to be sure), and I held back from predicting any major Facebook news. Time will tell if I missed the boat there, but in the meantime, let me know what you think, and point me to your favorite predictions for the new year as well. Have a great 2016, everyone!

    Follow my work at NewCo with our daily newsletter here

    Related:

    Predictions 2015

    2015: How I Did

    Predictions 2014

    2014: How I Did

    Predictions 2013

    2013: How I Did

    Predictions 2012

    2012: How I Did

     

     

     

     

     

    The post Predictions 2016: Apple, Tesla, Google, Medium, Adtech, Microsoft, IoT, and Business on a Mission appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

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

    Can Business Get A Conscience? 

    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.

     
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