At the intersection of technology, finance and the Pacific Rim.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I was preparing for next week on Apple and came across this interesting article on what lies in store for business over the next ten years. What are the key trends? And it comes directly from some of the innovative business minds today. Though it is not so related to the class itself (though some touch on the impact of the net), I encourage you to read it.


Blogger Jinwoo IM said...

The comments were interesting to read, especially John Mackey's.
"There's greater accountability, and more businesses are getting leadership that recognizes that we can't hide. So we better do the right thing."

10:24 AM  
Blogger LeftBack said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:52 PM  
Blogger LeftBack said...

Some musings on the Fast Company piece…..

With the notable exception of Ester Dyson, John Mackey and Alice Waters’ thoughts on how the Internet is bringing transparency to business and politics, there was much more fluff than I would have expected from an article featuring such high caliber thinkers. Let me explain myself by addressing each in turn:


Gladwell seems to think that Detroit is going out of business because America doesn’t have nationalized health insurance. Although I am an advocate for universal health care, I do not think that health care is responsible for the decline of the American auto industry except in a peripheral way.

The problem goes much deeper than that. With or without national insurance, manufacturing industries in the States are at a huge disadvantage to the burgeoning manufacturing sectors in emerging economies around the world that have available to them large pools of cheap labor. Taking some of the health care burden away from manufacturing companies would only put a bandage on this intractable handicap.

Gladwell’s comments are all about what American companies should do: they should take a greater part in social policy; they should be advocates for nationalized health insurance; they should push for opening the borders to immigration. Perhaps companies should do a lot of things – so should we all -- but because businesses are essentially self-interested entities they will not. I wish Gladwell gave a few suggestions as to how companies can be induced to help out a little more.

Each business has limited resources to commit to improving its bottom line. Game theory demonstrates that individual businesses are unlikely to commit resources to the furtherance of a common good when the derived benefits, substantial to greater society though they may be, are limited for the individual company itself.

The fact that competitors will gain freeloader advantages by sitting back makes the likelihood of any businesses taking up any of the causes Gladwell mentions, remote at best. It’s a competitive world out there; companies will not take up social causes unless they are compelled, or unless they see material benefits to doing so.

Concerning immigration, I don’t think the debate in the States is so much about legal immigration as it is about the illegal immigration pouring in from Mexico. It is the Mexican-American border that certain conservative senators want to shut down and it is this issue that is the focus of the media.

Most Mexican illegal immigrants are not skilled workers; they are laborers – and I’ve read persuasive arguments that these unskilled workers put a huge burden on America’s social net.


I wish she elaborated on her statement that companies hire on the basis of likeability. This is the first time I’ve heard that complaint, and frankly, I find it unfounded. As evidence, Ms Enrenreich brings up Michael Brown, the hapless head of FEMA. But Brown was a political appointment; he wasn’t beholden to a group of watchful shareholders. And, anyway, once he screwed up in the Katrina disaster, the (political) “market” corrected itself. Patronage appointments will be made in the future, but probably not for such mission critical posts as the head of FEMA (although with Bush you never know).

Enrenreich also claims there is a phenomenon of culling of high achievers. Really? What support does she have for this statement – she offers none. She also makes a distinction between team players and high achievers; team players stay on while the high achievers are shown the door. But are the two types mutually exclusive? After all, not all high achievers are mavericks. Some are also consummate team players.


Nothing new here. People have been prognosticating the end of the traditional office for years but it hasn’t happened yet. There’s something about the immediacy of physical proximity that facilitates collaboration.

Also keep in mind that the vast majority of jobs can not be separated from their physical context. How does a paramedic, a post man, or a cook work from home? Miller’s idea has very limited application.

Miller’s notion of “villagization” (as opposed to “globalization”) is interesting. I do agree that in many ways the Internet and other new forms of communications is fragmenting larger society into smaller and smaller like-minded subgroups.


“The end of management.” How many times have we heard that? It won’t happen; not in our lifetime anyway. Organizations are growing ever more elaborate. Managers on the ground will be required to keep things running smoothly. If Roberts thinks this can be accomplished through video conferencing he’s out to lunch.


When I read this piece I got the impression that Dubinsky had just finished the latest issue of Science magazine when the Fast Company interviewer phoned. “Intelligent computing” is an interesting development, but I wish Dubinsky had done more to explain its social implications and business applications. She mentions some of the areas in which intelligent computing may be used but she doesn’t elaborate on precisely how the new technology might be applied. I would have been interested to read about that.


As I mentioned, I found Ms. Dyson’s article insightful. I completely agree with her contention that the Internet has been a great democratizer in the sense that it has engendered a seismic shift in power away from elites and into the hands of the masses. The power of groups derives from their size and the degree to which they are organized. The Internet aggregates disparate but like-minded people into de facto lobby groups which often hold a tremendous amount of persuasive power. It’s been a boon to grass-roots movements including the anti-war effort, the American conservative movement, environmentalists, and the anti-globalization movement.

Something that Ms Dyson really didn’t comment on was the power of the Internet to organically mould a message. Bulletin boards are a great example of this: an idea is proposed; someone counters; another agrees then adds to the message; and so on. Public discourse has moved from the town square to blogs.

Just as an aside, I found it amusing that Dyson directly contradicts Barbara Enrenreich with her comment that: “Business will have to respond to … transparency by hiring and retaining better people.”


Other than the fact that design will be applied in areas it had not been applied before, I didn’t see much a point in what Tim Brown had to say – most likely a failing on my part.


Like Esther Dyson, John Mackey speaks to the notion of transparency and how the Internet (and more invasive investigative journalism) is behind the trend to greater accountability. Unlike Gladwell, Mackey explains in concrete terms how companies may be persuaded to become better corporate citizens (although I’m still skeptical on this point).


I love his observation that a growing number of people prefer e-mail as a means to avoid human contact. It’s so true.


Having read “Fast Food Nation” and watched the movie “Supersize Me” it was hard for me not to like Ms Waters’ message. I really do believe that we, as a society, have corrupted our diet through over processing food and by employing mass food production techniques. Mad cow disease, for example, is a direct result of meat producers feeding livestock reprocessed bio-waste instead of hay because it was found to be more cost-efficient. Fish farming and mass chicken farming are also introducing toxins into our food chain. Chickens in aircraft hanger sized coops are fed loads of antibiotics to protect them from infecting each other. These medicines are then transferred to us when we eat chicken. One of the reasons North American women hit puberty faster than women from other parts of the world is that they consume hormones through the milk they drink or the beef they eat. Feeding hormones to livestock in North America is common practice.

Ms Waters also picks up on the transparency theme when she endorsees eco-gastronomy: “a hands-on understanding of where our food comes from, how it’s produced, and the traditions and rituals of eating it. When people know what the chickens are being fed, all of a sudden the chickens taste better.”

Ms Waters suggests that the notions of eco-gastronomy and biodiversity, because they can not be scaled up, are antithetical to big business. John Mackey, who runs the nation’s leading natural and organic grocery chain with 4.7 billion in annual sales might have something to say about that. Anyway, Ms Waters’ message is still appealing. She’s right when she says that we’ve disassociated ourselves from the natural world.

5:37 PM  
Anonymous CZY said...

I agree with the comments stated by "leftback", especially the one on Avram Miller's comment.

Although it's true that the company sizes are reducing in size more and more, and where the employees are working is not such a critical factor, this does not apply to each and every industry. I think we have to keep in mind here that Avram Miller is a consultant for Internet companies.

Currently I work with a team leader that is on a half-time schedule. Thus, she is at work half of the hours other team members are present. Although we still have e-mails and phones available every second, when she is not physically present at work, another person takes charge and gets the work done just because it is more expeditious to share information face-to-face and to follow-up on issues as soon as they happen. Although there are hours employees waste by sitting around with no work, when an urgent issue comes up, it is the employees that are present at the workplace that can get into action quickly and make things happen.

11:27 AM  
Blogger bayu said...

Wow, all of these comments is so interesting.

I like when Donna Dubinsky said that "Our hope is that intelligent computing will help us accelerate our knowledge of the world, let us explore the universe, and make the world safer".

It become useless if intelligent computing or whatsoever the name is used to developed a mass destruction weapon.. =(

3:18 PM  
Blogger Jinwoo IM said...

I want to share some phrases of Steve Jobs address with you.
This was the second time I read that article.
But, in this time, the article seems to be more moving.

I loved what I did.


If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.


Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.


Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.


Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Stan Sakai said...

Good comments by Leftback. I encourage all of you to go to Alice Water's restaurant in Berkely, the cafe at Chez Panisse. This restaurant is consistently rated among the top dining experiences in the US, and the cafe serves the same food. The reason is that she believes that great food should not be the sole province of the "elite".

Stan Sakai

12:14 PM  
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7:00 PM  

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