Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Open Data and the Future of Business (Vol. 3)

[Editor’s Note: As I explained yesterday in volume 2 and the day before in volume 1, this is an email exchange between myself and Johnny Vulkan. This is the third and final installment of a conversation that could have easily gone on for about 40 more. It started on March 10, 2009 and ended last week. This is an experiment, let me know if you like it.]

From: Johnny
To: Noah
Date: March 30, 2009

Ahhh… the Google public offering… that takes me back. I wonder how history will record the last two decades from 1990-2010. They witnessed the dot com boom, a dot com crash and now the worst recession most of us have ever experienced. Luckily we’ll have lots of tweets to look back on for the latter part so that will help clear things up for future generations….hmmm.

The apprentice anarchist in me feels that Jack Welch, while belatedly coming to the defence of the ‘long term view’ when it comes to results, doesn’t go far enough. We maybe need a more radical reappraisal of business and the ‘rules’.

We’ve collectively created business as a game with its own scoring system of highs and lows. Games get played, and games need winners and losers. That is what business has become. Someone wins. Someone has to lose. We have dehumanized business into a televised sporting franchise with a scoreboard. But lets look at what a business really is. It’s simply a group of people organized to make a good or service that those people would like to be paid for delivering. They are you and me, the guy next door. People with families, dogs, cats and occasionally a collection of Swarovski crystal ornaments. They’re just people.

If you stop playing the game of business and let go of the notion that you have to win and your competitor has to lose then you stop fixating on scoring systems and start thinking about the people and communities involved. This was easy when ‘business’ meant the baker and butcher in your town who knew you and your family. You’d care about them and you felt that they cared about you. The only games being played involved the weekend and a ball (of varying diameters and materials depending on your continent).

I don’t think we’ll return to having a swathe of high street bakers anytime soon – and a nostalgic longing for a falsely remembered past shouldn’t be our our aim – but we may get to a point where business redefines its role away from delivering a focus on “shareholder” value and towards the wider concept of “stakeholder” value. “Shareholder” is a increasingly bankrupt term (pun intended) as it encompasses the guy who founded the company, to the tea lady who has worked there twenty years but more omniously the fund that shorted your stock last week, will pump and dump a week later and buy low again the week after that. These volume players have all the information and abused it to play on the margins while the tea lady had her stock locked into her 401K/pension. It’s simply a shambles.

If we can get businesses to truly think in terms of stakeholders you start including customers (remember them?), the local town and community you work in, your employees and yes… people that genuinely invested in your business because they believed in it. A romantic notion maybe, but one I’d like to aim for.

So, how do we do it? Simple really. Legal reform. Financial reform. A new market that allows businesses to get funding for development – not one designed on lose ‘principles’ of gambling. Oh yeah, we may need to reinvent the concept of capitalism too. Shouldn’t take long, we just need to decided to begin.

JV

Read all three: Volume 1, Volume 2 and Volume 3.

April 15, 2009