“For the merchantilisation of knowledge is bound to affect the privilege the nation-states have enjoyed, and still enjoy, with respect to the production and distribution of learning. The notion that learning falls within the purview of the State, as the brain or mind of society, will become more and more outdated with the increasing strength of the opposing principle, according to which society exists and progresses only if the messages circulating within it are rich in information and easy to decode. The ideology of communicational “transparency,” which goes hand in hand with the commercialisation of knowledge, will begin to perceive the State as a factor of opacity and “noise.” It is from this point of view that the problem of the relationship between economic and State powers threatens to arise with a new urgency.
Already in the last few decades, economic powers have reached the point of imperilling the stability of the state through new forms of the circulation of capital that go by the generic name of multi-national corporations. These new forms of circulation imply that investment decisions have, at least in part, passed beyond the control of the nation-states.” The question threatens to become even more thorny with the development of computer technology and telematics. Suppose, for example, that a firm such as IBM is authorised to occupy a belt in the earth’s orbital field and launch communications satellites or satellites housing data banks. Who will have access to them? Who will determine which channels or data are forbidden? The State? Or will the State simply be one user among others? New legal issues will be raised, and with them the question: “who will know?”
Transformation in the nature of knowledge, then, could well have repercussions on the existing public powers, forcing them to reconsider their relations (both de jure and de facto) with the large corporations and, more generally, with civil society. The reopening of the world market, a return to vigorous economic competition, the breakdown of the hegemony of American capitalism, the decline of the socialist alternative, a probable opening of the Chinese market these and many other factors are already, at the end of the 1970s, preparing States for a serious reappraisal of the role they have been accustomed to playing since the 1930s: that of, guiding, or even directing investments.”
AdAsia asked me to talk about Strategy in an Uncertain World, and Solving Problems the Saatchi Way. Here’s what I had to say.
The God that failed
Uncertainty, the new certainty
“You begin saving the world by saving one person at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics.” ~ Charles Bukowski
In Leviathan, his 1651 treatise on man’s civic existence, Hobbes refers to the State as “mortal God under immortal God”, alluding to the two drivers of constancy and meaning: Religion and the State.
With the accelerated inter -connectedness of societies on the one hand, and attritional (and largely unnecessary) wars and the abdication of forward-thinking by the State on the other, a third ‘institution’ arose in the late 20th century that could be tasked with the job of giving us a semblance of constancy and meaning – the free-market.
It’s not as outlandish as it might seem. In the developed and developing world, identity is as easily cued by what shoes you wear or what car you drive (i.e. access and taste, = choice), as much as by where you’re from or which God you worship (i.e. birth, = fate.)
The biggest ‘thing’ firms produce today, regardless of what it is they produce, is “meaning”. It goes for any major brand you could think of. Meaning is implicit in the design of a product or a service. But quite often design ends up being “clever” packaging of a feature-set, rather than its elegant core. When you think about it, this analogy explains why the iPod succeeded where better-featured mp3 players didn’t, or why Facebook and Twitter have little to fear from Google+ in its present avatar. Good design reimagines behavior; it doesn’t merely add a layer to existing behavior.
With the challenges the World faces today, we have an opportunity to take meaning-making further, and help build what Thoreau called ‘corporations of conscience’. There is a mandate to help answer the bigger questions of environmental, economic and social sustainability through meaningful design and meaningful business. To lead and build culture, not just mimic and recycle it. To make a genuine difference in the lives of people, instead of merely figuring out how to sell more to them.
We can only do this by focusing on the individual and the family, the human beings at the heart of it all, remaining cognizant of the social, political and economic braids that surround them.
The path to love is illuminated by solutions based on helpfulness, understanding and feeling, not communication based on apps, ads or activations.
In an uncertain world, that much, at least, is certain.
Strategy Director @Saatchi & Saatchi – The Lovemarks Company
I revisit Joseph Campbell’s “The Masks of God” every now and then. Always enlightening and inspirational. This is his Power of Myth series. Good to watch if you’ve got a few hours on hand, and are *really-really* fascinated by mythology and, more specifically, comparative mythology.
It’s a six-part series, I could only find part 1 on YouTube.
The Hero’s Adventure
“Power is the ability to produce intended effects.” Bertrand Russell
For most of human history, up until the end of the 20th Century, this has involved controlling the factors of production. Governments, Lobbies, Conglomerates.
In the 21st Century, Competitive Advantage may well continue as is, but I suspect a secondary politic and economy will emerge, with more nimble and adaptive participants. Whether these new structures will, in their own way, tend towards larger systems remains to be seen. I certainly hope not.
Maybe the 21st Century “anchor” for leadership will be thought leadership, not resource ownership (don’t let tech cos fool you, patents are, for example, “resource ownership”.)
Some firms will, through resources / patents / cloud services become utilities companies — much like we have power or water today, Google, Microsoft or anyone else who succeeds at cloud services will join this list. Which implies that at some point, they’ll have to be regulated/restricted by governments. Will they become utilities / allow governments to regulate them?
What will the modern firm look like? What will the modern utility look like? What will be the model of their existence? Same old? Or something new?
Fascinating times of flux ahead.
This series is perhaps the single-most brilliant thing I saw on YouTube in 2011. Posting the videos here for quick reference.
1. The Frontier Is Everywhere
2. Life Looks For Life
3. A Reassuring Fable
4. Per Aspera Ad Astra
5. SETI – Decide To Listen
6. The Final Shuttle Launch
7. The Long Astronomical Perspective
8. The Gift Of Apollo