E-commerce turbo-boost. It’s official — the world’s largest retailer is going to buy e-commerce startup Jet.com for $3 billion (Recode). A move against the Amazon threat, as most media reports argue? Sure — but more importantly, a broader acknowledgment that even the biggest and most efficient company today can’t figure out the future by itself. It’s hard to look around corners when you own the whole street. Walmart rose to its retail dominance by inventing new distribution and pricing systems, but like most industry leaders, it came to face the innovator’s dilemma. Jet offers Walmart some novel algorithmic low-pricing techniques, as well as some startup-speed talent. But history suggests it might take more than an acquisition for Walmart to stay on top. Meanwhile, Jet’s team took only two years to grow to triple-unicorn value by reliably delivering low prices online. (The Walmart-Jet deal is exactly the kind of BigCo-NewCo cross-fertilization that the NewCo Shift Forum event next February is all about.)
Economy stuck in low-grow land. Forget market swings and mega-deals for a second and zoom out to fundamentals: What you see is a new economic normal of low inflation, low unemployment, low interest rates — and low growth. How’d that happen (New York Times)? The gap between long-term U.S. growth of 2 percent (the late 20th-century average) and the 1 percent typical since 2000 explains a lot of today’s news, including the stubborn persistence of inequality and the rise of populist anger. Is our economy “fundamentally broken”? Or did recent generations just experience a one-time boom, and then overestimate how cool new tech would keep it going? Of course, we could be measuring “growth” all wrong (see: GDP). Or we could be in for a rough century. No one’s suggesting a quick fix, but a big spend on infrastructure looks promising to leaders across the political spectrum.
Trump’s aging economic blueprint. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump aimed to put some economic-policy meat on the angry bones of his agenda today (Washington Post). In a Detroit speech, he laid out new proposals to place a moratorium on all new federal regulations, cap business taxes, end the estate tax, and add a new tax break for childcare. Most of these ideas come straight from the age-old GOP playbook, unlike Trump’s opposition to new trade pacts and his openness to infrastructure spending. But they don’t suggest he has any familiarity with, or interest in, the next wave of mission-driven, tech-powered economic change that’s already transforming U.S. cities. His all-white-guy panel of economic advisers is full of old-school thinkers and players. And he promises to end whatever limited progress the Obama administration has made to head off climate change — bad news if you expect to be alive any time in the next half-century.
Office burnout is nothing new. A historian finds evidence of workplace exhaustion dating back to ancient Rome (BBC). The Victorians called it “neurasthenia,” the Mad Men era talked of “nervous breakdown,” and today we say “depression” a lot. One constant: We’re not sure what causes it. At least we have more tools to combat it — from meds to cognitive therapy, and mood-mapping apps to smarter lighting. One principle that surfaces in study after study: giving people more control over their work lives helps them recharge.
The electric Kool-Aid startup trip. “Exec drops acid, rethinks business plan” might sound like a headline ripped from the 1960s, but psychedelics have never entirely vanished from the business landscape, and lately they’re making a comeback. Microdosing (Rolling Stone), which purportedly offers a mild workday edge, has its adherents. But for CEOs looking for a more profound pivot, there’s this: a Peruvian mountain retreat with a main course of the potent hallucinogen ayahuasca (California Sunday Magazine). This “Silicon Valley-style hack” offers some a short-cut to intuitive insights and empathy. Participants report world-view transformations; also, vomit.
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