Shift Forum Wrap: Ideas For Surviving the Future


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

Robert Reich at NewCo Shift Forum

NewCo’s Shift Forum raised some loud alarms about what could happen at the crossroads where business and society stand today. But as it proceeded, the event, which we just wrapped up, began to build some roll-up-your-sleeves momentum, too. Speakers — more than 75, all on one track — gave attendees a generous helping of creative, risky, sometimes improbable ideas for breaking our economic, political, and social logjams.

Here’s a whirlwind tour of some of these we heard at the Forum heard—prototypes and proposals for institutional, personal, or collective adaptation to our disrupted times.

Robert Reich: Guarantee Jobs and Salaries

Former secretary of labor Robert Reich, predicting that we’re going to leave behind Democrats vs. Republicans for a new political divide between authoritarian populism and progressive populism, suggested that we can trade in the “shareholder capitalism” that has failed to improve the lot of most Americans in the last four decades and return to the “stakeholder capitalism” that preceded it in the U.S. and is serving other countries effectively today.

One concrete example of what that could look like: a “reemployment system” that guarantees people who lose their jobs will get a new one that pays as well within six months, using wage insurance, relocation assistance and similar mechanisms. The tech industry could help with an app that gives people easy, comprehensive information about the government programs and benefits available to them.

John Podesta: Get to the Bottom of Russia’s Election Hack

John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chair whose personal email was hacked and posted by Wikileaks, suggested one thing we could do to remedy the distrust in democracy that has spread since the election: Establish a 9/11-style commission to investigate all the unresolved questions about Russia’s meddling in the election, role in the hacking, and possible ties to the Trump campaign.

“We ought to get to the bottom of what happened,” Podesta said. Would the Republicans who control the federal government today ever embrace such an idea? Well, he points out, they resisted the 9/11 commission at first, too, but we got one eventually.

Bring Back R&D — Everywhere

Makers and Takers author Rana Foroohar traced how the financialization of the U.S. economy — the amount that’s devoted not to funding new productive enterprises but instead to trading existing assets — has impoverished the nation’s investments in research and development. Discouraging as that is, the Forum kept generating novel ideas for slipping R&D back into the U.S. economy — in places where it’s desperately needed and could make a huge difference.

Daniel Lurie, who leads the Tipping Point Foundation, realized that his foundation’s philanthropic grantees never had the resources to do R&D — to think big and test out alternative programs and services. So Tipping Point set up a lab for them. Max Ventilla’s Alt School aims to develop new models for K-12 education by making its own long-term investments in educational R&D. Instead of the usual short-term horizon of a startup, Alt School is pursuing a 10-year plan.

We Don’t Need to Build Universal Basic Income From Scratch

Money and energy is pouring into experiments in developing plans for a universal basic income program today. In the U.S., we already have the framework for such a program in place, Maya Rockeymoore, founder of the Center for Global Policy Solutions, points out. It’s called Social Security. Everyone in the U.S. is already in the system, it’s already sending checks to a whole lot of people, and it’s got nearly a century of experience in providing a safety net for citizens.

Of course, a lot of Americans believe Social Security is broken or going bankrupt — but that’s wrong, and in fact that with a few moderate adjustments it will be just fine.

Mayors Are At the Barricades

Cities are where the toughest conflicts between gig-economy business innovators and conventional labor arrangements are playing out, and Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf and Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto both run cities witnessing just such friction.

“Airbnb did not cause the housing affordability crisis,” Schaaf said. “The question is, are they making it worse or are they making it better?” Peduto argued that we should stop relying on the federal government for every fix and accept that the local level is where we’re going to find solutions as well as problems. But isn’t Washington D.C. where all the money comes from? Schaaf pointed out that even as the country was putting Donald Trump in the White House last November, regions like the San Francisco Bay Area were passing significant local tax increases and bond measures to pay for the changes they want.

Sense of Purpose Beats Pursuit of Happiness Every Time

What’s the purpose of purpose? Stanford business professor Jennifer Aaker took that impossibly abstract question and answered it with a down-to-earth philosophy to live by — one that could bolster a lot of drooping psyches in this uncertain era.

Aaker’s thesis is Zen-simple: When we set happiness as a goal, we’re in trouble, because by the time we “get” it, our concept of happiness has changed. Happiness is unreliable! But you can count on purpose. When you “anchor on purpose,” everything falls into place — not just in individual lives but in the lives of businesses and organizations. Aaker asked: What if we built companies that “maximized for purpose instead of profit”?

The Real Sharing Economy, Warriors Style

Bay Area basketball hero Stephen Curry came to the Forum to talk about his startup, a social-media tool for influencers called Slyce. But mostly what people wanted to hear from Curry was: How does anyone get to be that good at anything? His answer was: You can’t do it alone. The Golden State Warriors have applied unconventional metrics to their performance — like numbers of passes and assists — to make sure that its players cooperate and support one another on and off the court.

Something good is going to happen if everybody on the court touches the ball,” Curry says.

An engineer might imagine this as a sort of human load-balancing; a psychologist might call it “playing well with others.” Whatever you call it, it’s clearly a kind of sharing that works. (There’s a hint of the same spirit in the tech industry’s collaborative opposition to the Trump refugee ban this week.) The more of that, the better.

The End of One World, the Beginning of Another

You might fear the 2016 election marks the start of some unpredictable new phase of the American story. But Reinvent CEO Peter Leyden closed out the Forum with a “positive reframe” of the doomsday scenario. Leyden argues the Trump presidency is actually the end of something: the last gasp of a long economic and political cycle. It could be a rough ride, but before long we’ll see the birth of a new civilization — one based on sustainable capitalism, digital democracy, renewable energy, biotech innovation, and whatever else we think of next.

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