Large corporations’ enthusiasm for giving conference rooms offbeat names can no longer be considered a mere fad. The practice has been around too long, and is now a fixture (Leah Fessler in Quartz). Labeling these often otherwise indistinguishable rooms has become a method for a firm to tell the world what it’s all about. As business scholar Sarah Brazaitis puts it in Quartz, “Companies that name their conference and meeting rooms according to themes are doing so to communicate their values and organizational culture to their employees, customers, clients, and all who enter.”
The Quartz piece offers a lengthy, though hardly exhaustive, catalog of some representative conference-room-naming practices today. Sometimes the schemes are straightforward: At Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the names are those of legendary space explorers. Twitter uses bird species and, since moving into its downtown San Francisco HQ, names related to the history of its home town.
CMO Jonathan Craig on Schwab culture, philosophy, and staying ahead of fintech competitors
Charles Schwab may be forty years old, but its founding ethos of industry disruption remains central to its mission, according to Jonathan Craig, Schwab’s CMO. In a wide ranging interview, Craig covers how the company continues to focus on cutting cost from the financial services industry, how it competes with nimble “fintech” competitors, and how to bring trust back to a sector badly damaged by its own failings during the Great Recession of 2008–2009.
Stung by charges that it had become a lie amplifier, Facebook has announced a set of experiments to combat “fake news.” Users will be able to flag stories for review by third-party fact-checkers, and those confirmed as problematic will get tagged with warnings. In Steven Levy’s Backchannel piece on the move, Facebook leaders say their goal is to go after “clear black-and-white hoaxes, the bottom of the barrel, worst of the worst part of the fake news” — like the stories that claim the Pope endorsed Donald Trump or that Hillary Clinton kept sex slaves in a pizzeria.
Good luck to you, Facebook! You’ve just brought an algorithmic knife to a partisan machine-gun fight. You hope you can avoid taking sides, but the conservative part of your customer base is already rejecting the third parties — like Snopes, Politifact, and the AP — to whom you have outsourced the factchecking (Business Insider). And you’ve now incentivized partisan hordes to click “dispute” on all the stories they don’t like, true or false.
The rise of the self-driving car will free up huge chunks of downtown real estate now dedicated to parking for other, better uses: parks and green belts, housing and shops. Clive Thompson paints this future portrait in Mother Jones.
Millennials love downtowns and don’t love cars nearly as much as previous generations. As autonomous vehicle tech matures, we’re going to need a lot fewer cars, we’re going to use them more efficiently, and we’re going to need a lot less room to park. A full switch to self-driving vehicles could reduce urban parking needs by 90 percent.
It’s easy to believe we’re living in the golden age of startups. If you live in a tech hub like San Francisco or Seattle or a cultural magnet like Austin or Portland, that’s the water you’re swimming in. But the data doesn’t always bear out this perception. Startup formation in the U.S. has actually been declining slowly and steadily since the 1980s, according to The Wall Street Journal.
How can that be? It might be a side-effect of the demographic moment, with boomers heading into retirement and millennials not quite hitting their company-founding stride. Some businesses blame new regulations passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis — though the decline started well before those changes. Maybe its just a sign of a maturing national economy.
We live in an era of stunning innovation yet stagnant growth. In Vox, Timothy Lee explores various ways to explain this “productivity paradox” (not to be confused with the other productivity paradox, the one that wondered why infotech wasn’t making the U.S. more productive). The conventional argument is that we’re measuring badly and failing to capture the positive impact of all those innovative ideas. Either that, or we’re over counting the amount of innovation that’s actually taking place and thereby expecting more growth than we’ve really earned.
But what if it’s an accurate picture, and somehow our innovations are actually holding growth down? The more productivity we eke out of traditional manufacturing jobs, the more people end up taking service jobs, which aren’t as optimizable. We end up in a society where “a small minority of people will produce the world’s material goods and automated services, while the rest of us are focused on providing personalized services to each other.”
“If you want to receive something you’ve never had, you are going to have to do something you’ve never done.” — Chuck Hodges
In the late 1800’s, the United States was the dominant presence in the whaling industry. At $10mm — more than $20 billion in today’s dollars — it was the fifth largest sector of the US economy. Whales provided a source of energy (oil for lamps) and the basis of a number of luxuries (perfumes, umbrellas, etc.). Centered in Massachusetts, the industry was a major driver of employment and productivity.
The US’s dominance in whaling was largely due to innovation — larger/faster ships, better harpoons, improved winch technology for hoisting sails, and better compensation. The latter two innovations were especially interesting. The winch technology reduced the manpower needed on ship. Less sailors led to more profits and productivity. And the industry’s compensation model was one of the first true innovations in pay. Instead of an hourly or daily wage, the sailors were paid a percentage of what they brought back to shore. A true alignment of interests, driving higher productivity.
How Marc Pritchard works with Google, Facebook, and Snapchat to help P&G transition to a new world order
If you’re a senior executive running a massive American consumer goods corporation, there’s plenty to keep you awake at night. Customer behaviors are shifting dramatically, and nimble startups, devoid of legacy business practices, are growing larger in your rear view mirror. Traditional mass market approaches to marketing and brand building, once centered around three networks and a strong creative brief — have fractured into an algorithmic tangle driven more by math and data than ideas and narrative.
And if the startups and the data aren’t enough, there’s the law of large numbers: Wall Street demands growth, and growth is hard when your revenue base exceeds hundreds of billions of dollars, and your core markets are flat to down.
Just one business day after I wrote Can Purpose Be Acquired?, which keyed off Unilever’s purchase of Dollar Shave Club and its possible acquisition of The Honest Company, another shoe dropped: Unilever acquired Seventh Generation, for a reported $700mm. But a funny thing was missed in nearly all the business reporting around the deal: Like Ben & Jerry’s before it, Seventh Generation negotiated an unusual clause in its deal that insured Unilever would maintain and protect Seventh Generation’s core mission and purpose.
It’s not like either party was hiding the fact: Seventh Generation’s CEO posted a note about the arrangement, and the company confirmed the details of the deal to me the day it was announced. But for the most part, coverage of the deal focused on how the acquisition positions Unilever to compete with its nemesis P&G in various product categories, or how Unilever has “gone green.”
This past week brought blockbuster news on the M&A front — Unilever, fresh from relieving Dollar Shave Club of its investors, is in preliminary talks to buy The Honest Co., for all intents and purposes turning Paul Polman into the new patron saint of the LA startup scene.