Plus your morning shots of depresso from DC, StartupLand, and more
I’m going to tip toe out on a limb here and presume that most NewCo Shift readers don’t spend their after work hours perusing the aisles at Dollar General. But our featured story today takes you inside the company behind the fast growing chain, which caters to the rural working class making $40,000 or less. It’s a tour well worth taking if you want to understand troubling trends on the US economy (where everyone is winning, remember?). Dollar General makes more profit, and has a far larger market cap, than nearly all of its more well-known competitors. Why? Well, the answer there is pretty depressing.
Urban anthropology may not be top of mind for most people (or most anthropologists for that matter), but I’m here to argue it is the key to creating livable cities for people. In fact, applying this concept to the management and design of our urban environments could be the single most important thing to ensure the livability of our urban future. This may sound outlandish, but I assure you it’s not so radical as it seems. Believe it or not, the methods used by urban anthropologists are surprisingly similar to a far more common staple of the design world: user experience research and design.
In the world of tech and product design, user experience (UX) is key. You basically can’t design something efficient for humans without it. From your favorite app to your web browser, that chair you’re sitting on to an egg beater, nearly everything goes through some kind of user testing before it’s ready for launch. Whether that’s by playtesters ahead of a video game release, or focus groups giving feedback on product messaging, vast amounts of research is being conducted in order to create the best product for “users” of all sorts.
Mom always wanted a Lexus truck. She would talk about it incessantly, cooing about her “baby shoe” whenever one of the Japanese luxury upstarts shot by us on I-395 as she drove me to school. My eyes would roll, teenaged broodiness blinding me to another of Mom’s uncountable sacrifices; she couldn’t have her baby shoe because she was spending all her money sending me to this school. Money likely unimaginable to her as a Black farmer’s daughter growing up in the Virginia Tidewater. A successful farmer, even.
Her father, a stout and handsome man with skin the color of rich soil, quit his well-paying job as a cooper in North Carolina at the ripe old age of 20, relocating to Virginia to build a house on the farm his mother bought in 1914. A new house in Depression-era Virginia was peculiar. For that house to belong to a Black man sounded like a fish story. Strangers travelled for miles to watch Coston Beamon pound nails into his roof.
The endless debate over whether the future of work will actually include humans.
A slew of pieces over the past few days only add to the debate over the future of work. First, let’s tackle the WeWork news above. I’ll believe this when I see it actually happen, but WeWork promises it will roll out a coding curriculum across its entire base of hundreds of locations worldwide. I’m skeptical because I’m not convinced the world needs millions of vocationally trained coders — I’m more convinced the world needs all of us to be minimally literate in how digital computing works, and the jobs of the future will more likely require us to understand how to work with computers, rather than how to code them. It’s a bit like writing a century or so ago — we should all learn how to read and write, but only a small fraction of us became professional writers of one kind or another. The rest of us got very good at reading the code of writing — the output.
That’s why I’m a fan of requiring coding and basic computer literacy in all elementary through high schools, just like we do with reading and writing. Those who want to go deeper from there can then decide if they want to go to a WeWork vocational school, or dig deeper in the world of university level CS, which, let’s be honest, is quite removed from the coding academies popping up all over the place. Money Quote: “At a time many experts and politicians are questioning the assumption that college is for everyone, the deal bets on a fashionable form of vocational education — coding — as a route to well-paying software jobs. The plans are to expand Flatiron from its single location in New York’s financial district into most of WeWork’s approximately 170 offices, which would further test the growing idea of bypassing college, at least in the U.S. tech world.”
Walmart plays “second mover,” Google does Toronto, Trump wrecks Nafta.
A short but important note in time from The Atlantic: The #MeToo movement is very real, and very powerful. As Dave Pell put it in his always excellent NextDraft, “The sharing was eye-opening and awesome, and a reminder that we can use social media for some good once in a while.” Of course, as with anything related to social media, there’s already a robust backlash.
I am cheering Walmart on here. Wait, did I just type that? Yes, I did just type that. I am cheering Walmart on, because Amazon scares the shit out of me in ways that are primal. I have some ideas (here) about how this might play out. Meanwhile, the money quote: “Wal-Mart trails rival Amazon in online market share, but Mr. Lore said Wal-Mart’s built-in network of thousands of stores can serve as hubs for online orders and distribution. Mr. Lore said Wal-Mart has a “second-mover advantage.”
A major investigation exposes an inhuman calculus of greed
Yesterday a major story broke, one that involves hundreds of billions of dollars, a massive and spiraling crisis in one of our economy’s largest industries, the corruption of Congress and a major Federal agency, and the deaths of more than 200,000 citizens of the United States over the past seventeen years.
From Pittsburgh to Palo Alto, with Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward ringing in my ears.
A recent visit to Pittsburgh (NewCo partnered with the Thrival Innovation + Music Festival) reminded me that to understand our future, in particular when that future seems threatened and deeply uncertain, it is often wise to look to our past.
At the bar of the overly hip Ace Hotel Pittsburgh, fellow traveler Marc Ruxin and I were discussing the rather improbable rise of Pittsburgh as a verifiable city of the future. Ruxin, an entrepreneur in the music, marketing and cannabis industries, was marveling at the fact that the city was once the wealthiest place in America, the center of western industrial capitalism. It was Pittsburgh’s then-nascent forges which drove the Union’s dominance over the South in the Civil War, and it was in Pittsburgh that some of America’s greatest industrial entrepreneurs — Carnegie, Mellon, Frick, and Westinghouse — created the nation’s first truly generation-spanning wealth.
David and I first worked together at Reuters over a decade ago, at which point he had spent more than 20 years working in the region. David went on to become editor-in-chief of Reuters, the world’s top newswire, before taking up a post as Chairman of Reuters in China. Now based in London, he runs Tripod Advisors, which helps companies understand the region. He also has an Emmy Award, which I think is quite cool.
Everyone’s favorite parlor game is “where will Amazon go?” Better to ask: Why does Amazon needs a second headquarters in the first place?
Why does Amazon want a new headquarters? Peruse the company’s RFP, and the company is frustratingly vague on the question. “Due to the successful growth of the Company,” Amazon says of itself in the royal third person, “it now requires a second corporate headquarters in North America.”