Doug Rushkoff has been referred to as a kind of Media Theorist. He spends much of his time studying the human condition as it applies to our digital lives and dreams of how we can use cyberspace to maintain and create a spirit of empowerment.
Podcast host Jodi Avrigan recently spoke to Doug Rushkoff and they riffed on a number of topics including why companies should concentrate on doing what they do best and stop succumbing to boardroom and investor pressure to keep growing.
Stop growing and start living
An early advocate of the internet, Doug Rushkoff could confidently say he’s seen it all or close to it. What he sees as the current [and destructive trend] of companies that are told to expand rather than do what it is they do best.
Says Rushkoff, “We need to optimize the digital economy. Not for its extraction value or its conversion into capital but for the circulation of money [in the right directions].” In other words, in a perfect world Rushkoff envisions companies making their millions or billions and putting that money back into the company or at the very least putting those profits back into the hands of the people that are doing the work. At least some of it.
Growth, growth, growth
In terms of growth Rushkoff cites Walmart as an excellent example of abuse: they rushed to open so many stores that ultimately there are no longer enough people to sell to. And now Walmart is closing stores.
The website Edhltd.com postulates this even further when author Edward D. Hess (Distinguished Executive in Residence and Adjunct Professor of Management at Emory University) states, “Most companies can tolerate incremental growth or growth to replace unprofitable customers fairly easily over time. But successive years of high growth challenge the competencies and risk tolerances of most companies.”
So the issue of growth is really two issues: The first is to ask at what pace or rate should you grow and secondly what is your capacity and risk tolerance for growth?
Another way of thinking is that if you make a good living painting and selling 5 paintings a year why stretch and paint eight a year and risk the quality suffer at the expense of making a profit?”
Platforms that extract more from their platform than they facilitate was another topic-in-real-time and Rushkoff cited Uber as a good example. Rushkoff feels the Uber driver/operator is just a resource with no plan in place to protect them or incentive for long-term career growth.
Rushkoff refers to it as looking for ways to optimize one’s business (especially if it’s smaller). Part of it has to do with what he calls “boundary-investment.” Which is simply investing in way that the money comes back to you.
Real vs. virtual communities
New technology will create a lot of growth. Internet economy in particular has the ability to make money in many different ways. What has happened though is that Wall Street noticed how much was to be made with the internet and suddenly THAT is the priority.
Twitter is an example say Rushkoff. Twitter can no longer just be a platform that is able to send 140 characters from one phone to another. After making billions of dollars Twitter must concentrate on making [even more] money. All at the expense of a great app. Why? Because extraction is now the focal point.
Says Rushkoff in the interview, “The original internet was not created to make a whole lot of money just so the founders have nothing to do. It was created with the intention to make money doing what you love and turning it back into the community.”
Another twist on this concept again comes from Edward Hess, who points out, “By growing at high rates for several years – yes, you will capture market share but also you rise on the business food chain and come into the sights of very big, well-capitalized, highly-efficient and well-managed competitors.”
The key point: As you grow, your competition changes. As you grow, you become both a threat and a target.
All in all a great interview. Check it out. Ol’ Gar’ gives it 5 stars. And the read the book by Doug Rushkoff as well (Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus).
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