Capital: a brief philosophy

money

Throughout history, money has been both revered and vilified. Some see it as a vice. Others see it as a critical enabler. Yet others see is as a sort of dummy variable that exists only to facilitate two transactions. Most views are rather pragmatic. Philosophical views of money and capital are much rarer.

The (philosophical) argument I am about to make in this very brief piece is this: (financial) capital plays a critical, generative role in the complex process from which the future is born. Simpler still: money is, generally speaking, a good thing. Without money, and the mechanisms by which it accumulates as “capital”, progress would be not only slower but also more convoluted. I will also proceed to point out this scenario is not universal. Under certain circumstances, capital can be a source of instability.

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The end of the “check-the-box” era

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In my 2013 Global Peter Drucker Forum winning essay, Post-Causality: a Quiet Global Revolution in the Making, I made a compelling point that the world is moving away from an “if-then” paradigm. We are indeed moving away from the simple causal credo of the “if you find yourself in this situation, then check this box” type. But it is a slow, protracted transition. According to Nilofer Merchant, between 1950 and 2010 the percentage of the workforce that utilizes independent judgement has been left flat at 33%. But what is independent judgement you might ask? A fair question.

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Leadership: between passion and lunacy

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harlequin

I just came across an interesting article from CNN Money on the story of Microsoft’s Surface product line. Apparently somewhere along the path to the success that the Surface Pro 3 has turned out to be, Microsoft lost lots of money on intermediary product versions. Particularly, they were left with $1 billion worth of Surface 2 inventory. Microsoft never wavered in their support for the guy behind the Surface line, Panos Panay. That my friends, is the essence of leadership. You ain’t a leader until passion has gotten you in a position where you’ve either questioned your own sanity or been suspected of lunacy by others.

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Get (some) business thinkers off the pedestals they self-climb

If you read business literature you would have come across the quintessential business thinker: charismatic, articulate, and endowed with a keen sense of positioning for ever greater fame and reach. But, as is the case with many other industries, the ones who make it to global fame status are often not the most inspired. Politics permeates even the highest of intellectual echelons. I for one have always pursued substance at the expense of politics and fame. And so, it is natural that I get frustrated when I see initiatives of substance corrupted by mediocrities with titles.
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Prosperity by Design

Design Thinking – background

Design Thinking is all the rage nowadays. It is by far the most commercially viable embodiment of the argument for augmenting creativity in the workplace. According to the DT school of thought, creativity has something to do with open-ended thinking. That is because design, as practiced in both the arts and sciences, is an open-ended endeavor. One could tell Picasso to paint a “good” painting, but adding more specific requirements would likely only reduce the genius of the ensuing work. Similarly, one could not tell Einstein “concentrate on improving Maxwell’s equations” and expect him to come up with the Theory of Relativity.

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Exceptional corporate growth

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Double Loop Learning

There’s more than enough literature out there for corporate growth. Academics talk about implementing cultures of innovation. Consultants present case studies on sophisticated financial strategies to drive bottom line revenue. And yet, a fundamental model for growth mechanics remains elusive. In this post I present a model for scalable or better than average corporate growth.

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The Big Bang moment for start-ups

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Big Bang

Lots of popular literature on start-ups portrays success as a rather linear process involving well-crafted plans animated by hard work. Those two elements are indeed helpful, but are no guarantee for success. In fact, they rarely explain success when it comes to start-ups.

The most important moment in a start-up’s life, the instant of creation, is as elusive as the full understanding of the Big Bang is to cosmology. Like in the case of the Universe, the moment when value bursts and allows the start-up to expand tremendously is but an instant as compared to the entire life of the future company.

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Forget IDEO’s T-shaped thinkers – enter “Meta”

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fuller_artzy

If you follow the latest in business thinking, you would have come across the popular – or should I say “populist” – Design Thinking (DT) movement. You might have even heard of IDEO. They are the company that turned the rather loose notion of business as “art” into a profitable consulting model. You’ve probably heard of so called “T-shaped thinkers”. According to Tim Brown and others at IDEO, T-shaped thinkers are the new Da Vincis. They master both the ability to think broadly and deeply. They are generalists and specialists at the same time.

The beauty of simple models, like IDEO’s T-shaped thinkers is they are simple to convey and remember. Their marketing power is undeniable, and they serve the consulting model superbly. But the drawback is they are often too simplistic to be accurate. In fact, I say the T-shaped thinker model is quite poor in capturing the generalist-specialist dichotomy.

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Big Idea 2015 – we have NOT entered the knowledge economy

fur-trading

The modern financial system traces its beginnings to the Middle Ages. As commerce passed a certain sophistication threshold that extended transactions beyond “right here and right now”, bartering broke down as an effective means for exchanging value. Since that inflection point, the world embarked on an ever increasing liquidity quest. As ever more sophisticated financial instruments emerged, they in fact substantially increased the mobility of assets.

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Corporate taxation without representation

corphierarchy

Let’s take a simplified scenario of the mechanics underlying the remuneration relationship between a corporation and an employee in the knowledge economy.

The corporation pays a white collar employee a certain salary and benefits. The corporation in turn charges its clients for the work performed by said employee a much higher rate, double or more (!) what the equivalent cost of the employee’s salary and benefits. This difference pools into a so-called “overhead” budget. The overhead budget covers things such as facilities’ rent, but by far, the largest chunk goes to indirect labor, i.e. executives. They in turn are supposed to make life better for everyone: customers – innovative products and services -, employees – job security -, shareholders – profit.

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