Rebooting business and capitalism

Last year with the launch of Social Innovation Sydney I was inspired by the idea of rebooting capitalism. I had become depressed about the nature of business in our world today and wanted to do something practical about changing things.

Then I went off to Paris for LeWeb 2010 Conference and ran into Tara Hunt and our conversation got me thinking (I love meeting people who make me think!).

Upon arrival at home I read Tara’s posts about The Hole in the Soul of our Culture [Part 1 here and Part 2 here – both are recommended reading] and these resonated with the feelings that had sparked my involvement with Social Innovation Sydney.

Tara’s posts also pointed me in the direction of Umair Haque’s I’m Bored – The Significance Manifesto, which I’d missed during my travels.

I believe that we have entered an age where ‘business as usual’ is no longer viable. We need to come up with new business models that are founded on truth, openness, justice, equity, and sustainable profit. No longer can we sustain a world where profit and profit alone is the only goal of business (after all we are not Ferengi). We need businesses that change the world, that make things better for people, that do not destroy the environment for future generations.

We have flirted around the edges of change with notions like the triple-bottom-line to no avail. The existing culture of business has shown itself to be highly resistant to change. Existing business culture does not value the things that go into creating value that are not easily measured as ROI. Thus having a conversation with a customer is often not valued highly over getting the customer off the phone quickly to meet KPIs in a call centre.

I suspect that Tara is right when she identifies a key part of the problem as us:

“But it all comes back to what we value and why I think we have a hole in the soul of our culture. It isn’t merely the businesses and boardrooms where there lies an issue. It’s all around us. In North America at least. We pay lip service to wanting to change the world, to being better human beings, to ‘balancing’ our lives, but when it comes down to it, we tend to be more impressed with big numbers: 1 MILLION hits, 100,000 followers, $1 BILLION market capitalization, etc.”
[Source: The Hole in the Soul of our Culture – Part 2]

The change needs to start with an individual deciding to be different and to think differently. Deciding to shift away from instant gratification and ROI measured in mere numbers seems to be the first step. I also suspect that once an individual changes their thinking in this way that individual behavioural change will not be far behind.

LeWeb 2010 Wrap up

I rather suspect that some of the locals regard LeWeb as a kind of blowsy aunt who arrives in whirl, talks too loudly, drinks a bit too much, pinches their cheeks, and flies away again.

main room - Le Web 2010 Paris (by K Carruthers)That said, I think Le Web is now a great conference.  It’s got some faults. But there are few conferences in Europe where such variety and quality of speakers is available together with such diversity of attendees from around the world.

In many ways it is still very much Loic and friends having a chat on stage.  And that is part of its charm.  Why not get friends like Michael Arrington to chit-chat with various web folks on stage in Paris if you can make it happen?

This year Le Web was at Les Docks venue again.  This enabled three separate halls to be running simultaneously, with the networking hall getting a good workout.

Unfortunately the snow made walking between the various halls somewhat of a challenge.  As did the unwillingness of Parisian cab drivers to deliver or collect delegates out in the boondocks of St Denis in aforesaid snow.  This meant that for those unfortunate enough to miss the coach shuttles to the nearest metro station it was a trudge through the snow.

The food, drink and heating were good this year.  Some American friends found some of the food tastes alien to their palate (which was amusing to watch) but I found the food tasty and plentiful.

Again the parties were fun and a great chance for networking and vodka and there were a number of late arrivals on day two after the partying.

This year my favourite thing was the Ignite style talks which included gems such as:

  • a passionate plea from a Ricardo Sousa (on Twitter @ricardojrsousa), a teen entrepreneur, seeking for mentors for himself and his peers so that they can change the world;
  • and a superb talk on twitter diplomacy from Matthias Lüfkens (on Twitter @luefkens) about the democratization of political access .

The Ignite model is a great way to bring diversity of voices to LeWeb and I hope that they continue it next year.

On the first day many of the keynotes and fireside chats were brand and product discussions with company representatives from Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Twitter, France Telecom-Orange, etc.  There was nothing earth shattering in any of these if you already follow the industy. Marissa Mayer proved herself, yet again, as one of the most polished players in this game.

There was also a startup competition – which seemed a tad disorganised compared to others I’ve seen – yet which provided a valuable opportunity to showcase some local talents.

On day two the stand out sessions for me were Jeremiah Owyang‘s overview of Social Media And Big Business: Trends for 2011 and Gary Vaynerchuck‘s session where he refused to answer Twitter questions so as to be present with the audience in the room.

One of the problems with having two plenary rooms that were physically separated by a snowy road is that I (and probably many others) did not get over to the Eiffel Plenary room on day 2. This is where Thomas Crampton (who’s apparently now gone over to the ‘dark side’ from journalism – aka PR) was hosting a series of sessions that looked quite interesting.

Thus I have no personal insight into those sessions (which did sound interesting):

  • “Lean Analytics for Startups: what every founder (and VC) needs to watch”
  • “Asia: Digital Life, Real Billions”
  • How Social is Changing the Gaming Industry
  • How to Grow Your Business through Platforms and APIs
  • How to leverage social networking in your business
  • How to build your own platform
  • Hackathon Award Ceremony by Alcatel Lucent
  • The Social OS and the Human API
  • Photography: From Analog Artists to Digital Mainstream

I do think it would have been better to be able to merely walk from hall to hall within the one building given that LeWeb is held in a Parisian winter.

All in all for me the visit to Paris from Australia was worth it.  LeWeb is a good conference that enables me to see what is happening in another part of the world by bringing together a diversity of practitioners from across the world. Some interesting new ideas came up in conversation, the networking was amazing, the parties and dinners were fun, and it was in Paris (after all).