What kind of zombies have we created?

I was reading Bill Bonner’s recent post Zombies Born of Government Spending where he posits the notion of zombies in our economy. As Bill defines it:

“In economic terms, a zombie is a parasite. He contributes less to the economy than he takes from it. He lives at the expense of others.”

His argument is that social welfare programs as practised by most of the developed world only work during good times. As he argues:

“It’s relatively easy to turn people into zombies. And it’s fairly easy to support them when an economy is healthy and expanding. But when an economy goes into a contraction, you can no longer afford to give the zombies their meat. Then what?”

This is an interesting question. Western societies have created a group of people with few skills and no means by which they might generate value to exchange.  Nor do many in this group appear to have bonds to the society within which they exist and they exhibit few loyalties to ideas or ideals outside of mere existence and consumption.

But the real issue is how we create a new economy, one that is founded on creation of real value and its exchange, and not ephemeral things (like hybrid securities and CDOs). One that sustains and nurtures community rather than destroying it through extreme competition and crazy ideas like the priority of shareholder value above all other things.

This raises some important questions:

  • If the government can no longer sustain them (or us) then what happens?
  • How do we create ways of connecting people with skills to share with those who want to learn?
  • By what mechanism can we develop shared values that support the creation of valuable skills?
  • How do we create communities of people that choose to contribute and collaborate for the common good?

We don’t have to let what’s happening in other places happen here. We have the choice. We can create communities where real value is exchanged between real people. Not what passes for value in the some places – faux celebrity, immediate gratification, and continuous consumption – but sustainable and sustaining value.

There used to exist such things as commons in the past – commonly held land and other resources. But we have few of these remaining to us nowadays.  It might be times to create some new common resources to share in a fair and equitable manner?  We have already seen the rise of new forms of sharing and common ownership through Creative Commons on the internet. It makes me wonder what other things for which this approach will work. I suspect that Mark Pesce’s work on his Plexus innovation is a beginning in this quest.

It is worth considering how we can each begin to nurture collaborative behaviour and thinking in our local spheres to work against the zombie world view.

Social business, culture and value creation #sbs2010

I attended the Social Business Summit today in Sydney and had the privilege of being on a panel that discussed Transparency – Risk To The Business Or Not?

small-rabbit.jpgApart from Nicholas Gruen’s excellent incorporation of Hayek into his discussion there was much food for thought. A copy of my slides is up on Slideshare.

In particular, the idea that brands and financial value are created in large part by organisational culture resonated for me.

We’ve been conditioned by the bean counters that value in business is created by a mechanical process of creating and selling products or services.

But that mechanical process rests upon human beings doing things. Human beings work out what to do based on cultural norms. And workplaces have very strong and resilient cultures.

I had a great example of the resilience of organisational culture last year. When I returned to a place where I’d worked almost a decade ago it was surprising to see how little the culture had changed since that time. In spite of many corporate change programs over the years (and probably lots of funds invested in those programs) the culture was essentially the same as when I’d left.

There is nothing wrong with that (actually that organisation has a pretty nice culture); but it was a graphic demonstration of how resilient it was in the face of efforts to change the culture.

It is clear to me that the creation of value by organisations rests upon the corporate culture. The culture drives the manner and form by means of which the products or services are created.

Zappos is the great example of how creation of a particular kind of corporate culture also drove creation of a highly valuable brand.

This kind of example means that sensible people in leadership positions need to be thinking about how they can work with the existing organisational culture to create more value for their brands.