Monday, January 31, 2011

A New Capitalism?


So I was staffing an event at an open building one Saturday, and it happened to be the same Saturday as a World Bank protest (and in the same neighborhood as the World Bank).  This guy wanders in to the registration table with a large binder in his hands.  He wanted to tell us about this new kind of capitalism he had created.  The rich would make the poor rich and the poor would make the rich less rich.  He had a visual of sorts with two triangles overlapping to create a 6-point star.  Leading economists and business leaders had sent him letters telling him how brilliant it was, proving once and for all his ex-wife was wrong to think he was crazy.  I didn’t pay much attention to his ideas as they seemed on the surface a bit contradictory and from a source whose uninvited evangelism only increased my skepticism.  He eventually left and I didn’t think much of it until today.

I was forwarded a google reader item discussing Alex Bogusky, a brand management/advertising guru who had quit his namesake firm to become a consumer advocate.  No one was sure what that meant until last week when he launched COMMON, a brand that is set to spark a “new capitalism.”  I was again skeptical, but I watched the launch video.  Yes, I watched all 64 minutes worth.  

The idea behind COMMON, to my understanding, is to create a social network of entrepreneurs, thinkers, designers, investors and others to rally behind ideas (eventually leading to prototypes, eventually leading to products, ideally) that generate a social good and a business opportunity.  The COMMON part is to give all these ideas (products) a common banner to launch under.  It’s not the same logo, but a brand that has its own equity lending legitimacy to diffuse enterprises.  It’s an interesting idea, but I couldn’t help but feeling I’d heard it before.  I couldn’t help feeling like the only value-add was the brand name and a snazzy new website.

Mr. Borgusky says very early in the presentation “We aren’t communists,” and while I think that’s fair, there is some trust in the commune or collective to help vet and develop these ideas.  I just wonder how well it will work, who will decide what’s ready for investment, and, if money is made, who gets the profits.  I’ve been reading The Net Delusion by Evgeny Morozov and my readings there, coupled with one too many meetings on the utility of social media has me very skeptical.  I think the concept is admirable and the idea more than half-baked, but I don’t know if you can create a business from a community like this.  I don’t know if there truly is this pent-up energy that needs only social networking to unleash it.  I encourage you to take a look at the video and draw your own conclusions (you can skip the first 20 minutes of set-up, I think), but consider me skeptical.

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