After acquiring 828,800 square miles in the Louisiana Purchase (doubling the size of the US at the time), and winning the Mexican-American War in 1848 bringing in another 900,000 square miles into the it’s dominion, the US needed to figure out exactly what it owned. In 1879, Congress created the US Geological Survey to inventory the goods.

After personally leading a three-month river trip down the Green and Colorado rivers, the first passage of European Americans through the Grand Canyon, second USGS director John Wesley Powell stated his opinion that western land was not suitable for agriculture, except for the small amounts that were near water. The big railroad owners, though, had different ideas – they stood to make a lot of money by settling the West with farmers. They went so far as to find a professor with a theory that if you farmed the land, it would rain more. Powell said, “… heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply the land.”

The USGS Surveys yielded a series of annual reports, each enumerating the various resources, such as copper, tin, and soil types.  These same surveys became a major component of fossil hunting, and let to the development of the greatest collections of fossils in this country.

The incredibly vast resources that were inventoried were what helped the US grow from being an agricultural power, to a manufacturing force, and ultimately, in the wake of the World Wars, a super power.

In his book, The New Capitalist Manifesto, Umair Haque discusses the notion of businesses gaining profit at the expense of the larger community.  In the case of the settling of the new territories mentioned above, the railroads made great profits, but the farmers of the Midwest suffered when the great Dust Bowl occurred. Haque illustrates this with an accounting of how the real costs of a hamburger are around $35. Raj Patel, another contemporary author, believes the number is more like $200 (consider the lands, loss of diversity, agricultural run-off, and health costs related to a hamburger-laden diet). Whichever estimate is more accurate, it isn’t difficult to see that a lot of businesses make profits which we (or our grandchildren) end up paying for.

In the book, Haque talks about two different types of value, Thin and Thick.

Thin Value is artificial, like the value created by hamburger purveyors – it’s gained at the expense of communities and society. And thin value is unsustainable (his example is the Hummer), and it’s artificial – it doesn’t help people in any meaningful way.  Haque wants us to consider the full spectrum cost of capital. Thick Value, on the other hand, does not come at a larger full-spectrum cost, is sustainable, and DOES help people in meaningful ways.

Of course, with a title that includes the word “manifesto”, Haque extols us to create a revolution, where capitalism is rebooted.  After all, the subtitle of the book is “building a disruptively better business”.  He calls the businesses that are part of this new model “constructive capitalists”.  Constructive Capitalists:

  • Don’t exploit resources – renew them -shift from value chains to value cycles
  • Allocate resources democratically shifting from value propositions (isn’t this a staple of marketing thought?) to value conversations
  • Go for the long-term instead of blocking competition in the short run; shifting from strategies (another staple of traditional business think) to philosophies
  • Don’t just seek to dominate your arena – create a new on (brings to mind the book Blue Ocean Strategies )- shift from protection to completion of marketplaces
  • Seek payoffs that matter in human terms, not just financially – shift from goods to betters

Some of the examples in the book might cause you some confusion. Is Walmart an example of constructive capitalism because they’re endeavoring to “go green”? In response to my asking him, Haque said that the examples of businesses in the book are not necessary exemplifying the new model, but on their way- they’re moving in that direction.

Most of the examples in the book describe manufacturers or companies that sell stuff. As I read the book, I was constantly thinking how this new model of capitalism might apply to a traditional services company like DragonSearch.

We don’t exploit resources.  Our main resource is our great team of people, and we endeavor to compensate our team as well as possible. We don’t block competition (could we?) – But in fact, in our industry, we are in a community that is constantly learning from itself.  We could, perhaps, seek to redefine our arena, as opposed to being masters of the services that are standard.

The one epiphany I had was that we could place more focus on not JUST helping our clients be more competitive, but we could help them connect to the world at large or at least the people relevant to them, in much better ways.  And in doing so, we can endeavor to create a better and more relevant internet.  After all, that is an underlying passion point for us here at DragonSearch – fostering relevance.  It might be a tall order, and might even still be a bit abstract, but for me, it’s a starting point.   Hopefully, The New Capitalist Manifesto is just a starting point for the thinking on these topics – that the thread is picked up, and some good thought is given to the matter within services.

Twitter, by the way, played a big part in this review of The New Capitalist Manifesto.  The book was recommended to me by Kenny Rose (@grit08).  When I had a question, Umair Haque (@umairh) and I corresponded through Twitter.  And I know for sure that at least a few copies of the book were bought because of my own tweets.  So, if any authors out there are reading this, don’t dismiss the medium; it can be pretty influential.

How do you think we can apply this new thinking to our internet marketing services company?  Comments welcome.

This entry was posted on Saturday, December 25, 2010 and is filed under Organizational Innovation.

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