(2018-06-08) Rao Jonathan Livingston Corporation

Venkatesh Rao: Jonathan Livingston Corporation

Bird brains are just the right size to solve for specialized survival

There IS however, an ideal species onto which humans can and do project their solving-for-aliveness instincts: corporations

Let's talk about Jonathan Livingston Corporation

6/ Humans too, when densely packed into big cities, start to act like seabirds in colonies. Though it is not the wilderness, there is a gritty, survivalist quality to life in big cities. But there's a crucial difference: they come there not to breed but to come alive themselves. Literal human breeding is for smaller towns and suburbs. (Urban)

7/ This is why there is a strong linkage between thriving urban regions and a thriving economy in the software-eaten world. You need humans who have come alive, or are trying to, to drive a software economy.

9/ You can only enjoy the "scene" and its social/cultural potential -- dating, clubbing, music, food -- for so long. To survive psychologically in the urban cores, you need to take on the project of coming alive personally. And like it or not, the ideal vehicle is usually a corporation.

11/ But underneath the complexity of business problem solving is a broader philosophical question: what do you generally solve for when you solve a business problem? And there are two basic answers that are worlds apart: money, and not-money. Survival or aliveness

14/ The promise of the economy in a liberal democracy is not just "buy all you can buy" as a consumer, but "be all you can be" as a producer (Maker). As Edmund Phelps argued in Mass Flourishing, when work is challenging, people thrive

17/ The necessary condition for a "solve for aliveness" orientation is that the core work has enough of a unique “shape” that the meta work of building a business around it becomes interesting in its own right

18/ This usually means that the domain knowledge compounds in a way that requires a special container to hold it.

The fact that unique knowledge is being created at all is a sign that it is a solve-for-aliveness business.

Three better-than-money motivators for solving business problems are: technology, people, and scale

27/ When you have all three going on -- solving for technology, people, and scale -- the business seems to come explosively alive and burst with vigor

I have an engineer's biases: in my experience, engineering tends to solve for aliveness, sales tends to solve for money. Marketing, strategy, and finance tend to fall in between. CEOs tend to inherit the orientation of the function through which they rose through the ranks

38/ Interestingly, the John Hagel/Marc Singer Unbundling the Corporation thesis identifies the same 3-way partition of business models, for different reasons, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence

39/ The reason unbundling a corporation into product, customer relationships, and infrastructure pieces is often a valuable thing is that you tap into the three different ways a business can come alive in a given market

44/ I don't like "deliverables". The word is almost invariably used to scope work in ways that make it measurable by money. I like relationships where both sides are trying to figure out how to come alive through the shared work. Usually this means messy, iteratively defined scope, with "done" being a post-hoc consensus assessment rather than a deliverables checklist

45/ This has led me to an interesting new definition of Free Agent. Whether or not you are "free" is not a function of you are inside a corporation or a consultant/contractor, but a function of whether you are solving for money, or solving for aliveness. (cf Well-Being)

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