Are the “Big Five” under threat of extinction?
Having worked extensively in sub-Saharan Africa, when people referred to the “Big Five” they were usually speaking in the context of a weekend safari trip to see some of the continent’s most popular wildlife species – lions, leopards, buffalo, elephant and rhinoceros. In recent years it has been used to describe a very new species, but some would argue, no less dangerous. Namely, the global tech giants Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft. These five companies alone make up approximately 20% of the total value of the Fortune 500 and their combined market capitalization of amounts to an eye watering $5.5 trillion. What’s more, none of these companies even existed when I started my career in business. OK, that was a while ago and admittedly I’m no spring chicken, but you get my point.
Like me, you no doubt watched with fascination as the CEOs of these companies, most of them billionaires, were grilled by Congress in what I think was more theatre than something that will actually drive change. The focus to date has of course been on their size and their apparent abuse of monopoly power, not to mention some fairly dubious business practices that seek to thwart competition from smaller rivals. Might it make more sense if these goliaths were broken up into smaller pieces?
Yes, size does matter, but I’m more interested in what they are doing for society and how they have the potential to do so very much more. This great blog by Mark Johnson in the Harvard Business Review (thanks Amanda Gardiner) sets out very well what the world might look like if these organizations’ had purpose as their main goal rather than just lining the pockets of shareholders.
Indulge me for a moment with a seemingly impossible dream: what if Google, or Apple or Facebook for that matter, freed their organizations even temporarily of the burden of having to filter every new idea through the lens of profit maximization. What if these five CEOs allowed their entire workforces to let their imaginations run wild on what they could do individually and indeed collectively to make the world a better place? I’m not talking about not empty PR statements such as “we exist to make the world better” and so on, but really engaging, empowering and inspiring employees to think out of the box for a while, perhaps a good year. Let me go further: what if we, the public, were challenged to dream big in a global innovation contest, funded by these Big Five as part of their license to operate, to come up with the most creative ways possible that they could solve any of the social or environmental crises we face. Let’s face it, there are plenty to choose from. They could view it as something of a goodwill gesture in return for not being broken up (just yet).
Another one of my Utopian business dreams? Well, perhaps. But frankly, the world does not need another trillion dollars on Google or Amazon’s market cap – but that’s what we’ll get with a laisser-faire approach. I’d even argue that Google and Amazon shareholders don’t need that trillion dollars either (the latter share price having grown by a staggering 120,000% since its IPO in 1997). Might these shareholders be prepared to forego a bit of cash in return for a greater degree of certainty that their kids or grand kids will still have a planet to live in and won’t be forced to go about their lives wearing something akin to an astronaut’s helmet to keep them safe? After all, what’s the point in having piles of cash if you’re too frightened to venture to the shops to spend it? That dream holiday is more of a nightmare if it comes with a lengthy period of quarantine when you come back.
Unlike their African mammalian counterparts, I don’t believe the Tech Big Five are yet an endangered species, but they can certainly expect growing scrutiny on their role in society and calls from many quarters, for them to be broken up. They have created some incredibly innovative products and services and enabled unprecedented economic growth in the past two decades, that have enriched themselves and their investors. It’s now time for them to turn their attention, scale and innovation capacity to improving the way the world works and lives.
We ran our second Craigberoch LIVE event over a two week period at the beginning of July and I’m delighted to say that it was a great success once again. Our team are experimenting with different formats and we tried daily 75 minute sessions late afternoon (European time) each day over 10 days. Participant feedback has been very positive and I think that they appreciated being able to join in without having to take time off work.
I’m hopeful that our next event will be able to be held in person or even a hybrid mix, some people joining parts online, some people physically able to join us on The Isle of Bute. It all depends on the word that I have tried to keep completely out of this month’s blog…..but either way, you can register here to express interest without having to make any commitment financially until we are clear we can go ahead. Why not sign up today as after all, what have you got to lose?
Best of rest
In the last two blogs I talked about having recorded podcasts of different flavours and styles. Well, July was no different and once again I recorded a podcast this time called Lux & Tech which, as the title suggests, is focused on the nexus of the luxury and technology industries. It wasn’t the most obvious fit for me I must admit, but the interviewer Carlo Pignataro was well prepared and asked some very insightful questions about what the luxury industry could and should be doing when it comes to social innovation.
The long-term readers amongst you (if there are any of you outside of my immediate family), might recall that in July each year for the past few years, I’ve made my way to Oxford for the Business Fights Poverty summer conference. It’s always a highlight of the summer but of course this year they went online and created a fabulous virtual experience. Our Craigberoch team were grateful that we were invited to run a session on the concept of “deceleration as a driver of change”. We only had an hour and so it was really nothing more than a taster session, but it was still a lot of fun and you can check it out and many more exciting sessions by getting a digital pass here.
I’d also like to give a shout out to our very own David Pearl (known as “The Maestro” in the Craigberoch Cast List, who piloted the first version of what he calls The Green Room. It’s essentially tapping into the energy, creativeness and randomness of what goes on offstage. David is of the belief that performers spend much more time off stage than they do on it and that’s where the true magic happens. His next event is coming up in September and I’d recommend you take a look.
On the personal front…….
On the personal front, my big news is that after nine very happy years, I’m giving up the apartment I’ve been renting in Geneva at the end of July. The plan is for us to spend a bit more time a the place I have in the mountains outside of Geneva and use Ari’s smaller apartment when in the city. I also will be in Scotland fairly regularly for regular events at Craigberoch – check out dates here.
Otherwise, July was a month of Birthday Parties and I had not one but two friends turn 40 (I know, I hang out with such old people). Jo had her party at a vineyard outside of Geneva one afternoon and Merc had her party at a beautiful place called The Deck overlooking the vineyards above Montreux on lake Geneva. The views were stunning as you can see from the photos.
That’s more than enough for now folks. If you enjoy this monthly ramble then do feel free to suggest others sign up here. Until next month,
* The Bullog = Bulloch + BlogMake sense? Not bulldog, nor is it bulls**t although I’ll let you be the judge of that! It’s a brief synopsis on recent articles, events and opinions from my world and the things that have caught my attention over the past few weeks.