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It goes without saying that the current crisis is inflicting its pain and suffering in multiple dimensions – from illness and loss of life, to the suspension of business and disruption of the world as we knew it, with hunger and displacement in between. In order to make it through, and possibly emerge stronger and more sustainably, the situation requires solutions on multiple dimensions.
We are all well aware of the health impacts and loss of life, the risks that medical professionals are taking, and the burdens on our health care system. We see the scrambling to procure PPE and ventilators, produce and distribute diagnostics, and develop antivirals and vaccines.
On the business and financial side, Federal actions have ranged from an early interest rate cut, backstopping and providing liquidity to credit markets, and the rounds thus far of payroll protection and low rate loan plans with potential forgiveness. These efforts help soften the blow and reduce immediate impact on the old normal, though don’t encourage us in necessary new directions.
Yes, it is likely that corporate America will emerge a different animal – it already is a different one. Years’ worth of change toward remote work was compressed to a month’s time, and it is likely that a significant portion of that will remain so. This has implications on commercial office space needs, commuting demands, and the geography of the services economy around them — that will no doubt persist to some extent. It is also likely to impact consumption patterns at the individual level, which changes how retail America will operate – with greater online demand and more drive-thru accommodation in our retail.
Still, without any sense as to how long our social distancing will be necessary to turn the corner on at least this wave of the crisis itself, it remains to be seen how many small businesses will have to fold rather than re-open, or re-open only to find they cannot survive what the new normal turns out to be.
What additional measures can be taken to prolong their viability, if not enable them to survive? What longer term shifts will we see as a result of this situation? And what can be re-thought/re-engineered in our re-booting of the world, in order to best capitalize on the pause we are experiencing?
At the large corporate and infrastructure end, we should valorize re-imagining/re-engineering for the re-start, those processes that are known to be impactful to the planet – from their sourcing to their byproducts and pollutants. Quick and noticeable rebounds in air and water quality, and re-emergence of wildlife, bring to the forefront the impacts we’ve had, and underscore the need to embrace changes through our recovery to retain the benefits and make further progress. And at the small company end, we should find efficiencies to provide for a more stable supply chain for tail risk. Perhaps loan forgiveness (in whole or partial) should be dependent upon shifting to use of resources that are deemed less impactful/more sustainable.
Large and well capitalized companies that are nimble enough can ramp up and down segments in which they operate, in order to manage through some of this and best capitalize on appropriate opportunities. Small companies, however, are more limited in the scope and scale of their ability to pivot and/or balance accordingly – not to mention, keeping the lights on and making payroll.
As a result, as Howard Schulz, Starbucks’ emeritus CEO discussed on April 23, 2020, millions of small businesses will have to make the decision soon as to whether they shutter their doors permanently, or can hang on. Yes, it is the American way that some things will fail, and other things will come along to replace them; and arguments will be made for letting market forces be. But these are not normal times, and in the interim, the economy, and more importantly all its lives, lie in the balance. To the extent the magnitude and amplitude of the extending waves of impact can be dampened by anything beyond our federal support, the fewer lives will be shattered, and the shorter this suffering needs to be. The cascade runs from job losses, to the elimination of goods-throughput from what would have been if they remained in operation; the real estate vacancies that will result from their shuttering; the reduction in property owner demand for related services; the commerce and tax revenue from everything along the waterfall of everyone involved, including the subsequent shuttering of downstream business.
Let this be a call to action for Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, Warren Buffett, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Steve Ballmer. Some names are deliberately excluded, for reasons you’ll understand shortly, but it is certainly not limited to these. Collectively, they’re worth half a trillion dollars. Together, they could rapidly collectivize thousands and thousands of these businesses in a massive incubation strategy. This isn’t expected to be done out of altruism, but in keeping with the principles of capitalism, while also saving the world. Great efficiencies could be achieved through information sharing, sourcing and cross-industry resource management, and strides can be made toward robustness and transparency into supply chain provenance, optimization and sustainability.
This could involve any range of company types, from gyms, restaurants, auto garages, office supply stores, tech startups… Backstopped by deep pockets, to operate with an agenda of not just making it through, but getting onto a back-end that streamlines and integrates everything from accounting, ordering, inventory management, transportation, fulfillment, even HR resources… The possible optimization and capabilities from the integration and knowledge roll-up could propel efficiencies and development.
With initial support of the collective, companies could take one of several paths in the ensuing few years: extract themselves from the collective as they wish or are able; remain members in the network of resources and benefits; or allow themselves to be fully consolidated into the collective. There are some among the wealthiest Americans who likely could not participate, since the effort might be construed as competitive to their own companies. But the result, considering those who remain members and those being consolidated, might be something that competes with vertically integrated Walmart, Amazon, Costco and Target. They are not the enemy – in fact, thank goodness for them and their abilities during this trying time.
Minds like these could re-think on a broad scale, the information integration across every one of the businesses involved, and massively increase efficiency, keep people employed, keep resources flowing. Yes, this would create issues of competition and privacy, and reshape society as we know it. But it could avert ripples of destruction we otherwise likely see.

Update on an old post about bikeshare and Social Bicycles, which is now JUMP (after it added electric pedal assist), and has agreed to become part of Uber, addressing the economics of short (car) trips.  That old post just scratched the surface of the complex structure involved in bikeshare – involving bike design/making, software to operate and manage the fleet, an owner/operator (sometimes private, public or some combination), a municipality, and a community…  But here is a great “Most Complete Taxonomy of Bikeshare (so far) post that really delves into the complexity at play here (including some of the newer dynamics with inexpensive bikes peppering the landscape).

Related to this much older post about realtime translation, Kintrans is yet another dimension of this type of capability.

 

I’ve talked a lot about values, and this video (by Stanford professor Robert Sutton – about his book “The No _sshole Rule”) covers one major element relating to the workplace.  With the serious use of otherwise bad language – and the straight face, I would have thought this to be a skit on the Daily Show.
An interview of the author can also be seen here.

Link references:
1 – http://www.bnet.com/2422-13724_23-166752.html?promo=713&tag=nl.e713
2 – http://youtube.com/watch?v=QAThL4TJfaA

    What’s this AXONomics? You wanted Second Integral! Right?
    Well, while Second Integral is evolving, AXONomics is where we’re thinking out loud.
    This initial post reminds me of a day in late 1984, having just arrived in London. Much had come before that moment, deciding to go, planning, arranging, getting there. Now, looking out window of my train, heading west toward Bath – my home-base to-be for the next year, everything looked built to last much longer (and probably already had by a factor of 10) than construction I’d grown up around in New England. My next thought, after considering all the effort that had gone into getting there, was “OK, so… I’m here. Now what?”
    And so, here we are on that train again.
  • (i) where did we come from
  • (ii) what was the thinking and effort that came before, and
  • (iii) now what?
    (more…)

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