Better Capitalism Requires 3 Reforms

image of Market Street in Paris France - Delightability Rick Steves Tour

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club on May 10, 2018, A Better Capitalism. The current economic and political framework (capitalism) is failing too many stakeholders. Evidence abounds and isn’t the subject of the talk. With 3 simple policy reforms we are on our way to a better capitalism. This may seem impossible at first. But, so was putting in place policies that enabled the building of massive towers of wealth while doing harm to people, communities, and the environment. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me directly or comment and share on social media.

A Better Capitalism  – an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

I’m a pragmatist. I believe we can all do better, as individuals, organizations, even the world community. So, I’m optimistic. But, I also live in the real world. In my world view, I see things as connected. They don’t sit artificially isolated from one another. Here are the connections that I see:

  • Growth in the city and tents in the parks and spaces in-between
  • Record corporate profits and the unpaid shadow work each of us perform
  • Globalization, offshore profits, flattening wages, and boomerang kids
  • Hollowed out communities and politicians desperate to remake them
  • Indebted consumers addicted to things and stuff to distract them
  • Marginalized and outraged citizens and the tone-deaf politicians elected to represent
  • Registered voters not participating in a country divided with scapegoats aplenty

We can have lawful, dignified, respectable capitalism or we can have unbridled greed, wanton destruction, and divisive crony capitalism with fewer winners supported at the expense of the public and the environment.

I’d like a better capitalism where we get the spoils of competition, continuous innovation and benefits for the many. I love that our trade and industry are privately owned and operated for profit.

I love capitalism. But, I’d love a better capitalism, even better.

What might that look like? That’s what I’ve been pondering. That’s what I want to tell you. I only have time to tell you about 3 big ideas. Here they are.

Big idea #1 – We need to decouple healthcare and employment.

Here is why. The world of work has changed. There is more and more automation. Companies are paring down employment. They use on-demand help, independent contractors, and are pushing more people to part-time to avoid the full costs of employees.

Uber and Lyft have declared themselves platforms, not transportation companies, even though their main business is providing transportation services. It’s innovative, but make no mistake this is about internalizing gains while externalizing costs to the public.

Imagine instead of fighting innovation, we embraced more of it. Free the innovators. Embrace the gig economy but don’t further cripple labor in the process. We need to decouple healthcare and employment to give 99% of the people a little bit more.

Imagine US businesses were free to focus on their core purpose and could compete more effectively with other developed nations, nations where employees already enjoy national healthcare.

Free businesses from providing healthcare and watch innovation flourish and entrepreneurship soar. American businesses will be more competitive and without adding a single tariff. What this likely means is a #MedicareForAll #SinglePayer system. That is the least expensive healthcare program we have in this country with the best health outcomes. It would also be focused on healthcare as opposed to for-profit sickcare. Get used to hearing that idea. It will come back again and again until it finally arrives.

Big Idea #2 – We need a Parasitic Index.

For too long people have been duped into believing maximizing corporate profits is synonymous with increasing shareholder value. It isn’t the same thing. You can do massive harm to customers, employees, and the environment in the name of short-term profits but you’ll have destroyed shareholder value. Just ask Volkswagen. Ask the CEO of the now defunct Peanut Butter Corporation of America who sits in a jail cell. Ask the former makers of Asbestos.

Maximizing shareholder value should mean providing reasonable returns to shareholders while acting in harmony with the environment, communities, customers, and employees. You balance stakeholders not pit one against the other.

A Parasitic Index would show how much a corporation leeches off society’s infrastructure and labor force – while killing its host in the process. Is the corporation a partner to the community or merely a beneficiary?

Imagine a world in which corporations didn’t extort cities and states for unneeded tax breaks but instead became partners in building stronger communities, improving the environment, and creating more stable democracies. Capitalism that serves is a better breed of capitalism than the unbridled greed varietal.

I just returned from a trip to central and Eastern Oregon. One of the cities I drove through was Prineville. That’s where Les Schwab founded and grew his $1B dollar tire retail chain. His motto was Doing the Right Thing Since 1952. If Jeff Bezos embraced that motto Amazon might look different and they probably wouldn’t have halted downtown development in light of the city council’s proposed “Head Tax.”

Image of Living Wage Sign in Dashi Sushi Coffee Shop Window - Bath England - better capitalism needed
Companies Who Pay a Living Wage Would Score Lower on the Parasitic Index Whereas Companies with Massive CEO-to-Worker Pay Ratios Would Score Higher
image of WPA Plaque Main Entrance Timberline Lodge Mt Hood Oregon - better capitalism needed
When Capitalism Fails Government Steps in to Alleviate Suffering as it did with the Federal Emergency Relief Act which brought economic livelihood and meaning for people with the WPA and CCC

Big Idea #3 – We need Congress to give federal prosecutors the ability to revoke a state-granted corporate charter.

You might need a little background here. The federal government doesn’t provide any mechanism to form a corporation. That is left up to the secretaries of state within each state.

Corporations have long figured out they can abuse employees, customers, and communities with impunity, to maximize profits. They can do so because if the state attorney general where they are incorporated were to harm them, the corporation can simply threaten to move to another “friendlier” state. So, companies based in Delaware, for example, are seldom sued by the State Attorney General of Delaware.

Without the ability to revoke a state-granted corporate charter, bad actors simply pay federal fines if caught in a misdeed and chalk it up to the cost of doing business. Wells Fargo recently paid a hefty federal fine but it was still tiny compared to its quarterly profit. Facebook has a long history of apologies. Losing their right to exist as a corporation would be a much stronger deterrent.

In Summary:

In society, there will always be bad actors because as Mr. Burnham points out there are people involved. Modern capitalism isn’t living up to its potential – maybe that’s because it’s not yet ruled by robots and artificial intelligence. There are still too many greedy humans in the mix.

The 3 ideas I shared will create a better capitalism. A better breed of capitalism for the good of the many, not the few. Let’s confront reality. There are too many forces leading us to a gig economy. Let’s not fight it. Let’s embrace it and flourish in its presence. People need healthcare, let’s make that a priority.

There will always be bad actors. Let’s make it more transparent and unpopular to be one. Like the #MeToo movement did for individual accountability amid sexual abuse a better capitalism includes a parasitic index to shine a light on corporate accountability in a sea of economic abuse.

And let’s give the most egregious organizations a death sentence when warranted. The ability to revoke corporate charters will allow our representatives to protect all of us from some of us.

It not cruel. It’s not personal. It’s just business AND it’s better capitalism.

about the author

image of author and consultant Gregory OlsonGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

Greg is a virtual chief marketing officer to small and medium sized businesses. He founded Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers success will follow.

Nature: Our Silent Teacher- Learning from Bees, Thistles, Lotus Flowers, Sharks, and More.

image of Sea Turtle Big Island Hawaii - author Gregory Olson

What could we possibly learn from bees, thistles, lotus flowers, and sharks? As it turns out – quite a bit.

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club in September of 2016. I’ve added a few links and shared it here for members of the Olympic Club and the broader public. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me directly or comment and share on social media.]

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

Good afternoon gentlemen. Today I’m going to talk about nature – our silent teacher.

Nature is the physical world made up of plants, animals, and the landscape – as opposed to humans and the things humans invent and produce. Without the resources of the natural world there would be no built landscape. We would have no cell phones, computers, comfortable homes, transportation, or the clothes you are wearing. In fact, we wouldn’t have any lunch. But nature gives us more than objects and resources. We use nature for leisure and recreation, to escape and find solitude, and we even use it in our art and literature.

NATURE IS A REALLY BIG DEAL.

But perhaps the biggest gift nature provides us is in its teachings. There are many lessons to be learned by this eldest of elders and indigenous to all. I am going to share four such stories.

Our first lesson comes from bees, nature’s highly social insect. One thing I didn’t have time to share a few weeks ago when I talked about ideas is that it isn’t always the highest quality ideas that advance. Sadly, in many organizations, WHO an idea comes from matters most. But, it shouldn’t. Bees don’t suffer with this problem.

Bees Have a Healthy Innovation Culture

image-of-bee-in-search-of-nectar-for-delightability-blog-postHere is how it works in a bee colony. Each morning scout bees venture off in search of nectar, water, and better nesting grounds. This pursuit is necessary to sustain life for the colony. When a bee discovers a stash of nectar, water, or a great nesting site, it returns to the hive and performs a waggle dance. In this dance the energy exuded signals to the surrounding bees the value and direction of the treasure found.  That way the bees know who to follow. This is a fully inclusive process. No scout bees returning to the nest are discriminated against for any reason.

Imagine if organizations and governments learned to be as inclusive as bees. Wicked problems might be solved and more people could participate in a widespread culture of innovation.

Imagine if organizations and governments learned to be as inclusive as bees. Tweet This!

Imitating Life: The Word for This Is…

Increasingly, creative minds  ARE turning to nature for lessons in design. The discipline is referred to as biomimicry – a word derived from the Greek words bios meaning “life” and mimesis meaning “imitate”. Or together – imitate life. (pronounced mesis like thesis)

Solutions Hiding-In-Plain-Sight

image-of-hooks-from-burdock-plant for learning from nature blog post - delightabilityMy second story is one of the most well-known and commercially successful examples of biomimicry. In 1941, Swiss engineer George de Mestral returned from a bird hunting trip in the Alps. He noticed his socks and his dog were littered with prickly seed burrs. While pulling off the burrs he noticed how easily they reattached. Mestral  studied the burr needles under a microscope and discovered small hooks at the end that could easily attach to fur or socks. The burdock plant uses this feature to propagate its seeds through attachment. This gave him the idea of creating a hook and loop fastener. Mestral experimented for years and eventually perfected what we now know as Velcro.

Clean as a Shark

My third story is a lesson from sharks. About a decade ago, Dr. Anthony Brennan, a professor of engineering at the University of Florida, was asked by the Navy to find a way to keep barnacles and algae from forming on the hulls of ships and submarines.  In the industry, it’s called bio-fouling. It is an expensive problem that creates drag and increases fuel costs. Clarity struck Dr. Brennan one afternoon as he watched an algae-coated nuclear submarine return to port. He remarked that the submarine looked like a whale lumbering into the harbor. He then asked the question – which slow-moving marine animals don’t foul. The answer to that question is the shark; Brennan wondered why.

image-of-shark-for-learning-from-nature-blog-post-delightability.jpgWhen he viewed shark skin under an electron microscope, he saw that it was made up of countless overlapping scales called dermal denticles (or “little skin teeth”). The pattern reduces turbulence, making water pass by faster and the rough shape inhibits parasitic growth such as algae and barnacles. Technology inspired by shark skin has improved ship hulls and even swim suits. Scientists are now using the same technique to create films and surfaces that resist bacteria growth. This has many applications but perhaps the most important is in hospitals, given the ongoing problem with Hospital Acquired Infections and drug resistant bacteria.

Natural Vacuum Cleaner

image-of-lotus-flower-for-learning-from-nature-blog-post-delightabilityOur fourth lesson from nature comes from the Lotus flower. Leaves of the lotus flower and shark skin behave similarly. The flower’s micro-rough surface repels dust and dirt particles. If you were to look at a lotus leaf under a microscope, you would see what appear to be a tiny bed of nails. These nails prevent water droplets from adhering to the surface. When water rolls over a lotus leaf, it collects anything on the surface as it rolls off, leaving behind a clean and healthy leaf. This self-cleaning property is known as the Lotus Effect.

A German company spent four years researching this phenomenon and developed paint with similar characteristics. The micro-rough surface of the paint pushes away dust and dirt, diminishing the need to wash the outside of a house.

Nature: The Original Hacker

I’ve only shared four stories – nature has plenty more lessons and many more teachers than bees, sharks, burdock thistles and lotus flowers. Whether solving social problems or inventing next generation products and technologies any innovator should first ask – how has nature already solved this? Nature is an EXCELLENT designer.  Mother Nature has been at it for a very long time, much longer than humans have been designing anything. Nature IS the original hacker.

Mother Nature has been at it for a very long time, much longer than humans have been designing anything. Nature IS the original hacker. Tweet This!

Nature’s Biggest Lesson

As global citizens on an increasingly tiny planet we share serious problems. Imagine if humankind would shift its thinking about nature – away from conquering and exploitation. And, instead we embraced our silent teacher and embedded biomimicry into the fabric of our innovation culture and institutions. If we were to do this, then perhaps we could free ourselves to learn nature’s largest lesson of all – the lesson of coexistence, balance and sustainability.

about the author

Image of Chapter 9: Environment - L'impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through TomorrowGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Chapter 9: Environment, is related to the content of this post. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGreg is a business and marketing consultant who founded Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers success will follow. He also believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help. Gregory serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor, Oikocredit International and as an advisor for Seattle University’s Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering.

 

Arbor Day: Your Chance To Be A Generous Designer

Nature is the Original Hacker

Nature is the original hacker; she’s been at it for a long time, much longer than humans. Does nature ever get it wrong? The follow-up question is, wrong from whose perspective, a human perspective? Or, is it like Leonardo da Vinci said of art, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Perhaps when we think of nature being wrong, whatever we’re observing simply isn’t completed.

Generous Design by Nature

Nature is bountiful and sustainable; it’s also very generous. Trees, for example, are a generous gift from nature. Glorious natural trees are water absorbing, pollution filtering, soil protecting, oxygen giving, and shelter providing. Planting trees is good for the planet as trees absorb carbon dioxide, one of the gases that collect in the atmosphere, trap heat, and warm the planet. Trees are good for people too, with many positive psychological benefits. Being in the presence of swaying trees reduces anxiety, lowers blood pressure and connects us to the natural environment. The soothing rhythmic motion of trees or even grass is not unlike that of mothers who instinctively use gentle swaying motion to comfort their babies. Did you ever notice that you feel better around trees or in a rocking chair?

“The symbolism – and the substantive significance – of planting a tree has universal power in every culture and every society on Earth, and it is a way for individual men, women and children to participate in creating solutions for the environmental crisis.”

Albert Arnold “Al” Gore, Jr.
45th Vice President of the United States
Author, environmental activist,
2007 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
(born March 31, 1948)

Trees are a generous gift from nature. Humans can be generous designers as well.

Generous Design by Humans

As I describe in, The Experience Design Blueprint, generous design makes people smile. When an organization exceeds expectations without any pressure to do so, people often take notice. It might mean going beyond what is required by law or code, or even the norm set by competitors. Often the thoughtfulness goes unnoticed, but the design still serves to make things a little easier or a little better.

When you experience generous design firsthand you think to yourself, “Wow, somebody thought of that. How nice!” But, more importantly, you feel that somebody cared and as a result they touched your heart and your mind. Generous design goes beyond expectations, like a dual drinking station for humans and canines alike or a stair rail that extends a little more than required, so that it comfortably greets those about to meet the stairs. Unexpected trees alongside the built environment can be generous gifts that restore the human spirit, cause us to slow down, and even provide healing. We see and feel these in urban areas, parks, boulevards, universities, and even healthcare facilities.

tree lined boulevard as generous design - Delightability

Arbor Day

Arbor Day is the day dedicated annually to public tree-planting in the U.S., Australia, and other countries around the world. You needn’t be an arborist or a landscape designer to plant a tree. Even birds (or other animals) inadvertently plant trees as they eat fruit in one area and defecate in another. Animals do this without even thinking. But, you are human, perhaps even superhuman. You can be a thoughtful, generous designer and plant a tree, if not for yourself for those who will enjoy it 100 years from now.

planting a pine tree

Culture of Care

Though Arbor Day provides you an official day to be thoughtful and generous, you needn’t be gated by such holidays. Opportunities for generous design are all around us. The best thing is you don’t have to be a designer by title or role – a bird isn’t, after all. You can participate at any time, in planting a tree or other thoughtful acts that exceed expectations and turn lips upward. The Culture of Care is afoot. If you’ve already joined – thank you! If not, we hope you’ll join our movement.

about the author

Gregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and entire nations.
image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

Our National Conversation Surrounding Employment is Chicken Feed

image of chicken feed for employment conversation blog post - delightability

Yes, chicken feed, as in a meaningless pittance. The conversation about employment falls short of what is needed.

This blog post is actually inspired by a friend of mine. She is a smart, educated science teacher that in spite the cries for more women needed in STEM jobs she remains among those experiencing long-term unemployment. In response to a recent article about how states are confronting high long-term unemployment (original article here ) she shared this comment.

“My state has decided to sweep us all under the rug and pretend we do not exist. SO much easier that way!! You do not HAVE to deal with it then, as long as you can hide all of us in plain site.”

image of make believe fairy tale house for blog post about employment conversation- delightabilityWe live in an era of make-believe.

It is a bit reminiscent of another time in recent history when officials banned the word tornado. They didn’t want to cause panic. The result was tornadoes still happened and in the absence of warnings, more people and property were unnecessarily harmed, or worse. See related article here.

When we make things visible we can then actually decide to act differently. If we don’t believe in the viruses and bacteria that are invisible to the naked eye then the conversations about preventing infectious diseases are pretty short. We accept germ theory as reality today, but that was not always the case. Before 1880 physicians and scientists believed that diseases such as cholera, chlamydia or the Black Death were caused by bad air. This was referred to as Miasma theory and was in place since ancient times. Learn more here.

Today, we are still lingering in the aftereffects of a global economic meltdown. Some are working too much; others not enough. Save for the extremely wealthy, many have had their fortunes trimmed and debts amassed. The American [insert country here] Dream has been scaled down for many. This seems to be part of the new normal, at least for now.

The World of Work Has Changed.

There are many things that have contributed to a structurally changed world of work. We have witnessed the flight of capital to low cost regions, the shuttering of businesses old and new, the avoidance of taxes by large corporations, increased consolidation in many industries, the resulting financial hardship of municipalities, the creation of exponential organizations that employ a disproportionately small number of people compared to the large number of people they serve (see WhatsApp as a classic example – 55 employees, $19 billion purchase price, 100’s of millions of customers), a gig economy where workers’ rights have largely evaporated, an anti-labor movement by many politicians (some even repealing the weekend), the financial engineering that manipulates markets and even the books of entire economies as we recently learned about Goldman Sachs and Greece. What country or state will pop up next as problematic?

Add to this, an increasing world population and technology that continues to advance and the world might arguably need fewer workers today and in the future. There is too little discussion and proposed solutions in the crossover from the old economy that is still shedding jobs and the new economy that doesn’t create them fast enough. With the most recent announcement Microsoft will have now shed 1/5 of its workforce in recent years. What if our thinking and conversations about the economy and jobs are antiquated. When our ready made patterned solutions don’t seem to be working maybe it is time for change, time to invent new patterns. Making things visible and having a different conversation would be a great start.

Confronting reality is also needed. If we aren’t looking at real employment numbers for the unemployed, under-employed, and those that are super-employed working too many hours, then we really can’t have an meaningful adult conversation about what might be required to improve the plight for the residents of a nation.

Imagine if the U.S. census utilized the same land-line telephone survey methods that the BLS uses for arriving at unemployment numbers. It would be wholly inadequate and it would actually violate the constitution that requires an accurate census every 10 years. See how the census works. I would not be shocked if the many cogs in the BLS machine felt this inadequacy, but lack the courage to sound the alarm, for fear they too, will join the ranks of those they presume to measure.

If, as a nation, we can include all people in a census, file taxes electronically, manage social security and a host of other big government data challenges, then can’t we also design and implement a meaningful index to measure the prosperity of a nation’s inhabitants. Of course we can. This is a solvable problem; it isn’t the equivalent of “jumping to the moon under your own power.”

GDP and corporate profits can be up and to the right, while at the same time, those that helped it get that way may experience personal decline in terms of real wages, household wealth, and overall prosperity.

Aggregate GDP and UI numbers roll up from individual human inhabitants that reside within a nations borders. Local governments and state governments have a easier problem to solve – the borders are simply smaller. A sorely needed innovation in government is the roll-up of meaningful numbers from households, to neighborhoods, to cities, to states, to regions, to countries. This isn’t unique to the United States.

The Legatum Index is a move in the correct direction. The Legatum Institute’s signature annual publication is the Legatum Prosperity Index™, a unique global assessment of national prosperity based on both wealth and well being. This Index is the main vehicle through which the foundations of prosperity are explored. The Index ranks countries based on their performance in eight sub‐indices, including Entrepreneurship & Opportunity, Governance, Personal Freedom, Health, and Social Capital. While not working from the individual level, it does at least take into account a multitude of factors when looking at the comparative prosperity of populations. Learn more about their fine work here or watch the video.

With respect to jobs, the jobless recovery, and all things employment, we’ve returned to an era of noxious air. But, the bad air in play today isn’t from rotting organic matter as it was in Miasma theory.

Rather, it is from politicians and economic royalists that have much to protect by ignoring our current collective reality and instead protecting a system that primarily benefits them at all costs.

When we start measuring human prosperity we can then put in place policies that help increase that prosperity. It is a bit reminiscent of the Declaration of Independence and the “people first” reforms of the Roosevelt era.

In the current political climate I wouldn’t hold your breath for such change, but meanwhile you might want to cover your nose. If this article resonates with you, please share it with other on behalf of the many that remain silent and invisible.

about the author

Gregory Olson is the author of The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.  As discussed in Chapter 14 of The Experience Design Blueprint, the world of work has changed. And, it is not coming back as we knew it. In this chapter, there is prescriptive guidance for:

  • large businesses
  • established small businesses
  • retirees and volunteers
  • underemployed
  • unemployed
  • Congress and other policy makers
  • and co-working spaces everywhere.

His latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINThumans. Chapters in L’ impossipreneurs that pertain to this article include Ch 5: Wealth and Economy and Ch 12: World of Work.

Gregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.