Thursday, August 31, 2017
“Next year at this time, someone else will be standing here in this very spot, and it’s anyone’s guess who she will be.” - Barack Obama, April 30, 2016 - White House Correspondent’s Dinner.
On April 30, 2016, President Barack Obama delivered a speech to a packed house at the annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner, a self-congratulatory, celebrity-laden, black tie, red carpet affair, hosted by the press themselves. As is now customary, a sitting U.S. president must tap both Washington speech writers and Hollywood comedians to craft a speech that’s equal parts serious policy discussion, slurping the press’s ass, and most importantly, mildly acidic comedic roast—the latter being the only reason anyone bothers to actually tune in. In a moment now scented by pungent schadenfreude, mere moments after grilling then-GOP-Presidential hopeful Donald Trump, Obama infamously raised a mic in his left hand, kissed the index and middle finger of his right hand, cocksurely pronounced, “Obama out!” and like a true hip hop MC, coolly released his grip and dropped the mic to the stage floor with a sonic thud. Cue thunderous applause…
Nearly all press headlines (and twitter feeds) from the evening immediately lit up:
'Obama Roasts Trump, Drops Mic.’
Knowing what we now know about Trump, it seems obvious that these headlines would have deeply disturbed candidate Trump and further emboldened his fateful run for the White House. Exactly one year later, in an unprecedented move, President Trump would avoid the Correspondent’s Dinner altogether, instead holding a campaign-style rally in Pennsylvania as if to directly compete with the Nielsen ratings and celebrity sightings the annual press event typically enjoys—a mere microcosm of the vindictive and competitive spirit that comprises Trump’s personal and political outlook.
The choice to further immortalize this light-hearted ‘mic drop’ gesture is that I believe it will be forever imbued with and contextualized by the contentiousness and shocking outcome of the election that followed. For blue-blooded Democrats and progressives, the self-assured ‘mic drop’ turned out to be the ultimate rug pull — the sonic thud of the mic hitting the stage floor, replaced by the wet, cacophonous thwack of our liberal college-educated brains split wide open by the concrete reality of a new Trump-merica. A cosmic disconnect so seismic, it's akin to being bathed in a warm ray of majestic sunlight picnicking in a serene meadow only to realize it’s actually a flaming, lava-spewing meteor hurtling straight toward your vegan picnic basket.
For a majority of white, middle-class Americans and right wing Republicans, alongside Hillary Clinton’s ultimate defeat in the face of lopsided, inaccurate polling, the ‘mic drop’ gesture was the closest thing to a modern day ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ headline—an in-your-face last laugh, festering war wound on the ass cheek of every out-of-touch elite who refused to see the Trump train coming. This brief, tongue-in-cheek, meme-culture moment captures perhaps one of the last, and now possibly most cringe-inducing displays of liberal cocksureness and blinding naiveté. After all, we were living in such an innocent time that liberal's most vociferous battles were over just how progressive Hillary Clinton’s agenda would be when she does in fact become President, rather than how Donald Trump would ride an enormous ‘white lash’ directly into the most important office in the known universe.
Indeed, there is a glorious comedic tension when a serious man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, can loosen his tie—and his tongue--for a single night,' but, when Obama dropped the mic and uttered the phrase: “Obama out!,” no one in the audience, let alone the nation, the world, and possibly even Donald Trump himself, believed it meant his legacy, as well.
'The Long Goodbye…' makes reference to Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel, once described as "a study of a moral and decent man cast adrift in a selfish, self-obsessed society where lives can be thrown away without a backward glance and any notions of friendship and loyalty are meaningless.”
It also refers the palpable sense that the Obama phenomenon--a romanticized and intellectually stimulating eight-year blip in time that perhaps some card-carrying progressives took for granted, is now needing to be properly eulogized and held up as an example of a political and moral ideal many will be clawing and clambering to rapidly return to. How long will it sting? How much will it haunt us? How long until sanity returns? How much of a mess will we be left with? Can we, in fact, stop the bleeding? Is there a tourniquet big enough? How long will this long goodbye ultimately last?
Viewers entering the dimly lit Main Gallery will encounter 44 velvety-surfaced drawings on pastel-blackened sandpaper, installed edge-to-edge around the 3-wall expanse of the space--as if to suggest an oversized film strip or life-size zoetrope. At the center of each individual sheet is a hand-drawn pastel rendering depicting a single frame of Obama’s ‘mic drop’ moment, appropriated directly from the live White House feed of the 2016 Correspondent’s Dinner. Together, the 44 drawings (each measuring 3.5 ft. square), are in fact frames, forming an expansive rotoscope-animated sequence. At the very center of the space, a square-shaped monitor plays an endless loop of the 44 hand-drawn frames, its blueish glow subtly reflecting on the polished concrete floor below.
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Outside-In is the New Way to Win
Rather than trying to take on increasingly large and powerful companies, a better strategy is to make your firm essential by fusing with their infrastructure.
I have been talking for several years about the increasing power and economic value of and aggressively s. It has become clearer and clearer - as we see the growing dominance of the major tech players - that this oligopolistic trend will continue largely uninterrupted. That is, unless the government decides to interfere and possibly try to break up some of these businesses, which would be unwise, I would argue, given what happened after the attempted breakups of AT&T and Microsoft.
Whether you call them FAMGA or FANGA and regardless of which of the four, five or six tech giants you include in the current mix (does Google get a second slot for Alphabet? Do you prefer Netflix or Microsoft?), the impact that these monster entities are already having on our businesses and lives, especially going forward, is more than a little frightening. Frankly, our best hope is that the big guys are so competitive that they will keep each other in check and relatively honest - although there is little evidence of that happy outcome to date. Right now, Google still owns search, Amazon dominates e-commerce, and Facebook and Google have pretty much split digital advertising down the middle.
Nonetheless, as an encouraging example, at least in the short term, you might take some solace from Amazon's immediate actions to reduce prices at its newly acquired Whole Foods division. Google's teaming with Walmart to help both compete more effectively with Amazon is another ray of hope. FedEx using Walgreen's stores as depots is a further instance of what I have called the PxP (platform to platform) program, which basically amounts to paying someone (in some form or other) who has already built a platform or other effective distribution channel to send your goods and services down the same pipeline.
This shared channel strategy has extremely compelling economics. Players avoid the costs and risks of trying to reinvent the wheel; they're able to move into the market much more quickly than if they had to build it themselves; and the platform provider gets to amortize and offset some of the initial costs incurred in building out the system in the first place. A nice deal if you can get it and basically a win-win for both parties. Of course, if it's just the big guys partnering in cross-industry strategic alliances, it doesn't really help us peasants. As I like to say: when the elephants dance, the grass (that's us) takes a beating.
But the real question is, how does a startup play in this space?
The answer may be an interesting new development that offers some very exciting opportunities for smaller and newer companies that grow out of a different directional view and a new perspective on the platform theory. Instead of looking at a specific platform as an attractor - extended by the creator/builder out to new potential users - which I call the inside-outside approach, I'm seeing more and more small startups approaching bigger organizations with an outside-in pitch that seems to be gaining considerable traction in a number of areas.
These new businesses almost all make the same pitch to the big, old, traditional firms: a) we built a clean, new system from scratch (no spaghetti code or hair on our baby) to solve specific, known problems; b) we move much faster than you can because you're lugging all that legacy load along with you; c) the people who built your systems won't break them or blow them up - they're believers in Band-Aids and duct tape, not clean, new solutions; d) we have the talent and skills in critical new areas (machine learning, for one), which you can't buy, hire or otherwise afford to add to your already enormous IT departments; and e) solving this particular problem is No. 1 on our list. In fact, it's all we do while in your shop it's lost somewhere in the pile of problems that your CTO and CIO are trying to manage. I'd say these are all pretty accurate observations and very convincing arguments. So how does it work in practice?
Two recent examples that I've seen - both in the human capital space - are instances of taking the existing resources, skill sets, and technologies of a startup and extending them into a larger entity to expand, enhance and eventually replace existing and badly antiquated legacy systems. It's outside-in and eventually, in many industries, it's going to be the most effective way for startups to win.
The basic idea is to seamlessly integrate: (a) incremental gig economy resources that were previously thought of as being exclusively outside the big business, such as fresh creative talent or additional skilled and technical workers, callable on demand, with (b) the internal resources and talents of the big business which, as often as not, the big business itself does a lousy job of identifying, organizing and utilizing because its own HR systems don't have that capability.
In many respects, this situation is another version of the old problem of a company that doesn't know what it knows. (See .) In these cases, the big businesses aren't able to marshal their internal resources quickly and effectively so they end up unnecessarily turning to third party vendors on a project basis. They also pay for services their own people could provide more cost-effectively if they had been "visible" within the organization.
In one case, the personnel need was literally bodies to staff events; in the other case, it was creatives needed to execute and complete projects in a timely, professional fashion. In both instances, the costs to the big businesses were secondary, not because that made good economic sense, but because the immediate demands and absence of good information afforded them little choice but to pay up if they wanted the jobs done on time.
While the third-party startup vendors were happy to take their money, the far better strategy would be to suggest to these "buyers" that the same outside software solutions built by the startups to manage their workforces' descriptive data and scheduling could be used inside the larger companies to provide the same analytical and organizational capabilities for their own employees. By melding the internal and external workforces into a single, readily-accessible resource, each time there are specific personnel requirements, the buyers could quickly look over all the available talent inside and outside the business. They can then optimize their selections to minimize incremental costs and utilize all of their own people first. Then they can seamlessly supplement any jobs with the outside talent available through the startups' own workforces.
Not only could this solution be implemented easily and quickly without disrupting the big companies' existing systems, the startups are happy to add the internal employees to their systems for free. Why would the startups do that? Because it sets up an easy and immediate way to demonstrate the superiority of their solutions. It's also a Trojan horse because it gives them access to thousands of additional (albeit currently employed) creatives and other skilled workers who might very well be interested in outside or incremental work. Or even in new employment opportunities. Obviously, there are some ethical issues, but the main objective is the first - for the startups to quickly show how effective their systems could be in better allocating resources, reducing outside costs, and actually being more responsive to both internal and external customers.
These kinds of shifts and penetrations from the outside in won't happen overnight, but because they initially operate in parallel to the status quo systems, they are far more attractive to the change agents in these big businesses because they don't really require anyone's permission. They basically can't be effectively blocked or stymied by the IT or HR departments. Even more importantly, the financial results are immediately apparent and indisputable. Ready or not, another big change in workforce management is heading our way.
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