I saw this just after I published my previous post and think it really encompasses what I’d like to say to HarperCollins and its fellow travelers.

This is from The Capitalist’s Paradox by Umair Haque.

So here’s my question: Does what you’re doing have a point — one that matters to people, society, nature, and the future?

Beancounters, listen up. To paraphrase Shakespeare, I come not to praise you, but to bury you. I don’t care about your “strategy,” “business model,” “campaign,” “product,” or “deliverables” (sorry). All that stuff is focused on outputs. What matters to people, in contrast, are outcomes: did this bring a tiny slice of health, wealth, joy, inspiration, connection, intellect, imagination, organization, education, elevation into my life, that lasted, multiplied, and mattered to me — or was its final result merely to make me just a bit fatter, wearier, unhealthier, disconnected, dumber, duller?

What I care about is whether you can change the world, radically for the better — whether you can attain deep significance, and matter in human terms. Why? Because the world needs, wants, is crying out for changing — and if you can’t change the world, a rival who can is going to make your latest, greater so-called blockbuster look mediocre, the people formerly known as customers are going to tune you out, communities are probably going to self-organize against you, and, when all is said and done, you’re probably going to end up at the mercy of hurf-durfing “investors” whose idea of “long-term” is speed-dating on steroids.

That’s it, HarperCollins. Create more value than you destroy.

Comments

  1. #1 Janne
    March 3, 2011

    I’m a researcher, and my work has generally been in the area of figuring out what, exactly, the mammal subcortical areas are up to.

    “So here’s my question: Does what you’re doing have a point — one that matters to people, society, nature, and the future?”

    No.

    What I do is minor bits of science. Nothing I do will ever end up in a glamour mag, and none of the results really have any kind of larger scale impact. It won’t help cure a disease, and any advancement in our understanding is minor, and would come from other groups eventually anyway. It’s ordinary jobbing science, crossing t’s and dotting i’s.

    So by that criterion, what I do has no point. It matters not to people at large; neither society nor nature is positively impacted, and the future could not care less. And none of my skills and interests lend themselves to anything like this either.

    I’m not fan of the corporate mindset, but if this is the criterion for being a good citizen, I may as well give up right here and now.

  2. #2 John Dupuis
    March 4, 2011

    Janne, Absolutely.

    The quote certainly does not apply to people doing curiousity-based basic research. And I’m 100% in favour of that kind of research as it’s the true source of so many of the applied breakthroughs that happen.

    That being said, HarperCollins is a business and I think they own it to all of their stakeholders — and I apply a very broad definition of stakeholders here, not just their ownership — to do something that matters. If I may borrow some of the jargon that Haque uses, they owe it to us all to generate thick value with their products and services. And I believe that with ebooks, thick value comes with the broadest possible definition of sharing.

  3. #3 Janne
    March 4, 2011

    Well, I would hope the same standards would apply no matter what the enterprise. If they aren’t creating value, then neither am I.

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