BOOK REVIEW | "THE BIG PAYBACK: THE HISTORY OF THE BUSINESS OF HIP-HOP" BY DAN CHARNAS
in the modern age of streaming and platforms like SPOTIFY there is now incontrovertible proof that HIP HOP is the leading cultural force and has been for more than a generation. one aspect of driving culture results in an outsized influence over economic trends and makes such the focus of the INVESTMENT CLASS seeking to monetize relationships through ENDORSEMENTS, PARTNERSHIPS and INNUMERABLE PRODUCTS. according to ABC NEWS, conservative estimates have HIP HOP generating $10 billion a year in annual revenue. in today's environment, the idea of a PHARRELL WILLIAMS signature shoe line rather than that of an athlete is nothing particularly out of the ordinary. as JAY-Z once adroitly quipped on the KANYE WEST track "DIAMONDS FROM SIERRA LEONE (REMIX)" off of LATE REGISTRATION (DEF JAM / ROC-A-FELLA, 2005), "im not a businessman, im a business, man."
but that was not always the case.
THE BIG PAYBACK: THE HISTORY OF THE BUSINESS OF HIP-HOP (NEW AMERICAN LIBRARY, 2011) examines the HUMBLE BEGINNINGS of how rap established itself as a culture and then as a business throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. these were AMOEBIC INCREMENTAL steps that saw NYC community parties in the park evolve into late hour terrestrial radio programs to small business record label entrepreneurship and so on. what is REMARKABLE is the extent to which major players and gate keepers at every turn were reticent to be involved due to an UNPROVEN track record that was largely based on SYSTEMATIC RACISM. looking back the immense untapped market throughout the early period is OBVIOUS, but it took to time for CORPORATE AMERICA to understand and buy-in. case in point from the book is the example of COCA-COLA who were reserved about associating its main brand with a black athlete, so they took their side product in SPRITE (who at the time was a secondary market competitor to 7-UP) and ran a campaign with recent LOS ANGELES LAKER phenomenon KOBE BRYANT. it was massively successful and the continued relationship between SPRITE and black rappers/athletes continues unabated to present.
my favorite example of BLACK ENTREPRENEURSHIP and gaming the system from THE BIG PAYBACK is the WU-TANG CLAN, who signed a record as a collective to LOUD RECORDS but had a clause in their contract that such did not cover individual members. this allowed members to sign with different label such as METHOD MAN with DEF JAM, OL' DIRTY BASTARD with ELEKTRA, GHOSTFACE KILLAH with EPIC, GZA with WARNER BROS, RAEKWON with RCA and so on. that effectively meant that the whole industry had a piece of the WU-TANG CLAN pie and collectively promoted it accordingly. just incredibly business savvy and genius in a manner that THE CLASH and countless ROCK N ROLL bands ripped-off by extended, exploitative contracts would probably be crying and seething with jealousy over.
another thread in this book is the extent to which BLACK ENTREPRENEURSHIP was underpinned by another UNDERREPRESENTED MINORITY GROUP that saw their ARTISTIC and ECONOMIC POTENTIAL and nurtured such. for generations there has been much interplay and mutual support between the black and jewish communities, especially in NYC going back to JAZZ age. from producers like RICK RUBIN (BEASTIE BOYS, LL COOL J, RUN-DMC, JAY-Z, EMINEM, KANYE WEST) to managers and executives like STEVE RIFKIND (MOBB DEEP, BIG PUN, WU-TANG CLAN, DAVID BANNER), there is a deep mutual admiration and partnership at play that is largely UNHERALDED and UNSPOKEN. such a relationship makes the anti-semitism from KANYE WEST, NICK CANNON, JAY-Z, 21 SAVAGE and even going way back to SCARFACE, ICE CUBE and PUBLIC ENEMY's PROFESSOR GRIFF a bizarre aberration that denies the SUPPORTIVE, MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL nature of such. its hard to stomach especially after reading this book.
if you are interesting in the business and economic underpinnings of HIP HOP and how a culture infiltrated and dominated the mainstream from seemingly nowhere than THE BIG PAYBACK is well-worth investigation. i found it FASCINATING, having read it years before my current path pursuing an MBA. it goes to show that if marketed well, CORPORATE AMERICA will follow suit on any LUCRATIVE opportunity no matter how OUTRAGEOUS or seemingly UNPROVEN.
HIP HOP is a case in point.
the informative graphic novel HYPER-CAPITALISM (THE NEW PRESS, 2018) by cartoonist LARRY GONICK and PSYCHOLOGY professor TIM KASSER is essentially an exhaustive breakdown of the extent to which INTRINSIC VALUES (such as appeals to SOCIAL JUSTICE, CREATIVITY, connection to NATURE / COMMUNITY) are INCOMPATIBLE with the prevailing ethos of the modern corporate system we all inhabit. this graphic novel very much gets at the heart of what makes MODERN CAPITALISM such a PERNICIOUS threat to GLOBAL SUSTAINABILITY efforts as well as the stability of communities and the general well-being of its inhabitants. corporations in particular are terrible neighbors who, by design, have an insatiable need to seek and ultimately leverage various COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGES (regarding RESOURCES, LABOR, TECHNOLOGY, etc.) in order to appease shareholders and exploit stakeholders in the process. the drawings are targeted and delineate numerous complicated strategies, postures and procedures (with regards to the culpability of the CONSUMER, GOVERNMENT, LEGAL SYSTEM and BUSINESS OWNERS) in a succinct and efficient manner. the effectiveness of these panels is pretty staggering and is really a testament to how talented and knowledgable both GONICK and KASSER are as a team.
but its all so DEPRESSING and just OVERWHELMING.
such is why the pair decided to have write a second section of the book that outlined how various practices (at both the consumer and business level) can ward off the DESTRUCTIVE elements of CAPITALISM and reinvigorate communities and social congruity. making purchases (and long-term investments) based on HUMANISTIC VALUES and participating in local communal efforts (FARMER'S MARKETS, TIME BANKS, LIBRARIES, etc.) keeps the immense influence and power of capital at the local level. and that is basically they key to transforming what the author refers to as "HYPER-CAPITALISM", you have to alter it from the inside out. by changing how you interact with the system you are in essence transforming it to something that is more HUMANISTIC and in line with INTRINSIC VALUES that better everyone.
or so that is the central thesis. i feel that MATERIALISM will not change and that people will forever be mindlessly subject to the GREEDY, PERNICIOUS whims of coordinated corporate ADVERTISING, LOBBYING and LEGAL efforts. i dont see a communal change in our CONSCIOUSNESS as AMERICANS, which is essentially built on RACIST, MATERIALISTIC and unapologetically NARCISSISTIC framework devoted to the idea of the INDIVIDUAL.
the antidote to this DEVASTATING situation is a seemingly QUIXOTIC dream that i share but dont see coming true. we are doomed. our individual and collective desires are doing us in.
SPOTLIGHT | "PIVOT" PODCAST
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
pretty much since i had the thought of pursuing an MBA a few years ago i have been a fairly regular listener of the bi-weekly PIVOT podcast (VOX MEDIA, 2018-present) hosted by VETERAN tech journalist KARA SWISHER (formerly of THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and THE WASHINGTON POST) and NYU MARKETING professor SCOTT GALLOWAY which mainly deals with technology and market trends. since taking classes i have found that the regular terminology and concepts they apply to their analysis has been deeply helpful in my coming to speed with BUSINESS thinking and jargon in general.
SWISHER has a long history of being a THOUGHTFUL yet doggedly POINTED and EFFECTIVE interlocutor who often confronts (and even interrupts) her interview subjects when they drift towards platitudes and hazy language to obfuscate from responsibility. these subjects are very often powerful, rich white men. as a proud lesbian, her very identity grants her an edge as she is not affected by the often retrograde gender prescriptions favored by this WASPY, elitist demographic. she comes off supremely CONFIDENT and prepared and a SWISHER interview is INFORMATIVE and frequently NEWSWORTHY because of the respect she commands. my only gripe is her apparent blind spot surrounding ELON MUSK, of whom she often comes across as an apologist at best and an enabler at worst. her opinion and influence carries weight beyond her economic weight and she knows this. i was surprised that it took MUSK recently making bad trans jokes as CEO of TWITTER to get her triggered regarding his awful influence on culture and politics. but i respect her and her opinion so im sure she'll come to a conclusion that is ENLIGHTENED and well thought-out.
which brings me to GALLOWAY, who at times seems like a stand-in for the mentality of these creeps. i dont wish to totally repudiate the man, as i often find his market analysis INSIGHTFUL and ability to think through complicated corporate policy issues rather POIGNANT. even for a layman like me who is wading through these same waters currently in BUSINESS SCHOOL, GALLOWAY is someone who can walk me through an issue from a board-member or CEO, CFO, COO, CIO's perspective. i think where i deviate from him is when he branches out from his area of expertise, MARKETING, and starts opining about issues related to MASCULINITY, relationships and especially ETHICS. my issues is that he comes off DETACHED, CLUELESS and overly PEDANTIC in his observations. it is beyond eye-rolling to hear him give advice about issues surrounding PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY and MORALITY in general when he is constantly attempting to middle path his way through politics during the pre and post TRUMP era (currently supports MEHMET OZ for senator in PENNSYLVANIA), attended the WORLD CUP in RUSSIA and is planning to do so again in QATAR (where 6,500 migrant workers have perished constructing said facilities and infrastructure under INHUMANE conditions), as well as the fact that he currently relocated to LONDON to give his family a "world perspective." as if the UNITED KINGDOM represents global culture. maybe to a NAIVE AMERICAN. it all just points to how SMALL and MYOPIC the dude's worldview is and his blatant disregard for anything resembling PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY. he's basically the perfect avatar for AMERICAN CAPITALISM bar none.
i just find it a little aggravating to hear GALLOWAY lecture the next generation when he is far far from perfect. with SWISHER i dont have that issue as she seems swayed by facts and relevant life work experience, there is a gravitas to her positions. GALLOWAY and his beyond LAME "dog" persona just comes off as DESPERATE and attention-seeking as he HOPELESS attempts to position himself as a modern "thought leader." i think he would be better served if he'd just stick to his MARKET ANALYSIS and lay off the HUBRIS and EGOISM just a little. nothing wrong with a little HUMILITY from time to time. here's a suggestion: maybe start traveling to all those developing nations that that hedge fund you used to run and those boards you used to sit on exploited to high hell. instead of living comfortably in the decomposing corpse of past conquests and colonial influence that is LONDON. you could gain some perspective by spending time WEST AFRICA, SOUTHEAST ASIA or maybe even SOUTH AMERICA. i have lived in all three (plus EASTERN EUROPE) and it was beyond TRANSFORMATIVE. it maybe even get you to rethink half of those demonstrably ILL-INFORMED opinions you have about AMERICA's supposedly benevolent hegemonic global impact impact and the true beneficiaries of MARKET CAPITALISM.
or maybe you'll continue to ignore such externalities all the same. i just thought given your intelligence and your accomplishments you'd know better.
BOOK REVIEW | "EMPIRE OF PAIN: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE SACKLER DYNASTY" BY PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE
there is evil and then there is SACKLER FAMILY evil.
EMPIRE OF PAIN: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE SACKLER DYNASTY (DOUBLEDAY, 2021) by PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE is a cautionary journey into the depraved depths of boundless GREED that marked the IMMORAL behavior of the SACKLER FAMILY and the pharmaceutical business, PURDUE PHARMA, that they owned and operated over three generations. this operation was so successful in its peddling of addictive opioids in part due to the BRAZEN nature of their incapacity to showcase HUMAN EMPATHY or any SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY to their fellow man, instead hiding behind a fig leaf of false LIBERTARIAN-inspired dogma that is all to apparent in similar MORALLY CORRUPT CAPITALIST ENTERPRISES (i.e. tobacco and firearms).
but the outrage i felt reading this book is not limited to the SACKLER FAMILY and their unethical marketing of OXYCONTIN (and VALIUM before it) for widespread, common use. its tentacles went much further into the the very heart of the CORRUPT INCENTIVE STRUCTURES that are the basis of our federal LEGAL, POLITICAL and MEDICAL systems. every system failed. multiple times. it seemed that the whole capitalist system enabled this company to reek PHYSICAL, MORAL and PSYCHIC DESTRUCTION on the most DESPERATE and VULNERABLE elements of our society and profited unimaginably. and its not even a DEMOCRAT or REPUBLICAN issue, since everyone has blood on their hands over multiple administrations of inactivity. that and members of each have taken money from them and/or worked on their behalf (MARY JO WHITE and ERIC HOLDER of the OBAMA ADMINISTRATION to name only two prominent PURDUE PHARMA attorneys).
what also made EMPIRE OF PAIN so compelling, aside from its flawless construction as it expertly unveiled layers of interweaving depths of CORRUPT BUSINESS PRACTICES and IMMORAL BEHAVIOR over generations and geography, is how it is just as much concerned with the appearance and presentation of POWER and INFLUENCE. these ill-gotten gains were seemingly symbolically laundered through the name rights of institutes and galleries associated with numerous prestigious museums (THE MET, LOUVRE, TATE MODERN, NATIONAL GALLERY in LONDON, BROOKLYN MUSEUM, SMITHSONIAN, GUGGENHEIM, BRITISH MUSEUM and the AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY) and universities (HARVARD, COLUMBIA, OXFORD, NYU, TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY, YALE, CORNELL and TUFTS). this "philanthropy" was a bid for immortality and a fraudulent display of MAGNANIMITY for cultural and educational concerns that was really based in basic, primordial instincts towards POWER and INFLUENCE. the fact that these institutions allowed such to happen just shows the vacuous nature of their INFLUENCE-PEDDLING to begin with. nobody is spared in this narrative.
well, actually there are a few heroes. namely the artist NAN GOLDIN who utilized her unfortunate experience with OXYCONTIN and its community of survivors to chasten and call out the SACKLER FAMILY and those institutions that enabled them. her leadership is one of COURAGE and DEFIANCE and all those enabled virtues devoid from any member of the SACKLER FAMILY. there is also MASSACHUSETTS ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY and her NEW YORK counterpart LETITIA JAMES, as well as attorneys from across the country who tirelessly went after the family members themselves, even after the shell-game involved with the BANKRUPTCY COURT shenanigans of PURDUE PHARMA. their efforts are honorable and well within the scope of the public trust that defines their position.
the sad part about EMPIRE OF PAIN is that you are hoping that this constant craven display of INHUMANITY over many generations in one family is an anomaly in our system, a blip, but deep down we all know that this isnt the case. in fact, PURDUE PHARMA and their EXPLOITATIVE shell-game of an operation is our system. their bending and subordination of our LEGAL, FINANCIAL, POLITICAL and JUDICIAL structures to seek their needs and not the publics is as AMERICAN as BASEBALL or JAZZ.
this book really made me reflect on my own individual responsibility in the enabling of these types of structures and practices. the clothes i wear, the car i drive and the food i consume are all made available through unsustainable and exploitative practices on my behalf. i dont know how we exit our COMPLICITY as passive consumers within this complex system which seeks to generate consumer and investor value at the expense of limited resources and undervalued labor.
it just feels like this level of EXPLOITATION is bound to happen again and again on repeat because the incentives are there at every level to perpetuate such. again, seemingly we are all COMPLICIT. i just dont see this changing. ever. it is like JELLO BIAFRA riff on the PATRICK HENRY slogan which sums up our collective ADDICTION to CONSUMER CULTURE, damn the consequences, "give me convenience or give me death."
this is an excellent book, probably the best thing ive read since starting this blog a few years back. absolutely highly recommended.
growing up through the mid-90s in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, specifically the then-conservative enclave of ORANGE COUNTY, i was made more than well-aware of BRAND-conscious peers that went past brands like NIKE and sported surf and skate related labels like BILLABONG, O'NEILL, VANS, QUICKSILVER, RUSTY and OCEAN PACIFIC as well as other lifestyle firms like STUSSY, MOSSIMO, CROSS COLOURS, NO FEAR among countless others.
it is one of those interesting things about my upbringing that my family left SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA for NIGERIA in 1996, right when clothes was becoming a thing. a demarcator of identity. living in AFRICA killed that instinct (outside of basketball shoes!) where you were witness to those who had very little. it made this all feel very... small and insignificant.
in reading THIS IS NOT A T-SHIRT: A BRAND, A CULTURE, A COMMUNITY - A LIFE IN STREETWEAR (MCD, 2019) by BOBBY KIM, a.k.a. BOBBY HUNDREDS, of THE HUNDREDS fame, it became apparent that streetwear and fashion for him as a creator was less about exclusivity and more about expression. i didn't realize it beforehand, but all those labels i grew up on were run and started almost exclusively by white men. streetwear from THE HUNDREDS and its competitors was very much about penetrating the fashion and garment industry and gaining marketshare for a more diverse and inclusive set of designers. KIM is a lifelong CALIFORNIAN, HARDCORE PUNK kid, former LAW student and the son of KOREAN immigrants, which makes the rise of the label he co-created that much more interesting as it exemplifies a progression of AMERICAN culture writ large. the segment THE HUNDREDS brand satiates is as diverse as KIM himself.
which is kinda the point.
the label in many ways is an outgrowth of his personality and more specifically his blog. THE HUNDREDS was early to blogging and utilized such to contextualize their collections and transform the product being marketed as a psychic extension of their obsessions, hobbies and COMMUNITY. the blog essentially founded a community and it is that relationship with this COMMUNITY which is at the heart of this memoir.
what is KIM's relationship to his audience? what does he own them? does he allow them, or the idea of them, to lead his decision-making on future collections? or is his task to lead them deeper down an explored and deeply-shared sense of COMMUNITY based on similar obsessions, perspectives and viewpoints.
its an interesting dynamic that ive become interested in since starting my MBA recently, that of how one runs a business while leading an authentic existence. not exploiting either labor or your customers when all incentive and reward structures suggest otherwise. what ive taken from KIM's example is keeping ownership and financial control close and being realistic about potential risks and opportunities and how those will affect the standing of your brand. it may be that KIM has a unique perspective given his label's longstanding brand equity based on the transparency and interplay of his blog and social media with his COMMUNITY. as long as that relationship is intact and relevant to his consumers, it would seem the brand has a shot at continued viability.
but in the end it is not about a t-shirt, a brand or even KIM himself, it is about the COMMUNITY being fostered. and that is pretty cool. i never felt that from wearing a BILLABONG shirt back as a 12 year old. if anything SKATE and SURF culture came of as exclusive rather than inclusive.
very interesting BUSINESS memoir i'll be thinking of for quite some time. well worth checking out.
BOOK REVIEW | "LET MY PEOPLE GO SURFING: THE EDUCATION OF A RELUCTANT BUSINESSMAN" BY YVON CHOUINARD
so im taking a course at the moment on SUPPLY CHAIN management and recently there was a focus in the text about how corporations have a decision matrix that includes shareholders, specifically the wider societal and environmental impact of their operations. LET MY PEOPLE GO SURFING: THE EDUCATION OF RELUCTANT BUSINESSMAN (PENGUIN, 2005) written by PATAGONIA founder YVON CHOUNINARD basically calls bullshit on that whole notion. he makes his position very clear that corporations were originally created and continually maintained to limit the liability of their actions on a finite global ecosystem. by definition their objective and reason for being is to create efficiencies within the SUPPLY CHAIN, PRODUCTION and DISTRIBUTION of products and maximize profit. full stop.
anything else is just marketing and corporate propaganda.
which brings me to this interesting book about the history, philosophy and multi-pronged environmental efforts of the privately-owned benefit corporation PATAGONIA, INC and its multi-pronged in-house subsidiaries that produce everything from food, clothing to even surf boards. a cynic could argue that this book is a clever piece of propaganda aimed at convincing customers of the moral superiority of the PATAGONIA brand and its environmental efforts, which could justify the relatively high price of their products. for the record when i was a PEACE CORPS volunteer stationed in the bitterly cold northern mountainous region of ALBANIA bordering KOSOVO, i brought with me both shell jacket and a micro-puff jacket by the company that kept me warm. so if i have a bias, there it is. thats all i own by them and i still have both years later.
but as company propaganda goes, this book is really less a hagiography of the founder and his company and more a manual about how to go about innovating a business in a way that makes business sense. to me that is the core of this book and its intent. if anything, CHOUNINARD is attempting to proselytize future entrepreneur's to consider the real cost of their company and consider how to make them more environmentally sustainable. the example provided repeatedly throughout this book (which comprehensively goes over everything from their company philosophy on PRODUCT DESIGN and PRODUCTION to DISTRIBUTION, MARKETING, HUMAN RESOURCING and MANAGEMENT among other topics) is the risky switch the company made to organic content in the mid 1990s. sourcing this material was more costly to the company and required more intensive labor on behalf of the farmers, but those initial costs proved profitable long term and exerted less strain on the environment (turns out not using all those industrial chemicals and pesticides makes the soil more healthy and more productive, who knew?). CHOUNINARD claims that the cost of innovating his SUPPLY CHAIN in the short term was immense but was a sound business decision long term, even if the consumer 1) didn't notice the switch and 2) according to marketing research didn't care.
my takeaway from this book is that there is a hidden cost to SUPPLY CHAIN decisions that most companies, especially corporations working at scale, dont consider in part because they are not forced to. their goal is to be profitable. everything else is a externality. unfortunately this cycle of production and mindless consumerism as a means of insuring perpetual economic growth is a fantasy.
worse yet it is suicide.
CHOUNINARD doesnt claim to have all the answers. his company pollutes and creates waste, but the culture he created is fighting the good fight from the inside. it is attempting to setup the infrastructure to reduce waste by sourcing materials responsibly, seeking better work environments (including on-site child care), creating empowering specialized programs for workers of foreign mills and factories and instituting policies such as allowing customers to return long-worn products for repair. the list goes on.
probably most celebrated is their 1% FOR THE PLANET commitment whereby they pledged 1% of total sales to preservation and restoration of the environment. this is done through contributions to small local advocacy groups, not institutionalized groups and foundations which large overhead. they have committed nearly $90 million over the course of the company's history.
even if you are a cynic, that type of putting your money where your mouth is makes you take notice and they are encouraging others to make a stand and joing the effort. so in essence this book is not CHOUNINARD celebrating his efforts, it is him providing context and concrete strategies for his competitors to do the same. which is innately honorable. so kudos for him
i just dont think corporate AMERICA is going to change. ever. the efforts and contents of this book is outside their mindset. outside their interest. we are a planet of finite resources and they will suck it dry like the vampires they are. we are all doomed.
its interesting to consider that all FORTUNE 500 companies began once as a startup. even a monolithic, globally dominant, seemingly omnipresent, iconic brand such as NIKE. as of 2020 the company is conservatively estimated to be worth $32 BILLION, but at one point it germinated as a "crazy idea" by STANFORD BUSINESS grad and former UNIVERSITY OF OREGON letterman long-distance runner PHIL KNIGHT. SHOE DOG (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2016) is his memoir and explains the uneven trajectory of NIKE from its inception to its public IPO in 1980.
at STANFORD a young KNIGHT developed a business plan for a self-described crazy idea of his that saw an opening for JAPAN to dominate the global footwear industry much as it had done with consumer electronics. this was due to heavy government subsidies that gave them an unmatched advantage in the global marketplace. KNIGHT thought that if he could become a stateside distributor for a major JAPANESE player than he could take on ADIDAS' dominance as the premier shoemaker. on a lark he went to JAPAN, having never traveled abroad and convinced ONITSUKA to let his "company" BLUE RIBBON SPORTS serve as a distributor. the name was made up on the spot during his meeting with them in KOBE.
long story short, KNIGHT and his assembled team of misfits did very well selling them stateside and built up their market over more than half a decade. this despite maxing out creditors and leveraging everything over and over again to promote growth. it was a slow rise with potentially deficits around the corner always set to sink the fledgling company.
at some point they had a suspicion and later learned that they were about to be cut out and replaced as ONITSUKA's distributor. the NIKE line of football cleats they initially made were meant as a hedging bet against losing ONITSUKA. the name NIKE, the SWOOSH and other legendary corporate iconography where made on the fly out of necessity in short order with no time to rethink such. that alone is quite stunning given how much image and the promotion of such thereof is synonymous with the brand. KNIGHT throughout the book consistently complains about advertising and doesnt see a need for it. again, just a staggeringly insightful comment given their famous brand identity and long-established mass market appeal promoted by one of the most successful advertising campaigns of all time (its a real pity he doesnt get into how "JUST DO IT" came about, was looking forward to learning about that).
after lawsuits with various entities NIKE goes public and the next corporate phase begins. it is during that phase we have all the well known athlete tie-ins (MICHAEL JORDAN, TIGER WOODS, SERENA WILLIAMS, CRISTIANO RONALDO, KOBE BRYANT, MIA HAMM, ANDRE AGASSI, LEBRON JAMES, NEYMAR, SIMONE BILES, CARL LEWIS, KEVIN DURANT, JACKIE JOYNER-KERSEE, etc.) with the exception of running legend STEVE PREFONTAINE who was very much a part of the initial and identity of of the nascent company in its early development.
what i took from this memoir is the amount of continual sacrifice it takes to establish a viable company in a competitive field from scratch. learning about the early history of NIKE almost felt like the reading of a gambling addict, someone who routinely bet the house and survived. the perseverance and focus of KNIGHT is quite remarkable. i also learned that a brand identity can be far removed from the company itself, as few people in the early staff were able to run. in fact the major players, aside from KNIGHT, included the morbidly obese, chain smokers and even a paraplegic. what they shared was a vision and a faith in their leadership, a faith in KNIGHT that at times he did not share himself but willed himself through.
obviously there is the issue of outsourcing production to ASIA, specifically JAPAN then TAIWAN and later CHINA, which has dogged their corporate image over the years. KNIGHT does address such but through the lens of how the company has raised factory conditions from their previous levels of cleanliness and overall sanitariness. its a hard sell that i wasnt totally convinced of, partly having myself been to places like CAMBODIA where AMERICA companies employ textile factories that have subhuman working conditions. that argument falls on jaded ears im sorry to say.
my thought is that such is the limit of MARKET CAPITALISM, which beholds itself to the stockholder and the god of profit, not our better angels. despite how well intentioned his pronouncements of his familiarity with the precepts of BUDDHISM are throughout this memoir, it is as if he forget the basic tenet of RIGHT OCCUPATION. the idea being that it is a moral imperative to conduct work that does not cause others to suffer. just saying.
like i said before, this book is not the story of MICHAEL JORDAN or other famous endorsees of NIKE, it is about the early struggle of the company to survive. arguably that is a more interesting phase in the trajectory of its life as a firm. KNIGHT Is a gifted writer with many well-constructed running analogies for business concepts that i will remember and carry forward. if learning about what makes a company work and prosper and survive financial, political and competitive obstacles to flourish than this is a great book to consider. if you are interested in the history and evolution of footwear specifically, than this is probably not the book for you. the fact that they are selling shoes is largely inconsequential in the narrative presented outside of KNIGHT's appreciation for RUNNING and the similarities regarding the task-obsessed mentality of both an athlete and a business owner.
i thought it was a compelling story and look forward to seeing the film as it was recently optioned with participation from KNIGHT himself. should be an interesting biopic.
ZUCKED: WAKING UP TO THE FACEBOOK CATASTROPHE (PENGUIN, 2020) is a warning against a dystopian future currently under development whereby various SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISTS like AMAZON, GOOGLE, MICROSOFT and yes, FACEBOOK, are monitoring your online and offline activities in real time and employing behavior modification at scale.
that last part is the real kicker.
the idea that your emotions and behavior can be modified as well as everyone else collectively on the site. to the common end user of a SOCIAL MEDIA platform (TWITTER, INSTAGRAM, FACEBOOK) there is an assumption that site is neutral, which is not true. seamless and invisible proprietary algorithms are constantly A/B-ing content to build a more complete psychological profile of the user that is in turn utilized to sell ads to advertisers. essentially the USER IS THE PRODUCT. persuasive technology such as AUTOPLAY/ENDLESS FEEDS, VARIABLE REWARDS, SOCIAL VALIDATION LOOPS and even outright PROPAGANDA is utilized to manipulate you to spend more time on the platform. as the author points out, these "web 2.0 startups focused their technology on the weakest elements of human psychology. They set out to create habits, evolved habits into addictions, and laid the ground work for giant fortunes."
the risk of such on the individual level is that PREFERENCE BUBBLES are established which consist of content and like-minded groups suggested by the algorithm and the reinforce biases and limit conflicting content, effectively creating a self-imposed STOCKHOLM SYNDROME. these PREFERENCE BUBBLES metastasize into FILTER BUBBLES which a dedicated user is often not even cognizant of, their skewed reality no turning into its own TRUMAN SHOW-esque alternative reality.
at scale on a societal level these FILTER BUBBLES are corrosive to national unity and democratic ideals. these networks incentivize extreme positions as such lead to further engagement and the real-world consequences include ethnic and political violence as well as DOMESTIC TERRORISM. it's a harsh dystopian reality we are being lead into with no real choice in the matter. as ZUCKED points out, only "the data consumers give up often accounts for 1 percent" of their total data. that means your search engine searches over time is nothing compare what the SURVEILLANCE CAPITALIST apparatus purchases off of third-parties and monitors utilizing various products throughout the web. it is fascinating and disturbing.
but let me back up for a sec.
the author, ROGER MCNAMEE, is a noted VENTURE CAPITALIST who was an advisor to MARK ZUCKERBERG in the years prior to FACEBOOK's IPO as he was being bid upon by then-competitors like YAHOO.
as much as ZUCKED focuses on the overreach of SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM and the climatic global, political, cultural and social destabilization that such has wrought, it is also equally focused on the ethos that emerged in post-2000 SILICON VALLEY that informed its trajectory.
in essence the tech community in the 2000s benefited from almost 30+ years of innovation that was tempered only by the limitations of the available technological infrastructure (bandwidth, processing power, storage, memory). in the 2000s these obstacles were effectively limitless. before these limitations meant that software developers and engineers had to be elegant, clever and efficient in how they wrote code. in the 2000s you had what is known as the "lean startup" model whereby you could present an ever evolving product and address issues as they emerge via user feedback. most emerging technologies utilized this cost effective model at the time. effectively it meant that little forethought was put into the possible future ramifications of new technologies and potential complications.
along with this new business model were the dual reinforcing ideologies of LIBERTARIANISM and NEOLIBERLAISM.
LIBERTARIANISM is the idea that there should be minimal intervention by the state in the market and private matters. this political stance promoted the idea of the good of the individual over that of the group and essentially absolved the adherent from responsibility from disruptions rooted in their greed. it also promoted a false notion of a MERITOCRACY, that leaders in the SILICON VALLEY were successful and in positions of power due to their own intellect and strategery and not (more likely) inherited wealth or connections. LIBERTARIANISM allowed many white men to promote a FALSE FEEDBACK LOOP that justified conformity and a homogenous workplace along ethnic and gender lines.
related to LIBERTARIANISM is the economic belief system known as NEOLIBERALISM (ubiquitous in both parties since REAGAN ADMINISTRATION), which advocates that markets should replace government as the rule setter of economic activity. you can probably see where this is heading. adherents to NEOLIBERALISM believe as a matter of principle that tech companies (with unmitigated economic, social, cultural, political and psychological influence and power never before seen in the history of mankind) are the sole rightful bearers of policing their own industry. for the most part (EUROPE being the exception) these SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISTS have been allowed to continue unabated from antitrust regulation.
it is a major problem.
luckily books such as this are adding to the chorus of criticism by researchers and academics that hopefully will counter commonly held LIBERTARIAN and NEOLIBERAL stances that were based on a past outdated, pre-digital model of the economy. DEREGULATION was a mistake and we are bearing the fruit of such now.
riveting book that really shook my understanding of myself and my relationship to technology and society. well worth your time to check out and read.