Book Review by Frank Blechman
Readers have noted that I can’t seem to just say what I have to say. I seem to wander around until I get to the point of my column. For those annoyed by this, I apologize. To be honest, though, I write this way because I think this way.
Often, I’ll come across an idea in a magazine article or news story and think, “Huh, that’s interesting. I should look into that.” Usually, I don’t do it. But then, sometimes, the same idea shows up somewhere else, like in an advertisement. The lightbulb goes on again, briefly, and I think, “something is going on with that.” Generally, it takes three or more whacks to the head like that to really get my attention.
So when I saw economists saying that the virus pandemic was a ‘disruptive opportunity’, I noticed. When commentators began saying that we should not try to restore the economy, but rather grow a new one, I recognized that this was the same idea. When advertisers started saying that they could help business grow ‘better’ instead of just ‘grow back’, I seriously began to wonder what they had in mind.
Eventually, by this circuitous path, I came across a book by Scott Galloway called POST-CORONA: From Crisis to Opportunity (Penguin/Random House, 2020). I knew Galloway as a business entrepreneur who masqueraded as a social critic. His previous book, The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, tickled my fancy by calling for the breakup of the tech giants. I totally lack the training or expertise to evaluate his business analyses, so I’ll just focus on his big ideas in this new book.
Acceleration. The pandemic has not brought us much new, but has speeded up business trends already underway. Changes that might have taken a decade have instead happened in less than a year. For example, remote work went from a slightly faddish but odd ‘thing’ to being the main way most businesses and organizations operate. E-commerce completely dominated holiday shopping.
Advantage Cash. Organizations with the biggest cash reserves were able to adapt more quickly and easily to their changing environments than their stretched-thin competitors. This is not new, but the pandemic amplified the differences.
Consumers are much less reliant on “brands” to guide their selections. In every area of commerce, product ratings (combined with quality in delivery) quickly overtake the old, the known and trusted brands. Selling information about consumers becomes the biggest business product of all.
Products. Rapid change and instant access to vast amounts of information means that consumers are much less reliant on “brands” to guide their selections. In every area of commerce, product ratings (combined with quality in delivery) quickly overtake the old, the known and trusted brands. Selling information about consumers becomes the biggest business product of all.
Breakup. The four biggest tech giants (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google) either have to be broken up by government action, or they will take over the world, unregulatable by and unaccountable to anyone.
Industries that have not or cannot adapt to this new environment will go extinct in less than a generation. At the top of his list, he cites conventional higher education.
Collapse. Unsurprisingly, Galloway then says that industries that have not or cannot adapt to this new environment will go extinct in less than a generation. At the top of his list, he cites conventional higher education. Over the last 40 years, the costs (tuition and fees) have increased almost five times faster than the consumer price index (the cost of living). The pandemic has forced universities to move to remote classes, raising the question of why the consumer should pay for the fancy infrastructure (dorms, classrooms, lawns, stadiums, libraries, alumni associations) at all. He accepts that a few elite institutions that position themselves as exclusive luxury products will last a little longer as social networks more than as education institutions. Similarly, office complexes and retail shopping malls will fade away before the end of the decade. We will have learned to live without them.
The Future. For a business guy, Galloway’s vision for the future is surprising. He concludes that democracy can check the endless growth and reach of tech companies. Forcing them to be more socially responsible and responsive to real needs (compared with manufactured, artificial needs). He concludes that education can re-emerge as the engine of opportunity that it has always been. Without giving too much away, I’ll tell you that he even thinks we might learn something from this pandemic and decide as a society to put more resources into research and prevention of plagues like viruses and climate change.
Neither Galloway nor I like to see ourselves as Pollyannas, hopelessly cheerful in the face of grim realities. So I won’t give this book a big ‘thumbs up.’ It certainly won’t make your day or give you the answers to everything. I’ll tell you that it is an easy read with some interesting data nuggets to enrich your conversations (real or virtual). You can do worse.