Monday, July 21, 2008

improving on a future of profit-driven choices

In a capitalist society, what makes money is the baseline for what the future will bring. Making money isn't only about coming up with a product and getting it out the door, of course, but also about careful sourcing of the parts and materials you need to make your product, effective distribution and careful inventory control, and, perhaps most importantly, creative marketing. It's also about paying careful attention to what your customers are telling you and responding in a way that addresses their needs without sacrificing your own.

Apple has shown it's possible to set high standards for design and manufacture and still make money, in fact that high standard is no small part of why the company is profitable; it helps to differentiate them in a business known for narrow margins and lackluster quality.

Theirs may be a special situation, as the primary alternative to Microsoft — which continues to make money hand over fist despite what has become habitual bumbling in full public view — but they've taken that niche and run with it.

Apple's success isn't just about pretty boxes, but rather about a culture of disciplined high concept, which pervades the company and manifests in many ways, some far less obvious than the delicate curves of an iMac.

I'm proposing that the sort of disciplined high concept Apple lives and breathes is capable of transforming the net result of capitalism itself in ways which dramatically improve the future prospects of humanity*, that it's transmissible through intense or prolonged contact, although not aggressively contagious, and that some corporate cultures have so much momentum of a different sort as to be effectively immune.

Those last two points together mean that we shouldn't expect any such transformation to happen overnight. If it happens at all, it's more likely to be through some combination of spreading of the cultural virus and a shakeout of companies that continue to resist it, assuming that companies infected with this virus will prove hardier in the long run.

An unpredictable factor is whether a watered down version of the virus might prove more virulent than the fully potent strain.

*This point about disciplined high concept transforming capitalism in ways which improve humanity's prospects for the future deserves elaboration and support. For the moment I merely assert the idea, and invite others to say whether it rings true for them.

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