Hard Knocks, Reality Edition
Every month, High Lantern Group gathers a small list of interesting, provocative, and contrarian items that shed light on what makes great strategic positioning and thought leadership. We are happy to share them with you - and hear from you about ideas worth sharing.
Six Ideas That Made Us Think
1. Is WeWork a Cult?
We have all visited some great WeWork spaces, and it might be possible that the company will prove successful over time. But on the eve of its public offering, Scott Galloway offers a takedown of both the company’s prospectus and its founder, Adam Neumann, that makes it hard to take the company seriously.
WeWork's prospectus has a dedication (no joke): "We dedicate this to the power of We — greater than any one of us, but inside each of us." Pretty sure Jim Jones had t-shirts printed up with this inspiring missive. Speaking of idolatry, "Adam" (as in Neumann) is mentioned 169 times, vs. an average of 25 mentions for founder/CEOs in other unicorn prospectuses. Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, is mentioned 29 times in their prospectus.
The piling on has started: Forbes calls the WeWork IPO “easily the most ridiculous, and the most dangerous” IPO of 2019.
2. Will Chinese Consumers Reject China?
Chatham House has published a UBS economist’s wide-ranging assessment of China’s weakened economy. The prognosis is not favorable. Most interesting: the growing skepticism about China’s much-vaunted domestic car industry:
While total sales shrank by 6 per cent in China in 2018, buried in the fine print is the fact that domestic brands bore the brunt of the fall in demand. Without differentiating too much between imported cars versus domestically produced foreign-branded cars, lower prices for local names have not boosted demand. Even during a time of constrained household finances, it appears that Chinese consumers are willing to put a premium on quality, either perceived or real. This is a lesson that domestic firms badly need to learn…There is every chance that Chinese consumers will again turn away from Chinese brands, even if their prices are more competitive.
The entire article is worth reading in the midst of the Hong Kong protests.
3. Shoplifters of the World
The blog Unintended Consequences digs into the question of whether cashier-less stores with automated checkouts are encouraging people to steal:
Stores in theory deploy self-checkouts for efficiency but in practice it is different. Since the self-checkouts don’t work perfectly (whatever that means) people are either frustrated with them or take advantage of them. Some stores employ a clerk to focus on customer problems with self-checkouts themselves.
The post cites earlier reporting that suggested: “In their zeal to cut labor costs, supermarkets could be seen as having created ‘a crime-generating environment.'”
4. Volkswagen’s Old School Boss
The death of former Volkswagen boss Ferdinand Piëch has sparked a flood of unflattering obituaries that capture everything from his technical prowess (he designed the Lemans-winning Porsche 917), to his persistent battle with Porsche family members (he had 13 children with four women), to an autocratic style that earned him the reputation of “the most polarizing automobile executive of our time.”Autoblog elaborates:
Piëch's hierarchical, authoritarian management style contradicted fashionable management wisdom — but proved extremely successful. He respected alpha males of equal caliber: a few statesmen, race drivers, even powerful union leaders. But if you didn't take responsibility, you were on your way out. When he became Audi CEO, he reportedly told his top management: "Meine Herren, with one third of you I am satisfied, another third will have to improve, and the last third will have to leave." And thus it happened
5. Hard Knocks, Reality Edition
Former NFL lineman Rich Ohrenberger was never a star. But in the wake of quarterback Andrew Luck’s decision to retire before the age of 30, Ohrenberger’s thread on Twitter is gripping reading:
After 8 months of intense rehab and training, I had a training camp workout with the Bills — I was not signed. I then had a training camp workout with the Steelers — no dice. Then, nothing...Preseason ended, the NFL season was underway. The phone wasn't ringing. The Detroit Lions got off to an 0-5 start. I was brought in for a group workout on Tuesday, October 13th, 2015. I was one of ten or so 'guys' they dragged in for this workout. It was clear, they weren't kicking our tires, they were sending a message to their locker room. That night, I sat down in a hotel lobby bar in Detroit, I ordered a steak and a bourbon, and retired. There wasn't a press conference, no one broke the news, but it was over.
Amos Barshad’s exploration of the women’s professional darts circuit and the two competitors who dominate the sport is part ESPN-style profile, part fringe-society sociology. Every paragraph captures the vibe of a sport played with a drink in one hand:
In the darts rooms, the players who are still alive scream but their shirts — loud ones tucked into sensible slacks — scream louder. They offer stage names like “The Devil,” “The Godfather,” “El Capitan,” “Zneminem,” “The Curse,” “The Architect,” “The Beer Seller,” “The Blizzard,” “The Mystery.” They feature dart boards engulfed in flames or wrecked by lightning bolts or smashed through by monstrous snails. They say semi-explicable things like “I’m sexy and I throw it” and “Fifty shades of art” and, in arguably unearned appropriation of an infamous football chant, “No one likes us we don’t care.” Darts is lovably full of swagger. As for how full of self-awareness it is, I’m honestly not so sure.
Websites Worth Reading
San Francisco Car Break-Ins: Astonishing, interactive map
Album Cover Archives: 800,000 album covers
The Future of Reading: Podcast with Browser editor Robert Cottrell
Feeds We Follow
@ricmac: Founder/Editor of Cyberculture
@gentlereader: Links to great articles
@LawDavF: Lawrence Freedman, dean of strategy historians