A scholarly look at how technology has radically transformed the world of commerce, coupled with advice for how to navigate this new landscape.
In his second book, Shaughnessy (The Elastic Enterprise, 2012) contends that business has undergone an elemental shift (hence, the title) into an entirely new era. Business is becoming less transactional, more focused on fostering communities instead of merely peddling products; less encumbered by an emphasis on raw materials, more indebted to “near-free” labor and the open-source movement. The consumer, too, has been transformed within an economy that lionizes individuality and self-sufficiency and encourages the expansion of his or her needs. While risk was once largely shouldered by massive corporate institutions, it has now been redistributed to smaller organizations, including startups and the self-employed. Mobile technology has for the first time created a truly global market, diminishing the significance of the physical boundaries that once constrained trade. The grand result is systemic “disruption”—lately an overused term—and the introduction of innovation not yet entirely supported by the markets, current business practices, or governmental policies. Shaughnessy diagnoses these changes and recommends how businesses, individuals, and governments can become more nimble, acclimating themselves to a new world characterized by “constant flux.” The author, a trained economic historian, ably imparts many insights, especially concerning the reforms governments should adopt in order to remain relevant and to encourage the best of what modern commerce has to offer. Shaughnessy’s book also makes an intriguing argument that such a radically new economy requires a new metric for gauging success, one that focuses on the capacity for change rather than more traditional measurements. He discusses at some length how this metric—called Key Capability Indicators—works. However, whatever wisdom the book imparts is largely undermined by writing cluttered by gratuitous hypertechnicality. Sometimes, the result is mere pretention: what is gained by using “velocity” to describe a business’ speed rather than the word “speed” itself? Why “geographical entities” instead of “places?” Even worse is when key concepts—like “ecosystem”—are explained through the endless production of cryptic metaphor, here in an entire chapter called “The Ecosystem Metaphor.” Readers will also tire of terms like “disintermediated economy,” “nonenclosed value creation,” and “transactional friction.”
Engages some worthwhile themes, often tangled in dense prose.