Amazon has rarely been in the black over its twenty-year history, yet its investors have generally been ecstatic. Why? The company's sales continue to rise and so has its stock price. One could argue that Wall Street wouldn't be hammering Twitter so hard if the social network could break its nagging user-growth drought. For their part, venture capitalists usually emphasize growth over profits for early- and even middle-stage startups.
In an of itself, growth isn't a bad thing, but perhaps we value it too much and at the exclusion of other even more important things. The consequences of this "growth at all costs" mind-set are severe. At least that's the contention of Douglas Rushkoff in his new book Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity (affiliate link).
Rushkoff presents an interesting and provocative critique of the current state of affairs in his expansive text. The title stems from highly publicized protests against Google's private buses in San Francisco and related social unrest. (For more on this, see the disappointing HBO documentary San Francisco 2.0.)
Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus contains plenty of excellent research, examples, and general pontificating. To be sure, the book is certainly informative. Rushkoff devotes significant passages to the evolution of currency, financial services/employee retirement, and the growth of the modern-day corporation. In so doing, he forces readers to ask disconcerting questions such as:
- Is today's tech-infused capitalism running out areas to grow?
- Is creative destruction really destructive destruction?
- Are corporations more important than individuals and society?
- What are the downsides of the "extractive qualities of industrialism"?
Rushkoff can be a bit verbose and his language can be clunky. What's more, at times he overstates things, particularly with regard to what he calls "platform monopolies." For instance, he writes about how Amazon is currently the leader in cloud-computing services, but will that always be the case? Regardless of whether these companies qualify as monopolies, I'd argue that they face much more competition than he contends. (With respect to cloud computing, Microsoft, Google, and Rackspace are major players.) More generally, history contradicts the notion that today's powerful and successful companies will never falter. Disruption takes place faster than ever. Just ask Yahoo!, MySpace, IBM, Dell, HP, Microsoft, and other behemoths that once seemed incapable of faltering. (Of course, whether even more powerful companies ultimately replace today's incumbents is a separate discussion.)
I didn't concur with every one of his points and I took his perspective with more than a grain of salt. Still, it's essential to read things with which you don't necessarily and entirely agree. Without question, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus makes you think about fundamental questions regarding the present and the future.
Disclaimer: Portfolio sent me a free copy for a potential review or interview.