Saturday, November 20, 2004

'BLUR': When the Oracles Have Stock Options

At first glance, ‘BLUR: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy’ looked like an exercise in buzzword branding—a 7 Habits of Highly Effective Dot Coms, as it were. Perhaps it could not be helped, published as it was in 1998, during the gilded age of ‘irrational exuberance’ (the authors actually discuss why this very phrase is misguided) and creative accounting that made WorldCom (also extolled) seem like the perfect role model for aspiring entrepreneurs.

The first half of the book didn’t do much to improve my impression, since authors Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer seemed to think it would be very out-of-the-box to stud every paragraph with the word BLUR (always in all-caps) used as verb, noun, and super-duper mission statement. I hung on because there were some interesting tidbits mixed in, and it was enjoying to read what is essentially a futurism text written in the language of business and economics. Buyers are becoming sellers. Sellers are becoming buyers. Small businesses are gaining big-business reach. Services are becoming productized, and products are increasingly tied to services. I doubt much of this would be new to anyone who works in business management or investment today, but it was just fresh enough to keep me going.

By about midway through, Davis and Meyer finally hit their stride. The BLUR count drops, as do the number of proactive ‘Does your business do this?’ questions. In the most interesting section, the authors apply their earlier conclusions regarding the changing relationships between buyers, sellers, competitors, and investors to individuals. They take the philosophy of a person-as-enterprise, not worker-as-employee. In the new economy, they argue, an individual must see every job and relationship in terms of its future value; the position you have today may be at least as valuable to you for experience and cachet gained as for wages and benefits earned; the friends and contacts you made at your previous jobs may me more valuable to your current employer than your job skills. Intangibles like these have value, and markets will increasingly find ways to price them and trade them.

In fact, BLUR describes a future where individuals routinely sell stock options in themselves, sharing slices of their future earnings in exchange for cash up front. As this would be a relatively high risk loan, they argue, it won’t take long before personal investment mutual funds spring up, investing in groups of workers, spreading out the risk and opportunity to create reliable performance. Just make sure you retain control of your destiny by keeping at least 51% of your stock. There’s a bit of advice your parents probably never gave you…

It’s all pretty stimulating, but since we now walk through the graveyard of bubbles long burst, I couldn’t help have serious doubts about how far I could trust these economic oracles. Was the New Economy just a dream? I knew just the way to phrase this question to my browser.

The answer arrived in a dialogue box a few seconds later: The book’s vaunted companion website—interactive, innovative, in a word: BLUR—is no more.


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