A Disturbance in the ForceJuly 21, 2017
A Disturbance in the Force
When Jedi ignite their lightsabers, you know shit is about to get real — someone is going to die. The lightsabers of Jedi Masters don’t have an activation switch, as the knight can illuminate the weapon with their command of the Force.
I believe we’ve lost Amazon to the dark side. Not their fault. Power corrupts, and Amazon is firing on all 12 (thousand) cylinders across several categories, destroying the notion that focus is key to a successful business strategy. Amazon is now the most powerful Jedi, igniting their saber and using Jedi mind tricks, often to destabilize the galaxy. Specifically:
— On Tuesday, Amazon announced a social messaging app, Spark, that has the features of Pinterest (product discovery) but looks and feels like Instagram. The biggest hurdle to the development of a social network is network effect(s). Amazon is paying influencers to post and will buy the critical mass. Spark will be a social network on top of one of Amazon’s killer app, reviews. I think this is, again, genius. Media focused on Spark’s impact on Instagram. Facebook is Luke Skywalker and pretty good with the saber. But the real story is Pinterest. To date, Pinterest has been the Rebel Alliance occupying the Echo Base on the remote ice world Hoth, largely left alone. It appears the rebels have been discovered, and AT-AT walkers are about to land. Pinterest is about the get a visit from the Dark Lord.
— Young Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker really came off the rails and killed a mess of younglings, as they might pose a threat to him in the future. Amazon is killing younglings. Blue Apron has crashed on the heels of Amazon filing trademarks for home meal kits. Etsy felt the energy sword when Darth expanded its Handmade brand. GrubHub, Caviar, and Seamless are likely to die violent deaths as Amazon expands its restaurant and food delivery business.
— Other, once-formidable business Jedis are not long for the universe. Four grocers, including Walmart, shed the GDP of Paraguay from their market cap the morning Amazon acquired Whole Foods.
If Jeff Bezos announced tomorrow morning that he saw opportunity to leverage Amazon’s infrastructure to reimagine overnight delivery, I speculate DHL, FedEx, and UPS would also puke a Latin American nation’s GDP from their market cap. It also works the other way: Nike’s value surged after it announced plans to sell on Amazon. However, other retailers (JCPenney, Foot Locker) funded this increase with declines in their equity. Without any real evidence that Amazon was entering the field, Mr. Bezos could emasculate 90% of US firms by announcing they had decided to directly compete against them in their respective category. No saber needed, just a Jedi mind trick — a press release.
To be fair, the other Sith lords (Facebook, Google, and Apple) are also on killing sprees — Nokia, Instagram, and every ad tech company have lost limbs or are already dead, and just don’t know it yet.
There Is Another
What can be learned? To master the force, firms need to not only execute, but master Jedi mind tricks, and grab the mic from Amazon to create their own narrative around innovation. Burberry did this well with a PR department that consistently outpaced their actual innovation. Walmart, though, has done this better than any other old-economy firm. The Arkansan company is making aggressive moves and talking about it, issuing a barrage of press releases around acquisitions, tech hires, and omnichannel initiatives, making the media believe what Walmart wants them to think — we get it.
The galaxy far, far away may not be saved by the Rebel Alliance, but the Sith lords hate each other and are beginning to directly challenge one another. We comfort ourselves that this bloodshed is acceptable, as the intense competition is good for the consumer. But to pull from a less important sci-fi film, we are creating an elysium — a utopian world for the innovation class that orbits a planet (Earth) inhabited by Task Rabbits and Uber drivers. Count me in as part of the resistance.
Senator John McCain
This week, Senator McCain announced he had been diagnosed with a glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. As expected, a series of tweets from other leaders all expressed their sympathy with the senator. Good intentions aside, Senator McCain knows he is dying, and others pretending he isn’t doesn’t do him, or anybody else, any good. But that’s another post.
The median survival rate is about 14 months (50% pass within a year and a half of diagnosis). We all wish him the (very) good fortune to beat cancer, or at least to slow its progress. In the second-best film starring John Travolta, Phenomenon, the protagonist has an aggressive brain tumor that gives him exceptional abilities and awareness.
I like the notion that, as Senator McCain approaches the sunset of life, he might become acutely aware of the relevance and accomplishments of his 80+ years:
— The confidence that comes from flying A-4 Skyhawks over enemy territory, being shot down, and surviving.
— The comfort that the violation of his person (Senator McCain was tortured in captivity) resulted in greater comity of man as he became the most credible voice against these crimes against humanity. Senator McCain and his wife adopted a girl from an orphanage in Bangladesh run by Mother Theresa.
— The pride of knowing that video of candidate McCain grabbing the mic, in the heat of a presidential election, back from a woman making an ignorant comment about his opponent will be referenced for decades as a touchstone of decency in the pursuit of power.
I trust and hope he registers all these things.
Life is so rich,