Makers and takers

The future is made, not financially engineered

I would always bucket people based on what program they opened first for work. The reporters and editors are Google Docs. The sales people are grinding emails. The designers have InDesign. The strategists are doing Keynote. But the real action, inevitably, is with the CFOs and CEOs in Excel.

Spreadsheets are handy tools. They take chaos and boil it down to uniformity. They’re handy ways to cut through the vagaries inherent in media to provide some semblance of truth. But the spreadsheet is a blunt instrument. It boils everything and everyone down to a numerical value. Spreadsheets have a role, but it’s not the lead.

Publishing, along with most American business, has become captive to spreadsheets as financialization has taken root in how businesses are run and led to a dysfunctional economy not set up to thrive in the future. I’ve been reading a great book written a few years back by Financial Times columnist Rana Foroohar called “Makers and Takers.” Her thesis is that businesses have become myopically focused on massaging numbers to create the illusion of growth to please Wall Street. The entire point of businesses often ceases to be making great product or services, but looking good on spreadsheets – in the near term. The reasons for this are many, including the short-term incentives most corporate leaders have to prop up share prices through buybacks, cost cutting, loading on debt and other shenanigans. This kind of financialization ends up gutting creativity, however, and in the long run results in weaker companies with boring, over-optimized products, indifferent customers and unhappy, uninspired workforces.

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