More gadgets please

By Thane on Mon 02 May 2011

After many years' struggle through multiple failed businesses, Evan finally caught wind of an idea that could make him some decent money. His wife's eyes were weary from the late bill payments, repeated pleading with debt collectors, and her deep longing to start a family of her own that she had put off for five long years now due to numerous fights over financial security.

She was naturally sceptical of this idea, but Evan was a gifted salesman, and managed to charm her into giving him one last shot. "If this one doesn't work Ev, you're going back to being an accountant for at least the next ten to fifteen years - until the kids are old enough to not need so much security."

Although he understood the practical implications of having children, and that he had a skill that could address those practical needs, he also knew it would probably kill him inside to have to go back to a grey, rigid desk job like that. He felt the incongruence of these two conflicting desires well up inside him in the form of nausea.

His idea was certainly something for which there seemed to be a market: it existed in the overlap between two different market segments served only by four very cumbersome multinationals, and he had hard evidence of thousands of customer pleas for something which addressed exactly this overlap. He also had the network to pull together the man-power and resources to get a prototype going and get the finance, as well as the swiftness that only a relatively small operation could have to tackle the profit-bloated, complacent multinationals.

He wasn't convinced of the longevity of the idea though, as it involved making a particular type of gadget which would add non-critical functionality to high-end mobile phones - a niche market; a nice-to-have. But, by his calculations, he could probably make enough money for him and his family to live comfortably for at least the next three to five years or so, giving him time to come up with another idea.

Is it "the system" which drives us to want more and more? How is it that this "system" has come into being, and what is its true nature and character? Should the desires for autonomy and security conflict as in the example sketched above?

I don't personally have complete, accurate answers to the above questions just yet, but, looking at the nature and structure of the economy as I understand it at the moment, I can conjecture.

It would seem as though the systemic, mechanistic perspective (as per the definition by Stacey, 2007) is to blame here. This perspective pervades any large organisation bent on control of its employees, as if they were cogs in a machine, without autonomy or the capacity for novelty.

Perhaps I am naive, but I am not thoroughly convinced that top management initially makes a conscious decision to treat their employees as though they were black boxes with inputs and outputs and useful lifetimes - as "resources". Something tells me that this is an oversight, and a by-product of reductionist thinking which has permeated society for hundreds of years, but this point is certainly up for debate.

Inside of himself, a manager of a non-manufacturing business says: "I've got to meet these targets because my job's on the line if I don't. How do I get my team to pull together and be more efficient? Perhaps there's a bottleneck somewhere in the process..."

Who sets these targets? Why these targets? Why think of one's team in terms of "bottlenecks" and "processes", as though they were a non-autonomous, unfeeling system of some kind?

Many to whom I've expressed this opinion say to me: "That's nice in an ideal world, but how the heck do you intend on getting anything done?"

Who says we have to get anything done? And what is it that we should be getting done? Should we be building gadgets and trinkets, or should we be working on ways to accommodate the world's growing population, in terms of first meeting their basic needs?

The problem is, there seems to be no money in the business of meeting people's basic needs, because people with such basic needs generally don't have the money to pay for those needs to be met. There are examples, however, of low-cost "base of the pyramid" solutions that help fulfil such basic needs, but these seem to require tremendous capital outlays and extremely rigid standardisation processes, often resulting in very large barriers to entry. Who is going to pay for the meeting of those needs?

Should helping others in dire need be the secondary aim of our profit-making structures, thereby "looking out for number one" first? Or should our primary aim be to help uplift those around us (not at all by way of charity - by way of true upliftment towards self-sufficiency)?

Surely the pursuit of profit is merely a proxy for pursuit of meaningful human connection? What more do we need than food, water, shelter and diverse, meaningful relationships?

I suppose posturing and desire for power, influence and prominence come into the argument at this point. I still have much research to do into power dynamics in society, although so far I feel it is exactly this need for influence and power, perhaps control and security to some degree, that has precipitated and perpetuated the systemic mindset.

Evan, the entrepreneur, is unfortunately stuck right now with the development of the gadget: the thing we don't need on which we spend money we don't have to impress people we don't give a damn about, until such time that he has enough money to break this spiraling cycle.


Stacey, R.D. (2007). Strategic management and organisational dynamics. Harlow, England: Pearson.