here). I admire Gladwell but also have come to distrust him just a little, since his MO is to take academic papers and dumb-them-down for a general audience. Sometimes he puts an odd twist on a topic--I assume--to create greater appeal for the masses. It can be a twist that doesn't always seem to square with a more careful reading of the original research.
This bit of discomfit led me back to the source for his article, Michel Villette and Catherine Vuillermot's book From Predators to Icons: Exposing the Myth of the Business Hero. Villette is a sociologist at AgroParisTech and Vuillermot a business historian at L'Universite de France Comte. Written in 2005, the book was translated into English in 2009, presumably when Gladwell bumped into it and wrote his review. The authors conclude that the captains of industry--and they study 32 of the richest men in the world--made their fortune neither by taking risk nor innovating, but by taking advantage of (often low-risk) market weaknesses and vulnerabilities. (In fact, the original French title was Portrait of the Businessman as Predator.) The authors conclude that a successful businessman does whatever it takes competitively to dominate a market and then "once his fortune is made and he invests some of his profits in foundations that reflect the social values of his time, he is forgiven for everything, even if his early career was punctuated by numerous predatory acts." Think Carnegie and libraries, Stanford and education, Gates and vaccines.
Monday, October 20, 2014
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
While it's perhaps only small comfort, history suggests that Americans themselves are some of the best in the world at corporate espionage and theft, and have been since the American Revolution. (Wouldn't it be interesting to net out the purloined IP we gather in each year, just to see what our "balance of theft" looks like?) Among the very first beneficiaries of stolen technology, and still one of the most important in American history, was the Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Slater Mill is a kind of "ground zero" for the American edition of the Industrial Revolution, the first place where English factory technology--the latest system for mechanized textile production--was firmly planted in the New World. Financed by William Almy and his father-in-law, Moses Brown--and just up the road a piece from the Brown family's namesake university--Slater Mill was the first successful cotton factory in the United States.
|This is the Blackstone River, which has several names as it flows from Worcester to Providence. The yellow structure to the left is Slater Mill with the Pawtucket Falls in the foreground. The Art Deco building (dating from 1933) in the center of the picture is the Pawtucket City Hall. I managed a 90-minute visit to the Mill site a couple of weekends ago.|