All hail Marx and Lennon--John Lennon, that is. Funky Business, published by a subsidiary of Britain's Financial Times newspaper, is probably the first business book to draw simultaneous inspiration from the father of communism as well as from one of the all-time great rock stars. Both iconic figures, the book notes, preached "Power to the people," but it has taken the global embrace of market capitalism to deliver the goods.
It's a measure of how Europe is changing that Funky Business authors Kjell Nordstrom and Jonas Ridderstrale, professors at the Stockholm School of Economics, are considered radical prophets of consumerism. Their message is hardly new in the heartland of capitalism, the U.S., but it is a revelation in Sweden, where the state-led economy has long held sway. Nordstrom and Ridderstrale claim that in the new wired world, employees and consumers, not capitalists, hold the real power. The only unique asset companies have, they say, is the brainpower of their employees. The corporation is us, the means of production ours. Demand seldom outstrips supply, so consumers will decide which companies thrive.
The authors themselves are on the funky side. They both shave their heads, wear leather trousers, listen to techno-rock and call their lectures "gigs." Though flippantly argued, their book makes the serious point that we've entered an age in which time and talent are the most precious commodities. It shows how businesses can exploit the myriad opportunities in a world in which hierarchical corporations are passe, lifelong careers are rare and a company's most critical resource "walks out the door around 5:30 p.m. every day."
Nordstrom and Ridderstrale call their dream firm Funky Inc., a company that is horizontal, small and open. Job descriptions and work teams are temporary, and business rivals can sometimes be partners. Funky Inc. is also extremely focused, providing only one or a few goods and services--those it does best. But it won't hesitate to enter a variety of industries--not unlike Richard Branson's Virgin brand. Success in markets dominated by consumers and brands, the authors claim, comes not from taking on competitors head on, but from staking out new territories away from the herd. "The dirty little secret of market capitalism in all its many forms is that successful companies...have all succeeded in creating monopolies, at least for a short period of time...Success arises from being different. And then being prepared to change again."
Nordstrom and Ridderstrale are also speed freaks. In a CNN world, they write, speed is a lifesaver--especially in bringing products to market. The lion's share of Hewlett-Packard's revenues, they point out, is derived from products less than a year old. To succeed in such a high-velocity world, companies must take risks, accept and welcome failures and shun all things average, bland and safe. They must grab consumers by surprise--not unlike the songs Lennon and the Beatles wrote when they gained a stranglehold on pop charts in the '60s.