MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Turning on a dime

Here are some excerpts from and links to some of the things we found interesting and relevant this week. 

Is the future of the auto industry in Detroit's partnership with Silicon Valley? "Today’s clash of cultures is returning us to those early days of the automobile. We are no longer merely rethinking how cars are designed, but how they work, how they are owned and how they are used. Neither the software geniuses in San Francisco nor the gearheads in Detroit can design the best solutions alone." link

Or, is the future of the industry about to be revealed in an Apple pivot? "Apple is not spending $10 billion on R&D just to come up with new Watch bands, larger iPads, or a video streaming service. Instead, Apple is planning on something much bigger: a pivot into the automobile industry." link

And GM seems to be concerned. A General Motors Co. executive credited Silicon Valley companies, including Alphabet Inc.’s Google car division and Tesla Motors Inc., for accelerating the development of autonomous vehicle technology and shortening the timetable for when safer self-driving cars hit the road. link

And for good reason. "Apple erased any doubts about its interest in autonomous vehicles with a $1 billion investment in Chinese ride-sharing service Didi Chuxing Technology. Though Apple didn’t elaborate on its motivations for the investment, the company has been working on electric- and autonomous-vehicle technology for two years, according to people familiar with the plans. The investment sets up a potential showdown with firms aligned with Uber Technologies, which counts Alphabet’s venture-capital arm and China’s Baidu among its investors, and with General Motors, which acquired Cruise Automation and is allied with ride-sharing service Lyft." link

Or, maybe this is the future of transportation. "In this postcard from the future, Eric Spiegelman, the president of the Los Angeles Taxi Commission, envisions how automated taxicabs will fundamentally reshape the city he loves." link

While we're in the technology space, I confess to continual fascination with VC stories, such as this one about Andreesen Horowitz. "In the days I was on site meetings like this were taking place in every conference room of the dedicated space, every hour from 8 to 6. A parade of portfolio company execs marched through these rooms; plugged in, presented, and talked with exec level decision-makers. Each customer prospect had been hand-picked based on vertical targeting and “wish lists” we had provided in advance, and each left feeling connected to the next generation of enterprise technology in the valley and beyond. The scale and quality of execution of the machine they’ve built there was nothing less then awe inspiring, and I left feeling an unusual mix of humility and gratitude." link

And on the subject of pivots, one of the great American design brands is repositioning itself. "The way Walker saw it, in the last 40 years Herman Miller had narrowed its approach to focusing on one particular audience: its bread and butter, American corporate customers. However, amid the volatile economy in the '00s (between 2000 and 2003, Herman Miller’s sales dropped from $2 billion to just $1.3 billion), slow growth in the contract furniture industry, and changing demographics and living styles, the company saw the writing on the wall. It had to either change its approach or keep fighting with its competitors—including Knoll, Steelcase, and Humanscale—for a piece of a smaller pie. "Our fundamental belief was that people’s lives were blurring and they no longer live compartmentalized," Walker says. "We also thought that Herman Miller’s unique gift was not its specific focus so much as its ability to reinvent itself based on understanding of social change." link

Perhaps because corporate inequality is the defining fact of business today. "There’s a pessimistic synthesis between the competition and concentration stories. Perhaps the gap between firms starts out as the inevitable result of competition. Firms concentrate on what they’re good at, adopt new technology, and deliver products and services more efficiently. Having reached those heights, they then cement their status through lobbying or M&A. “Once those firms get there, it may be that they can actually draw up the drawbridge,” said Van Reenen. Maybe competition creates corporate inequality. But maybe it’s lack of competition that preserves it." link

And retail is pivoting too – "Macy’s woes could doom a third of America’s malls" “On an apples-to-apples basis, we have twice as much per-capita retail space as any other place in the world. The U.K. is second. They’re half of what we are. So, yes, we are the most over-stored place in the world.” link

And for some feel good news... "The core reason for the disconnect between the nation’s pretty-good condition and the gloomy conventional wisdom is that optimism itself has stopped being respectable. Pessimism is now the mainstream, with optimists viewed as Pollyannas. If you don’t think everything is awful, you don’t understand the situation!" link