On July 29th*, the House Judiciary Committee’s year-long anti-trust investigation will culminate with public questioning of Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. The CEOs can expect to be grilled about their companies’ alleged monopoly powers and unfair trade practices, but I hope at least one member of the committee will press them on a different (but closely related) set of issues: I want to hear these leaders explain their vision of what their companies could become in the next decade — if they are not broken up — and why Americans should care one way or the other about what happens to them.By vision, I don’t mean a vision statement — the platitudinous promise to be “the best” or the “biggest” or the “most innovative” company in their fields. All of them spend millions of dollars on advertising, PR, and lobbying; I know what messages and feelings they want their brands to convey. What I want to hear is how they actually think their companies can change peoples lives for the better in the years to come, as concretely as possible. In the best possible future, why will people be glad these companies exist?
My interest in this goes way beyond idle curiosity. As a business strategist, I’ve spent decades helping firms develop the long-term visions and plans they need to successfully navigate disruption. But I’ve never looked into a future that is as potentially disruptive as what is before us today. Thanks to the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, our hyper-polarized politics, and our winner-take-all style of capitalism, our system is facing its greatest existential threat since the 1930s.
Until recently, most Americans believed our free enterprise system was the most efficient and productive in the world, and that Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple represented it at its best. Twenty years ago, Steve Jobs’ digital hub strategy, based on his vision of the home computer and the emergence of mobile devices in the next decade, transformed Apple from a niche computer-maker to the world’s most valuable company of any kind, radically changing the way we work and play. Amazon has used its scale to help small businesses reach millions of customers. Google promised us that they wouldn’t be evil, and they brought a world of information to our fingertips; Facebook proposed to bring the world closer together, and, in a lot of ways, it has.
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*Update: After this piece was published, the hearings were postponed until Wednesday, July 29.