How the Heartland Could Compete With Silicon Valley

April 20, 2018, 4:18 PM UTC
Aerial shot of Chicago city
Howard Kingsnorth—Getty Images

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Good morning from Chicago, where last night my colleagues and I hosted a dinner to kick-off the Brainstorm Reinvent conference in this great city in September. I’m framing Reinvent as “Brainstorm Tech for the rest of the economy.” That’s a big opportunity. This morning I’m moderating a panel at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, which is hosting a conference on the antitrust ramifications of digital platforms and concentration. Talk about a timely topic. (Matt Perault, a policy executive at Facebook (FB), has bravely agreed to join the panel.)

At dinner in my hometown’s thriving West Loop, I moderated a single-table discussion of about 25 distinguished and accomplished Chicagoans on the subject of reinvention. The task was to brainstorm on what we should address in the fall at our newest Brainstorm. Three takeaways:

* In the heartland it’s not a given that yesteryear’s industrial giants (a.k.a. dinosaurs) necessarily will be bested by disruptive upstarts. Idea: Host a debate between someone making the case for dinosaurs and someone who thinks the incumbents are toast. We’re actively casting this jousting match, and your ideas are welcome.

* Strange bedfellows. Companies faced with extinction are getting together with unlikely partners. The just-announced arrangement between Amazon (AMZN) and Best Buy (BBY) is a perfect example. There are others. We’ll explore.

* Organizational structure/corporate finance while under attack. The Chicago crowd was surprisingly passionate about how incumbent companies need to organize themselves. This includes how they conduct their financial affairs. Competing against a well-funded Silicon Valley startup that doesn’t make money is no trivial challenge, for example, especially when shareholders expect profits. Creativity is called for.

I’ll have a lot more to say on this topic—and Big Tech’s antitrust exposure—next week and beyond.

Have a good weekend.

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