Book Review by Andy Ghillyer
Forecasters tell a bleak story about the future of business in the twenty-first century. They state unequivocally that the American Dream has collapsed. The middle class is slowly being squeezed and robots will soon be taking all our jobs. If this is what the twentieth century economy of scale – go big or go home – has done for us, perhaps it’s time to consider a different approach – an economy of passion.
In his new book, The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the Twenty-First Century, author and co-founder of NPR’s Planet Money podcast, Adam Davidson presents a series of case studies featuring people who, when faced with the career choice of following the money or following their passion, voted Team Passion all the way.
The first case study involves Davidson’s own family history. His paternal grandfather, Stanley, was the model of economic stoicism, working for the same ball-bearing manufacturer for fifty-four years, rising from the shop floor to senior management. His father, also named Stanley but known to the world as Jack, chose passion over money and became an actor (a job he still holds today). The opposing career paths presented by “the two Stanleys,” typify the challenges of choosing passion over money. Stanley retired with multiple homes and a few million dollars in the bank. Jack struggled through some lean times financially but was able to provide economic stability for his family – a rare achievement in his profession.
Turning the Tides
Davidson challenges this stereotype by arguing that the tide of technological change presents a new opportunity. The same rising tide of global trade that drove the ball-bearing industry to constantly pursue economies of scale to stay ahead of their competition (ending in total automation overseen by a skeleton staff of computer programmers), can now offer a global marketplace to small businesses run by passionate entrepreneurs. Thanks to the internet, the world is now their marketplace.
Instead of battling for fractions of a penny in the production cost of a ball-bearing, passionate entrepreneurs should, the author argues, swim against that tide of commoditization. Telling a story that’s unique to you and your business should be your key market differentiator. Use that story to build relationships and focus on providing value to fewer passionate customers who will tell their family and friends about you, rather than chasing a larger market of indifferent customers who simply want the cheapest price.
The entrepreneurs featured in Davidson’s book have followed this path. They’re not billionaires or famous titans of industry, but they are all: “earning a good living, building wealth, and providing a better life for their families than they had once thought possible.” Whether it’s a Jesuit father committed to making a better version of a Snickers bar by hand using all-natural ingredients, or a brush maker that deliberately drops hundreds of brushes from its catalog each year, this fierce commitment to quality and a price that reflects value rather than just cost-plus, clearly works. Their respective journeys to economic viability weren’t without challenges and some serendipity, but questioning every fundamental business tenet no longer requires taking a vow of poverty.
The Passion Economy presents an indispensable roadmap to small business success and a refreshingly optimistic take on our economic future.
Andy Ghillyer is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. He lives in Tampa, FL where he specializes in writing for the B2B and academic markets while raising a growing menagerie of cats and dogs. His other reviews are here.
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