All hail Marx and Lennon--John Lennon that is. Funky Business (ft.com Books, 256 pages) is probably the first business book to draw inspiration from the Father of Communism as well as from one of the all-time great rock stars. It notes that both legends preached "Power to the people," but it's taken the global embrace of market capitalism to deliver the goods.
In our new, wired world, Funky Business authors Kjell Nordström and Jonas Ridderstråle claim, employees and consumers hold the real power. The only unique asset companies have is the brainpower of their employees. The corporation is us, the means of production ours. Dig it. Moreover, in a world where demand seldom outstrips supply, consumers will decide which companies thrive.
Nordström and Ridderstråle are a pair of Swedish business professors who shave their heads, wear leather trousers, listen to techno-rock, call themselves funksters and eschew lectures for "gigs." Though flippantly argued, the book makes the serious point that we've entered an age in which time and talent are the most precious commodities. It concentrates on how businesses can exploit the myriad opportunities in a world where traditional bosses are nearly extinct, hierarchical corporations are passe, nation-states are increasingly superfluous, lifelong careers are rare and a company's "most critical resource wears shoes and walks out the door around 5:30 p.m. every day."
Nordström and Ridderstråle's theoretical model for success is Funky Inc., a company that is flat, 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 use its core competencies to enter a variety of industries--not unlike Richard Branson's Virgin brand. And Funky Inc. targets a particular audience, probably a niche market it has pioneered. Success in markets dominated by consumers and brands, the authors claim, comes not from taking 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 become so by killing the spirit of free enterprise. They 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."
Nordström and Ridderstråle are also speed freaks. In a CNN world, they write, speed doesn't kill, it's a lifesaver--especially in bringing products to market. Computer-maker Dell replaces its inventory 52 times a year. The lion's share of Hewlett-Packard's revenues are derived from products less than a year old. To succeed in such a high-velocity world, they say, companies must take risks, accept and welcome failures, and eschew all things average, bland and safe. They must offer products and services that take consumers by surprise--not unlike the songs John Lennon and the Beatles wrote and sang when they monopolized the world's pop charts in the '60s.