Maria Popova | Projects


Alex Bogusky launches COMMON. From fearlessrevolution.com.

Can capitalism and social good co-exist? That's the question ad industry rockstar–turned–do-gooder Alex Bogusky is answering with a wholehearted yes in his new venture. Introduced this month, COMMON is the brainchild of Bogusky and fellow ad industry veteran Rob Schuham in collaboration with John Bielenberg. Described as an open-source medium for social innovation, the project is part OpenIDEO, part Quora, aiming to harness the collective creativity and knowledge of what's fashionably referred to as "the crowd" in solving the most pressing social problems of our time. It calls itself a "new capitalist brand" built on "transitioning from competitive advantage to collaborative advantage."

Core to the concept are two ideas not normally seen in tandem: The belief that the capitalist paradigm has the capacity to solve global poverty and the concern that the planet's environmental limits are being pushed to unreasonable extremes. But in an age when the economic impact of individual corporations rivals that of nations — according to the World Bank, Wal-Mart's 2009 revenue eclipsed the GDP of Norway — not enlisting the power and reach of brands in addressing our most time- and resource-intensive issues would be short-sighted at best. At least that's Bogusky’s idea with COMMON, which aims to build a bridge between "consumers" — that's us, the common people — and corporations in order to, as the project's mission states, "design a capitalism that spreads love and prosperity to all its stakeholders." The initiative is equal parts conceptual vision and empirical experiment in reinventing capitalism for, for lack of better words, the common good.

Bogusky's career has been the topic of much conversation and controversy in recent months. Last year, he left his namesake agency, creative hot-shop Crispin Porter + Bogusky, king of the ad industry's castle of awards-driven meritocracy and even crowned Agency of the Decade by Advertising Age, only to quit advertising altogether a few months later. In some sort of Don-Draper-gone-good move, he set out to build The FearLess Cottage in his adopted hometown of Boulder, Colorado — a hub for entrepreneurs, activists and artists, fueled partly by his celebrated creative genius and partly, it seems, by the guilt of having been incredibly good for incredibly long at propagating conspicuous consumption. It was there that COMMON was born.

To be sure, the notion of socially conscious consumerism — or what Rachel Botsman has termed "collaborative consumption" — is far from radical, especially in the buzzword-infested business world where catchphrases like "triple bottom line" have been steadily creeping into corporate manifestos for nearly a decade. The topic, however, seems to be particularly dear to prominent ad industry expats. This month also marks the announcement of We First — a new book by Simon Mainwaring, a former Nike creative at Wieden+Kennedy and worldwide creative director at Ogilvy. Two years in the making, the book explores how social media and emerging technologies bring brands and consumers together to build a more socially and economically prosperous world.

The real question, of course, is whether and how well Bogusky will be able to distill the social signal from the ad-speak noise and actually build a meaningful platform for collaborative consumption. Then again, if anyone can make the exhilarating air of optimism coalesce into tangible, actionable change, it's Alex Bogusky. And he's got a museum of awards to prove it.

Posted in: Business

Comments [5]

Take a look at P-CED or People-Centered Economic Development which began with a white paper for a new form of capitalism.
Jeff Mowatt

It's wild to me that even Milton Friedman himself can argue that the greatest problem with capitalism is the externalization of cost and it still doesn't give socially-conscious capitalists the motivation they need to address this principle failing...

What about crowd-sourcing a job that actually* is too big to be done by any person/organization/government? Why hasn't anyone proposed this? The technology is damn-near mature. Imagine a wiki which, like amazon, reviews basically everything on the planet that anyone has ever sold at least 2 of in a legal marketplace. Instead of assessing a product or transaction's subjective value, it's externalized costs are analyzed and debated. Details are hashed out in sandboxes behind the scenes; the overall quality improves rapidly at first and continues to improve over time. At first it's simply a medium to process and share information. Perhaps, in more mature democracies, it can eventually begin to act as a regulatory body.

Anyway, there's an idea that fell out my head in 15 minutes. I'm sure the Bogusky's of the world can do better than pitting "collaborative advantage" against "competitive advantage" on a playing field that hopelessly favors the latter, which latter gains its principle advantage from getting the former to pay its bills. Someone needs to figure out how to leverage human-communication 2.0 to create a democratic, sophisticated and competent regulatory culture. The intellectual capital is available, capitalist intellectuals just haven't been able to utilize it effectively.
Jim Moffet

I might be getting a bit philosophic here, but to really reinvent capitalism it is essential to stop thinking about people as consumers;

To consume implies to use up and buy again. And that is one of the core issues why capitalism doesn't work for the social good.

Think about people that aren't anymore interested in consuming their life but enjoying it.
Think about people making use of services and passing them on to somebody else when they don't need them anymore.
Think about a system which is not linear anymore: buy-use-throw away

I've launched a project a few month ago regarding this

Hope you join! All the best,

Gonzalo Orsi

Thank you Maria, thank you Alex. Good read.
Anna Maria West

Jobs | July 22