The Future of Companies

A lot of science fiction deals with how our future economic world will be structured–from libertarian autonomous corporations (Jennifer Government or Snow Crash) to a single global government entity (Star Trek). Given our current economic climate, I thought I’d share a couple of recent thoughts in those directions.

First is an idea that I find quite appealing: the open company. Now, many of you will protest that open source companies are old news; heck, Red Hat has been public for almost ten years now. But this is something new: the idea of running a company not about open source products, but running the company as if it were an open source project. Essentially, this means that anyone can contribute whatever they feel motivated to, and be paid using a peer-rating system. It sounds pretty idealistic: the idea that in the future, we can literally just create whatever value is of interest to us and get paid appropriately. And it may only work when most of the output is intangible. But I think it’s a fascinating notion, and Alexander Stigson, creator of the E Text Editor, says he’s actively moving his company to become an open company. I’m really excited to see how that turns out.

Second, a link to a recent post by Tim O’Reilly, on books that have shaped the way he thinks. I think it’s interesting not just because he cites Dune as one of his influences, but also because he cites Rissa Kerguelen, by F.M. Busby, as

[a] science-fiction book I read at about the time I was starting my company, and that influenced me deeply. One key idea is the role of entrepreneurship as a “subversive force.” In a world dominated by large companies, it is the smaller companies that keep freedom alive, with economics at least one of the battlegrounds. This book gave me the courage to submerge myself in the details of a fundamentally trivial business (technical writing) and to let go of my earlier hopes of writing deep books that would change the world.

I think it’s important to remember that new ideas can be subversive; that both startups and science fiction are often about pursuing new ideas; and that new ideas have the potential to change the world.

Finally, on that note, I thought I’d add a quick link to the NationStates site, a free sort-of-game from the author of Jennifer Government. Enjoy!

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