Sometimes, it’s the soft spoken guys who throw the biggest bombs. At this week’s Techonomy conference, Intuit co-founder Scott Cook was pretty radical in his economic and political analysis. Arguing that all companies need to turn themselves upside down, he told me that it’s the young technology entrepreneur – the Zuckerberg or the Shawn Fanning – who is most skilled at navigating today’s ever-turbulent economic waters. “The most brilliant things are done when we are young”, he reminded me, in his message to older executives unwilling to hand over power to their younger colleagues.
But it’s in his political analysis that Cook really went nuclear. Arguing that “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”, he made the case for the Singapore or China model of economic growth, where great (and old) leaders have been able to reinvent their countries. In China, for example, Cook uses the example of Deng Xiaoping’s establishment of “Special Economic Zones” such as in Shenzhen that, he says, resulted in 300 million Chinese people being liberated from “grinding poverty”.
Not everyone, of course, would agree with Cook. The anti-Apple monologist Mike Daisey, whom I will interview early next week, might also point to the terrible human costs of the Shenzhen “experiment” in China. And I have to confess my own ambivalence about Cook’s embrace of the Chinese or Singaporean model for America. After all, do we really want a Deng Xiaoping or a Lee Kuan Yew to determine technological policy in America?