Innovation Sustainability

The Boardroom and Beyond

Today Shira Ovide has a nice piece in the New York Times about the role and influence of tech companies’ CEOs on how we live our lives and on the overall economic, technological, and social development.

What the 21st-century tech barons like Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma believe and do matters. 

It wasn’t a spreadsheet that decided to pay Amazon employees at least $15 an hour, and influenced wages at other employers. Nothing that momentous happens at Amazon unless Bezos wants it. Zuckerberg designed Facebook with him as absolute ruler, and his beliefs are fused into Facebook’s bones.

If Elon Musk hadn’t pursued his mission to destroy fossil fuels, governments and major car companies probably would not now be planning to kill conventional cars. Conflicting corporate agendas plus personal vendettas between the chief executives of Apple and Facebook, and Amazon and Tesla, are steering the future of the internet and space exploration.

This line of reasoning breathes a strange sort of image of tech CEOs if it means that it is all only to their credit. If we forget that technology is developed not by individuals but by teams in concert with numerous partners within and outside of the focal organization, that it is developed for different kinds of reasons, driven by different types of incentives etc. we miss essential contributors to the innovation process.

On the other hand, this reasoning shows us the power of single individuals in shaping economic, social, and technological development. Winning one of these over to the endeavor of sustainability transition would certainly be helpful for the cause. If we think ‘Greta’ in this context, we realize that these individuals do not have to come from corporate boardrooms but from every walk of life.