TECHNOLOGYJun 27, 2016Rob Loggia
A very significant event has occurred in the intersection between business, technology and society that has the potential to change the world and all of our lives. And as usual, there are good indications that the importance of the event has been overlooked by the media and public. For hidden behind the bland story of a routine business pivot lies a tale of courage and great vision. I believe the combination could help make this world a better place for all of us.
There is a traditional line in the sand that has become part of the fabric of our culture - one of our collective assumptions - that may have seemed like a good idea but that actually holds us back. This is the idea that business should be driven strictly by profit-motive and held separate from activism and political activity. The line is a blurry one, but that does not make it any less real.
Business types tend to view with disdain the idea of activism mixing with enterprise. Activism can offend segments of the population, leading to the loss of customers. One can make enemies, sometimes powerful enemies, by seeking to make changes in the world. In fact, politically active people often have to worry about their "day job" and whether the things they do and say on their own time will be viewed as reflecting poorly on the organization that employs them.
The view is just as jaded from the other side of the fence. There is a feeling prevalent among many activist types that people looking to change the world must be acting without any regard for self interest. Attempts to monetize societal change are viewed with heavy suspicion in these circles, and many will not even give any credit at all for the good things that are accomplished in the process. Even free market types like Libertarians start getting wonky when informed that a plan for changing the world includes provisions for turning a profit.
These are strange assumptions, and the divide serves only to keep natural synergy from taking effect and effective partnerships from forming. Don't freedom fighters need to eat? Shouldn't the quest to fix problems in the world be considered at least as worthy of compensation as a plumbers work to fix a toilet? Must an activist be independently wealthy, or spend large portions of their time distracted by the need to put food on the table in order to be considered virtuous?
The common trepidation from the perspective of business is no less irrational. Does it matter how profitable a business becomes if the world in which the owners and employees must also live isn't worth spending the money in? And is walking on eggshells trying to please everyone actually a good business model? The quest for profit is compatible with a wide range of goals, and social and political activism are certainly among them.
For all of these reasons, or rather despite them, it was a breath of fresh air when, in late May 2016, a small investment company called MGT Capital broke most of the rules and named John McAfee as their next CEO. It would be easy to overlook the significance of the announcement because McAfee is no stranger to business and technology. As the founder of the anti-virus industry and leader of a wide range of technology companies since, McAfee seems a natural choice for a company looking to build something profitable and beautiful.
But from the perspective of this discussion the decision was so unexpected that it seems as if it must be deliberate. For in the year preceding this announcement, McAfee had been up to far more than just technology and business. He had become a vocal, visible and potent agent for change - a political activist with politics itself as his target. As a candidate for president and prolific author, McAfee tirelessly spoke out against the corruption in our system, and the relentless attack on freedom and privacy.
The board of MGT could not possibly be ignorant of this fact, so we are left with the conclusion that they chose McAfee on purpose. And when you realize this, and look at the new focus MGT is adopting for the future, it becomes possible to see McAfee's new role not as a separation from his identity as an activist, but rather as a marriage. Private industry can deliver technology that protects our freedom and privacy in a disruptive way, changing the world and turning a profit all at once.
If there was any doubt as to the intent and deliberate nature of the appointment, have a look at the press release issued to announce the change. "As Chief Executive of MGT, I will lead a team to aggressively develop technology platforms, software, hardware and components designed to protect people and their freedoms."; There it is, spelled out in black and white and blessed by the attorneys: MGT will be an activist enterprise determined to make the world a better place.
And when you look at the powerhouse names that have already been on-boarded along with McAfee, it becomes even more obvious that this is the goal of the pivot. The leadership at MGT, while deciding how to best grow their business and bring value to the marketplace, has had the courage and vision to look past the assumptions of business and imagine something better. And with John McAfee leading the charge there is no way they can fail.