Cities grow, companies die

Why Cities Keep Growing, Corporations Always Die and Life Gets Faster, a summary of Geoffrey B. West’s LongNow talk, by Stewart Brand.

West is interested in scalability, starting out with research on animals, whose scaling is sublinear, up to cities, which is superlinear. Cities want to grow, and while companies want to grow as well, or even survive, they do not. The mean lifespan of a company is only 10 years.

2 thoughts on “Cities grow, companies die

  1. Cities are places, companies are not. I imagine that is the difference. When people move to a city, they move to a place. Once there, they go about their lives independently from others yet affected by all those people around them as well as their common surroundings.

    A company is different, people do not move to a company, they work there. There is unity in their efforts because all are working toward a common goal. There is no sense of pre-determined direction in a city. A company is more like a person itself.

    I could be wrong here and did not have much time to think about it, but that would be my guess.

  2. Thought of this- a bit on Ernst Abbe from a 2005 issue of Innovation (the Zeiss magazine). Abbe’s foresight secured the future of his company and is still very much a part of the corporate culture; it creates, for the employees, a unique opportunity to work for an enterprise that has their interests, and the interests of many others, at heart.

    “With his corporate statute of 1896, Abbe gave the enterprise a unique constitution…a council was set up to represent the interests of employees. Although this could not be seen as codetermination in the modern sense of the term, it did entitle the representatives to voice their opinion in all matters concerning the enterprise. Paid vacation, profit sharing, a documented entitlement to pension payments, continued pay in the event of illness and, from 1900, the eight-hour working day were further social milestones. This all made the Foundation enterprises Carl Zeiss and SCHOTT forerunners of modern social legislation.

    Tolerance was central to Ernst Abbe’s basic philosophy of life…He was also vehemently against racism, a phenomenon which was already prevalent during his times. He ensured that no-one at Carl Zeiss suffered in any way due to their origin, religion or political affiliation…”

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