John Mackey

The New Yorker has a good article about John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market. I worked for WFM around the turn of the century, hired as “Internet Guy” (one of my titles, along with Online Community Director and, at the end, Director of Technology for It was an important transition for me – I went from being a self-educated web maven to a manager of various web development projects and interactive elements, wearing many hats along the way. John was already in my network, but we became better acquainted in the three or so years I was working on and It was an intense late-dotcom-era experience, and I was devastated when all the work we’d done evaporated following the dotcom bust. Associates told me I should write a book about my experiences, but I wasn’t sure what part of the story I would tell. It was mostly hard work and inevitable internal politics; none of it seemed as interesting to me at the time as the vision that hadn’t quite succeeded.

Based on what I know of John through personal experience and shared acquaintances, the article in the New Yorker is about as accurate as an article can be. Obviously you can’t capture the full complexity of any human being in a few thousand words, and that’s especially true of someone as complex as John. One thing I’ve always admired most about John is his honesty, and I think that comes through in the article. As I’ve noted in a conversation with an author masquerading as “Kat Herding” on Facebook, a person can be both honest and deluded; I wouldn’t agree with John on a lot of points – like his recently, controversially articulated position against healthcare reform – but in any conversation I’ve ever had with him, he was completely straight, sometimes brutally honest. Whether he’s “right,” or deluded, or coming more from ego than from a position of true self-awareness is another question. But that question pertains to all of us, no?

John is at his best in this exchange, from the article:

…is he at heart an entrepreneur, who discovered, in natural foods, a worthy vehicle for self-actualization and self-enrichment, or a missionary, who discovered in the grocery business a worldly vehicle for change?

“So that’s a very interesting question,” he said, leaning forward. “How are they opposed to one another? People think that they are, but why do you think they’re opposed?”

I said that I didn’t think they had to be.

“I don’t, either. In fact, I think they’re very connected together. This is a paradigm that has polarized our country and led to bad thinking. It’s holding the nation’s progress back. It’s as if there were a wall. And on one side of the wall is this belief that not-for-profits and government exist for public service, and that they’re fundamentally altruistic, that they have a deeper purpose, and they’re doing good in the world, and they have pure motives. On the other side of the wall are corporations. And they’re just selfish and greedy. They have no purpose other than to make money. They’re a bunch of psychopaths. And I’d like to tear that wall down. Human beings are obviously self-interested. We do look after ourselves, but we’re capable of love, empathy, and compassion, and I don’t see that business is any different.”

Tapscott: the healthcare reform battle

Don Tapscott explains why healthcare reform is going to be hard, a huge battle, and we shouldn’t be surprised to see the shouting and worse. But we might still see a real change, because citizens can organize like never before. [Link]

There is no possible compromise on health care and the myth of Obama as a “post-partisan” president is exactly that – a myth.   The health care industry generates billions of dollars in profits and many people are seething that these profits might be curtailed.  This issue can never be negotiated in Washington back rooms as there are huge interests vested in the status quo – such as the big insurance companies, health maintenance organizations and pharmaceutical giants.  Like many social changes, for this one there will be winners and losers and an historic battle will determine the outcome.

As Obama noted in his message to supporters, “In politics, there’s a rule that says when you ask people to get involved, always tell them it’ll be easy. Well, let’s be honest here: Passing comprehensive health insurance reform will not be easy. Every President since Harry Truman has talked about it, and the most powerful and experienced lobbyists in Washington stand in the way.”  But this time Obama has what those presidents lacked:  the Internet and a powerful social movement that potentially can shift the relationship of forces in America away from the traditional entrenched interests towards the needs of the population.

Shabbir on Healthcare Reform

My friend Shabbir Safdar has posted an articulate response to some of the myths about healthcare reform here.

…the rising cost of healthcare is driving people to lose their coverage because costs of employer funded healthcare are rising faster than we can keep up. When I co-founded my web agency in 1997, we offered healthcare and paid the entire cost. Today that isn’t possible anymore and employees share part of the cost, and many business don’t even offer coverage, or offer “sham” coverage.

The reality is that the current approach to health insurance has resulted in a loss of coverage for millions of people. From 1998 to 2008, the percentage of large employers who offered health coverage shrank from 66% to 31%, and the trend continues downward today . Rising costs will mean that many employees who are offered coverage won’t be able to afford to accept it.


After experiencing politics in action via the crowd at Lloyd Doggett’s town hall meeting on health reform yesterday, and considering the opposition to health care reform, I tweeted “It always surprises me that some sheep would rather be guarded by a wolf than a bureaucrat.” That tweet was ported to Facebook, where there were several responses, some critical of bureaucrats. I posted this comment in response:

Having been part of a bureaucracy in my first career, I know something about this. Bureaucracies exist to manage complex policies and civic processes. What we generally regard as “bureaucratic inefficiency” is a manifestation of legal and regulatory complexity, often more complex than the bureaucrats themselves can grasp, certainly difficult for most citizens to understand. The policies and systems are complex because they emerge from a political process that is responsive to many often conflicting interests. I’m not sure what an alternative to this complexity would be, but I don’t think it would be a Good Thing. What we might hope for is smarter bureaucrats, just as we hope for more and better engineers and scientists.

Here’s video I shot at the town hall meeting. Lloyd Doggett is talking. I just shot his talk. When he was done, he invited people to speak, alternating healthcare reform proponents and opponents.