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Archives - August 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It was the pesky slope in Dr. Nick Benton’s back yard that spawned his wind-up wheelbarrow. “I just thought if I could get a little help going up this hill it would be great,” says the Corvallis-based head and neck surgeon. Benton in 2002 approached Mike Gray, a toolmaker in Albany, to build a prototype around the spring-drive system Benton conceived. It works by winding up a spring drive with a side foot crank and then releasing the brake-trigger on the handle, which propels the Springbarrow forward. It improves “wheelbarrow ergonomics” by relieving lower-back pressure when pushing a full wheelbarrow, Benton says. Gray was skeptical, but now the two are business partners of Albany-based Spring Me, and all five prototypes (price: $250) they provided to the Coastal Farm and Ranch store in Albany were sold last year. Now Spring Me is looking for investors to come along for the ride.

JASON SHUFFLER
 

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There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


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