Moving at the Speed of Business?

Michael Metzger

Reid Hoffman, the founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, believes the future of business requires relentless networking. He’s moving at the speed of business, which is accelerating. Is the faith community keeping up?

In a recent New Yorker article, Hoffman discussed the new economic world.1 The old economy was corporations and labor unions. Workers sought security, health care, and a pension. Hoffman believes those days are disappearing. Economic life has become much more uncertain while the speed of business is accelerating. Hoffman believes the future belongs to those who manage their careers through relentless networking.

He practices what he preaches. Hoffman networks all day long—over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s always a list of topics to discuss. A dinner with Mark Pincus, the founder Zynga, included an upper-level computer-science class at Stanford; Twitch, an online video platform for gamers; and recent meetings with George Osborne, the Chanceller of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom as well as the Duke of York.

These aren’t casual conversations. They’re tactical. They’re tough. How can we improve education? How can we create economic opportunity for everyone on the globe via the Internet? A United Nations paper on the global economy says the world will need six hundred million new jobs over the next twenty years, and existing business can provide only ten to twenty million of them. The rest, Hoffman claims, will have to come from startups, so societies everywhere have to accelerate the speed of entrepreneurship.

That’s why Hoffman is strategic about meals and meetings. He networks at TED, Davos, and the two annual Allen & Co. gatherings. Google’s Eric Schmidt hosts an annual get-together in Montana. Hoffman is there, as well as joining Tim O’Reilly’s Foo event.

There’s more. Hoffman also created The Weekend to Be Named Later. The annual year-end conference was designed to replace the Renaissance Weekend, the 1980s networking conference in Hilton Head that didn’t connect with Hoffman’s generation.

LinkedIn’s data-analytics team tracks Hoffman’s networks in a framed “network graph.” The business-oriented networking site has also created an “economic graph” designed to track all employment activity in the world. LinkedIn’s network of eight hundred “influencers,” including Bill Gates and Arianna Huffington, offer business advice.

If this sounds rambunctious, you’re right. But there’s room for religion. Hoffman calls himself “a mystical atheist” but says that he is “deeply engaged in religious questions.” He’s probably a religious “none,” turned off by current religious options but open to any faith moving at the speed of business. Which brings us to a few Catholic priests.

Visiting Rome, Hoffman met a number of priests. He brought up the subject of the Internet. Hoffman was expecting a conversation only about social media. “Instead, it was about A.I.” Artificial intelligence. The priests tied A.I. to human nature, philosophy, business, science fiction, and the coming shape of society. Now they’re helping create an “ethical A.I.” As Hoffman puts it, “We have to address this in a more spiritual way. How is the ethical algorithm developed?” He’s not sure, but senses that the priests can help.

They’re the exception to the rule. Few churches move at the speed of business. Clergy mostly follow Augustine and Eusebius who preferred the “contemplative life” to the “active life.” Both kinds of life have a place, but the contemplative life was clearly of a higher order. Clergy seem drawn to this, entertaining endless conversations that don’t seem to have measurable markers denoting whether we’re getting anywhere. Too slow.

The early church moved at the speed of business. It grew not so much by church planting but by businesspeople travelling the trade routes.2 The church was primarily Jewish so it pursued avodah—Hebrew for work, worship, the arts, service, and ministry. Ministry and business were viewed as seamless, moving at the same speed.

This was the speed of the Clapham Sect. They were relentless networkers. They held tactical meetings. William Wilberforce once told Thomas Jefferson that the Claphamites joined “concerts of benevolence”—networks of likeminded leaders who were not necessarily Christians. Wilberforce encouraged his son Samuel to bring together “all men who are like-minded, and may one day combine and concert for the public good.”

United Parcel Service successfully rebranded in 1997 with the moniker Moving at The Speed of Business. That’s a fitting moniker for the faith community. If it moved at this speed, it might be invited to join business networks that are changing the world.

Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike

2 Rodney Stark, Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (New York: HarperOne, 2006), p. 73.


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  1. But whose business is it, Mike ?
    Unforced rhythms of grace cone to mind.(MSG Matthew 11:28-30)
    Recently discovered this
    ” Community
    Note: printed 1925.

    There are political organizations that stand, as we do, for international peace, the abolition of private property, and full community of goods. Yet we cannot simply side with these organizations and fight their battles in their way. We do feel drawn, with them, to all men who suffer need and distress, to those who lack food and shelter and whose very mental development is stunted through exploitation. With them, we stand side by side with the “have-nots,” with the underprivileged, and with the degraded and oppressed. And yet we avoid that kind of class struggle that employs loveless means against the opposition and that seeks to avenge the lives of those who have taken lives from the ranks of the proletariat. We for our part reject the defensive war of the working class just as much as the defensive war of a nation.

    We live in community, because we take our stand in the spiritual fight on the side of all those who fight for freedom, unity, peace, and social justice.”
    And find this visionary

  2. Katie:

    How exactly are the efforts and conversations of Hoffman (and Wilberforce) “transactional in nature?” Trying to create 600 million new jobs seems to be promoting human flourishing.

  3. Further observation, in light of the Kate’s ‘transactional in nature’ prompt.’conversations of value’ appears to reflect ‘rhythms of grace’.’transactional’ appears to reflect a de-humanised process.

    Pondering, should the guide be a ‘technology’ that by choice resonates to the extent of aspiring to, no personal, institutionsl or cultural(abuse)?

    The ‘nature’ being of the ‘spirit’ ‘professed’

  4. “Hoffman believes the future belongs to those who manage their careers through relentless networking.” If this is the driver of conversation, then the output is economic benefit. To be relentless connotes rapid fire, shallow, continuous engagement with a larger and larger circle of individuals. I appreciate Hoffman’s personal big-picture questions that are solving grand challenges, but the platform he advocates does not enable the same depth of communication.

  5. Oops, sorry,should have read “Pondering, should the guide be a ‘technology’ that by choice resonates to the extent of aspiring to, no personal, institutional or cultural(structural)abuse?

    Viewing the person and the community, with compassion.

  6. Kate

    I think you misread Hoffman. Relentless can mean purposeful. God relentlessly pursues us (last Sunday’s lectionary readings). That’s not shallow. As for the output merely being economic benefit, I disagree. Read the full article. Much of it is about improving education, employment for all, etc. Smells like shalom. As for depth, that has much to do with horsepower. I know many leaders who have an amazing capacity for breadth and depth. Hoffman seems to fit that bill.

    James Hunter writes that the decisive factor in world-changing movements is “dense, overlapping networks.” Seems to me that Reid Hoffman embodies that, whether or not you agree with everything he’s up to. Christians don’t seem to be nearly as adept at building these sorts of networks with people of faith, different faiths, or no faith.

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