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.