Stowe Boyd adds depth to Seth Godin’s observations about cities and corporations by adding a word about the difference between ecosystems (the city) and organisms (corporations).
Cities do die, actually, but very slowly. Usually cities decline when there is a cultural collapse, or when the cost of rebuilding aged infrastructure is more expensive than migrating.
However, Seth’s real point is that cities are more resilient than companies. And this is true because companies select people that fit in and reject those that don’t. Cities work the opposite way: people elect to live in specific cities, and they do so for their own reasons. They make the city fit their needs, and they become part of a myriad of semi-independent social scenes.
Cities are connectives, with people headed in many directions, loosely cooperating — obeying the traffic rules, and paying taxes — while companies are collectives, where people must subordinate themselves to a strategy and the strong ties of an organization. Cities are more resilient, flexible, and cheaper to operate than companies. Cities are superlinear and companies are sublinear.
And, as a result, the larger cities get, the more productive they become, the more responsive and adaptable they become: which is the opposite of companies, which become slower, less adaptable, and less productive (per capita) as they become larger.
Seth’s post follows:
Cities don’t die (but corporations do)
In modern times, it’s almost unheard of for a city to run out of steam, to disappear or to become obsolete. It happens to companies all the time. They go out of business, fail, merge, get bought and disappear.
What’s the difference?
It’s about control and the fringes.
Corporations have CEOs, investors and a disdain for failure. Because they fear failure, they legislate behavior that they believe will avoid it.
Cities, on the other hand, don’t regulate what their citizens do all day (they might prohibit certain activities, but generally, market economies permit their citizens to fail all they like).
This failure at the fringes, this deviant behavior, almost always leads to failure. Except when it doesn’t.
Ecosystems outlast organisms.