The White Detroit Entrepreneur Guy Exposes A Rhetoric Bubble
The dust has settled from last week’s White Detroit Entrepreneur Guy social media funfest. My friend and former colleague Aaron Foley's Jalopnik posts say all that needs to be said about this specific issue. You should read them.
But it’s still worth exploring how a person or a business can gain the standing that Jason Lorimer and his Dandelion Detroit have achieved simply by regurgitating buzzwords and nonsense phrases.
If you explore Dandelion Detroit’s website — Lorimer is Dandelion’s self-described “Founder, Nonconformist, Designer” — you'll find a jargon dump that rivals his now-infamous Model D column that spawned the meme featuring his face so prominently. What you won't find on this elegently fonted site is a clear explanation of what Dandelion actually does or why you might want to pay them to do it.
What this dust-up exposed was an economic bubble, an overvaluation of a commodity above its intrinsic value. Whereas previous bubbles inflated the value of tulips and websites and houses, this time we’re dealing with a rhetoric bubble. It's bigger than one guy. Lorimer didn’t co-opt Frantz Fanon in a vacuum.
Anyone who’s written a college application essay or resume in that last 30 years knows you can't go broke using lofty phrases and big words, even to support the most pedestrian ideas. We confuse the ability to speak and write polysyllabically with intelligence, clever turns of phrase with insight, and pretense with creativity.
This isn’t just a problem with young, naïve do-gooders looking to change the world in Detroit.
As Montesquieu once observed: “It is not the young people that degenerate. They are not spoiled till those of mature age are already sunk into corruption.”
Sexy Specs vs. Reality Check
Back in 2004, Richard Florida was paid a lot of money to talk Creative Class at Orchestra Hall. During his lecture, he waxed philosophical about his expensive designer glasses. His father once worked in a factory, Florida explained, that made inexpensive plastic eyeglass frames. The difference between those cheap 1950s glasses and modern trendy glasses, Florida continued, is the value generated by the designer’s creative talent. Someone had the skill and took the time to design a pair of eyeglasses worth $400 to someone else, Florida concluded, and that’s the future of our economy. Creative capital!
Sounds good, but it’s bollocks.
Eyewear industry prices have little to do with creative capital and everything to do with Luxottica’s ownership of major brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley as well as retailers like LensCrafters and Pearle Vision. They control the market.
Ironically, it's another company, a start-up called Warby Parker, that's producing today's “Creative Class”-approved eyewear. The San Francisco company aims to break Luxottica’s control over the market by offering $95 glasses, frames and lenses included, delivered to your doorstep.
Richard Florida paid $400 for his glasses because of old-fashioned cartel pricing, not real value generated by creative work. Of course, no one can pack Orchestra Hall selling that explanation. And it should come as no surprise that a guy who he paid $400 of eyeglasses because "something . . . something . . . creativity" has been exposed as not quite the economic genius we’d been led to believe.
If someone can become rich and famous as a "thought leader" because he conjures fancy excuses for overpaying for his sexy specs, is it any wonder that idealistic if naïve young people will also assume they too change the word bleeting out meaningless crap about “co-design[ing] solutions at the sweet spot between technology, psychology, and economics?”
Look, bang on Lorimer and Dandelion if you want. This meme was built around ideas Lorimer willingly put out for public consumption. No one dug through his trash or a ten-year-old MySpace account to find this stuff. His goal was to start a discussion and he did, though perhaps not on the terms he intended.
At the same time, Lorimer’s firm can offer co-designing services to “a civic or social-issue investor . . . with systemic issues that need measurable solutions” because suckers confuse this Roget-fueled linguistic diarrhea with a service of value.
It was enough to get Lorimer guest blogging gigs with Model D and Huffington Post. It was enough to merit a meeting between Dandelion and Mike Duggan’s campaign staff. They’re paying for their M@dison Building office space and buying scarves somehow. Foundations are, no doubt, waving money at these guys
And somewhere, someone is reading this in a meeting where someone else is talking about shifting paradigms within the strategic framework of core strengths.
If there is a lesson from the White Detroit Entrepreneur Guy meme, it's this: Clever phrases and bluster can't improve the value of vacuous crap.
Or as Samuel Jackson once said: "English, mother#@$%*^, do you speak it?"