Cash Cows in FunkyTown

“Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it, talk about it, talk about it … FunkyTown.”

It was 1980.  Disco was mainstream.  John Travolta was had just released Saturday Night Fever, and a band called Lipps released this catchy tune that hit #1 on the Billboard Top 100.  Alberta was a boomtown.  People were flocking to the province, as the price of oil had risen to $37 from $3 a decade earlier.  Life was grand, and nothing could stop us.

FunkyTown was a wild success.  Fans couldn’t get enough of it, and Lipps raked in the money from royalty sales that was then spent on concert after concert where people came to hear that one song … FunkyTown.  Unfortunately, the cash and the glamour was all consuming, and Lipps never really made it back in the recording studio to make another hit.  They tried … kind of … but they had to keep feeding the FunkyTown cash cow, and eventually after five years they packed it in … and now will forever be known as a one-hit wonder.  Sad.

Cash cows are both wonderful and dangerous things.  Microsoft is a great example.  At first they generate extraordinary profits and everyone is feeling funky and can do no wrong.  Profits are used to fund experiments in other areas – but those experiments are unfortunately just that … experiments … that are started then stopped, funded then under-funded, prioritized and then deprioritized.  You see, cash cows often produce wasted efforts across organizations, as they fund experimental opportunities for diversification but as soon as the cash cow hiccups, everything is shut down and all the resources come running back to protect the beloved bovine.  Diversification never happens, and cash cows often end up being one-hit wonders.

In Alberta, we suffer from our own cash cow system, our own one-hit wonder, our own FunkyTown.  We use our cash cow to create one of the finest universities in the world.  We seek out the best and the brightest talent and encourage them to come here to create opportunities for diversification – in areas like medical devices, heart transplants, nanotechnology, engineering, cardiovascular diseases, metabolomics, virology and islet cell transplants.  And just as they are hitting their stride … just as they are moving toward commercialization … what do we do?  We see our cash cow hiccup, we shorten our breath and immediately cut budgets to the very things that could bring us our second hit song, leaving the best and the brightest in our recording studios feeling like they are nothing more than an experiment.  Sad … once again.

The winning formula for attracting investment and people to Alberta is to create a stable environment for greatness to occur.  We need to understand that our cash cow is a blessing if we are smart, and a curse if we are complacent or inconsistent.  We have a winning formula for producing second, third and fourth hit songs … but it requires commitment and dedication to the investment; a stable environment for musicians to generate hits.

So let’s stop “talking about, talking about, talking about, talking about, talking about” disrupting the winning formula we are creating … and let’s commit ourselves to establishing a stable environment that generates multiple-hit wonders.