Reboot, rewind and reprogram people to collaborate

In affluent European countries such as Belgium, we generally tend to own what we need. We are programmed to buy, not borrow. In most cases we can afford to. We are often embarrassed about asking people for stuff we need or don’t trust taking something from someone we don’t know. It is therefore no surprise that collaborative platforms struggle to build communities.

We are creatures of habit

I have recently returned from a trip back to Ireland. On the plane I watched Imitation game (on my iPad as Aerlingus do not offer an in-flight TV service to Ireland …). Alan Turing was a genius. Aside from his extraordinary achievement in cracking the Enigma code, he also got me thinking about how the human brain works and how to change people’s habits.

It just so happens that I also saw this video recently which is a great illustration at how difficult it is to get people to think and react differently when they have been doing something in a particular way for so long:


Now that I know that a certain degree of reprogramming is needed and is indeed possible, how can we do it?

My trip back to Ireland and my father provided much of the inspiration I needed? I realised to what degree I grew up in a collaborative economy. In rural Ireland in the 1980’s, it was common place for people to borrow what they needed, to exchange goods and services and to create common good in the community. Money occasionally changed hands but more often than not, it didn’t. People very seldom spent time calculating whether what they gave had the same monetary value as what they got back in return.

As an example, my father would send my brothers and I to help a neighbour on his farm and in return, the farmer would lend us the materials we needed to be able to make hay, bring home turf (dried shit as my wife calls it) etc… This was all driven by practical needs rather than idealistic ones. It was more focused on reducing costs than creating revenue. It assumed that collaborative consumption simply made sense.

Ingredients for successful collaboration

Of course Belgium is 2015 is not Ireland in 1985. Nevertheless, I still believe that many of the motivations and success factors which worked 30 years ago could work again.


Trust is the basic common denominator when it comes to collaboration. This can exist either because the giver and taker know each other or they trust the intermediary (the platform).

Sense of community

Simply connecting with other people on line does not constitute a community and therefore isn’t enough to foster collaboration. The desire to help, the openness to be helped and the understanding that not everything is a financial transaction are all key components of communities.

Save money rather than make money

Let’s face it, the reason why crowdfunding and other forms of collaboration are growing is due to the fact that post-financial crisis, we need alternatives to capitalism. Most platforms offer both savings to the consumer and a new revenue source to the provider (Airbnb as an example). Finding providers is not the problem but getting users is. Therefore, a better articulation of how collaboration reduces costs wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Practical rather than idealistic

I will be the first to admit that my motivations for wanting to stimulate more collaboration were very idealistic at the outset. Increasingly what I realise is that there are also lots of practical applications for it. I recently lent a hedge cutters to a neighbour, stayed at someone else’s apartment on holiday and lent money to an SME in Belgium. In return, I saved money on holidays, got 8% on the money I lent rather than 0,000? in my savings account and know I can ask the same neighbour for things I may need and which he has. It simply works.

Users, providers and platforms

To the potential users out there, just try it to resolve one simple need you have to begin with and see for yourself. To the potential providers out there, don’t simply do it for the money. To the platforms, acknowledge and accept that you are in the business of reprogramming behaviour so don’t simply do it to make money either. I know virtually no platforms that are doing well financially, even years after launching. The money will come in time but get your approach right now.

4 responses to “Reboot, rewind and reprogram people to collaborate

  1. Surely there’s another important ingredient in your recipe for collaborative barter; cotemporaneous capabilities and needs? In your Irish example, the turf-cutting had to be done at about the same time as the farmer next door needed help. Otherwise, someone would have to remember that they owed an obligation after the other side of the obligation had been satisfied. And maybe exchange some small piece of paper that could establish a rough idea of the extent of the deferred obligation, so that once discharged, the piece of paper could be passed back and be used again for other obligations… or maybe used to purchase other favours… hey, maybe we’re onto something here! What shall we call this “obligation voucher”? – I know! (Clears throat):..
    Blatters. Geddit?


    • There were no blatters, geddit’s, obligations or pieces of paper. More of a “what goes around, comes around” belief which negated the need for blatters. That being said, the fact that bitcoins even got created illustrates to which point we not rely on any form of currency, including blatters. Personally, I’d rather not go that route.


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