In my humble opinion, all economies are by their definition, collaborative. They always have been. They always will. How many “uncollaborative” economies do you know? It is for that reason that I smiled when I read the article last week from Ouishare declaring that the “collaborative economy is dead. RIP”
What is really happening?
In the last week, I decided to dedicate some time to go to a few conferences and meet some of the other actors and influencers in the “collaborative economy”. I went to the inauguration of the ClubEFC in Liége (a club for advocates of the economy of functionality and cooperation http://www.clubefc.be/?portfolio_page=inauguration-du-club-efc-liege-16-fevrier-2016), to listen to Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P foundation http://p2pfoundation.net and lastly, to listen to Frederic Laloux, author of “Reinventing organisations” http://www.reinventingorganizations.com.
It all 3 cases, it reinforced my own belief that the “collaborative economy” is not defined by platforms such as Airbnb, Kickstarter etc… but by a much more fundemental shift in what is motivating people. Ken Wilber also described in in his “Integral theory” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_theory_(Ken_Wilber). In the past, when we were still a tribal society, fear was the dominant motivation. Do this or I will kill you. With the advent of capitalism, greed became a hugely effective motivator. Do this and I will pay you. Even in today’s society and economy, they continue to dominate. What we are now witnessing however is the emergence of another key motivator, pleasure. Crazy and all as it sounds, more and more people want to spend their time, energy and money doing things which gives them energy and makes them feel good. In the past, this was something which was confined to weekends and a few weeks of holidays during the year. Now, it is something which people are seeking in their jobs and this is now permeating society and the broader economy. It is giving rise to lots of social businesses, it is driving the growth in crowdfunding and many P2P models more generally and it why people like myself, have left the corporate world to embark on a new journey.
Sorry Ouishare, but if you believe the collaborative economy is dead, it suggests a reversal of this trend and I don’t see any evidence of that happening. Think broader than just the platforms.
It hasn’t even started yet
Michel Bauwens declared that we probably have just one generation left to save ourselves and the planet. In the past, it has taken 4 to 5 generations before a new social and economic model has been able to establish itself as being dominant. We simply don’t have that long. That being said, far from the collaborative economy being dead, I think we are still just witnessing its birth. Things like crowdfunding are becoming mainstream and this wasn’t the case 5 years ago. The change is not related to technology and platforms. It requires us to rethink our relationship with money, rethink our relationships with the planet and rethink our relationships with each other. All of this needs to happen to a critical mass of people for it to become dominant. We are far far from that point. Aside from the fact that I am a pure optimist, there are a number of factors pointing towards this transition. The success of the “demain” film is one. The fact that Frederic’s conference sold out in a few hours is another. A lot of people who previously were not interested in the subject, are now engaging with it. Investment is continuing its transition from the traditional economy to the collaborative economy. The recent financing of KissKissBankBank and MyMicroInvest are just two examples. On a much smaller scale, the growth of my own coaching and consulting business is very concrete evidence that rather than fading into the sunlight, this subject is taking centre stage. Come on Ouishare, where is your sense of optimism?
It is true, that the collaborative economy has an achilles heel, perhaps even two. It is very very fragmented at the moment. Does Belgium really need 30 crowdfunding platforms? How can they possibly survive? We are along way away from a reality where cooperation prevails over competition. Some of the people I have met in the “collaborative economy” are not very collaborative. Because it is still in its baby stage, we still have a tendency to apply old capitalist viewpoints to the new opportunities. Is Airbnb simply capitalists making money using everyone else resources? So yes, there are problems which need to be addressed. I believe that the actors of the collaborative economy should be collaborating themselves and not competing. They should be structured like open, horizontal organisations and not old capitalist hierarchies. This can still happen.