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The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing

In October 2010, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Gansky about her book called the The Mesh. The Mesh is all about the new economy and resource sharing.

I decided to run the interview again because I was looking for information on this topic earlier today. And I felt depressed after reading a report about increasing poverty rates. I hope the interview will inspire you to share with those in need.

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Tammy: Can you tell us about your book The Mesh and the philosophy behind the name?

Lisa: Of course. Simply put, The Mesh is a fundamental shift in our relationship to our ‘stuff’ – in our personal lives, communities and businesses. It’s in part powered by these little web enabled communication devices that we all seem to be dripping with these days. When I was first beginning to observe The Mesh and thinking about how people would want to use these concepts to create or refine their businesses, I realized that at the heart of The Mesh is integration of people, systems, data, tools, cities and businesses. I saw it as iconic and visual. It was a mesh. I also really liked that it could be used as a verb, as in, “Let’s make a real mesh of things!”

Tammy: In The Mesh you talk about the concept of “heirloom design.” How can Mesh business embrace the idea of heirloom design and move away from our “throwaway culture?”

Lisa: Well, we can begin to think about how things will need to be designed to support sharing—more frequency of use rather than single ownership or intermittent use. I found in my work and in speaking with others who design products, the attributes which will rise to the top will be: durability, flexibility, simplicity, expandable functionality, recoverable parts, reparable and minimal, non-toxic waste. For example, we use our cars on average in the U.S. 8% of time; which shockingly means that 92% of the time it is just sitting around taking up space (usually high dollar real estate somewhere).

We could increase the utility of what we already own (our cars, homes, offices, bikes, etc.) by making them available to more people via a share based service, such as Roomorama, Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO), Adopt A Hacker or AirBnB. The way we would think about the design of the kitchen, say, would radically change. As more people gain access to a pool of bikes, cars or homes, the designs will evolve to support different body types, backgrounds, and competencies. We’d create tools that improve the experience of using these products and services. For example, bikes in a bike share service will likely have far more sophistication than one owned by one person. B Cycle and Openbike incorporate built in locking mechanisms, easily adjusted seats, GPS, and maintainence and inventory management systems. Even so, it is still quite early in the process of making bike sharing bikes sexier than what’s currently in my garage.

Tammy: In The Mesh you mentioned a recent survey which reported “that over half of Americans (56 percent) see the recession as an opportunity to live a less materialist lifestyle.” How can Mesh business help facilitate this lifestyle change?

Lisa: Peer-to-Peer transportation like RelayRides, GetAround and Spride in the U.S. and WhipCar in the UK use technology to allow you to gain access to and rent your neighbor’s vehicle when they’re not using it. This provides more utility for the community as the number of cars parked and sitting around decreases. Secondly, sharing cars creates a type of bond between the owner and the borrower, and third, people using these early services are generating additional income of about $300 to $750 per month. This same strategy applies to homes, offices, shops, land, rooftops, tools, and high fashion.

In our recent history we purchased things when we wanted them and many things stayed around long after they were used. Or we bought something full time when part time would have been sufficient. This model prevailed; The Mesh opportunity is to make ownership deliberate not the default choice. We will still choose to own some things, but the appeal to a less materialistic lifestyle is thrust forward when we can gain access to goods and services only when we want and need them. We are aligning the value we place on things with the cost of using them. This balance will naturally create a less materialistic lifestyle than the highly acquisitive one we are still recovering from.

Tammy: Do you think large corporations can join the Mesh?

Lisa: Definitely. They already have. NetFlix, ZipCar, Kimpton Hotels and Amazon Web Services are already there. Many others are experimenting with Mesh offers and actively creating partnerships. For example, Emeko furniture company and CocaCola partnered to create a beautiful, highly functional chair which is made from 111 recycled CocaCola plastic bottles. The chair is easy on the eyes and the seat, and beautifully demonstrates how mega corporations are partnering to test new markets and offers. I especially like the emeko chair because CocaCola has converted its waste to big-brand and shareholder value. There are many more examples of these strategies, even though we are at the very beginning of this wave. I am personally very enthusiastic about what’s possible here for large companies and well-crafted and responsive brands.

Tammy: What’s the most important thing you’d like to tell the audience?

Lisa: Get busy. Try a few services. Test an offer or two and learn before your competition. Share failures and successes liberally as we all benefit from each others’ attempts. Engage your community and build muscle memory in listening to and through social networks. Check out the Mesh community directory at www.meshing.it to see how quickly this is growing and the type of services, products and companies that are already making a real mesh of things!!

Tammy: Everyone has unique skills; skills that I call superpowers. What is your superpower?

Lisa: Spotting significant trends and inflection points early. It’s a combination of being a good marketect and instigator in one. The combination has allowed me to arrive early, define something, and have a great seat from which to make trouble.

Tammy: Thank you Lisa!

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Don’t forget to Check out the Mesh community directory at www.meshing.it.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kane September 24, 2011, 12:58 am

    Hi Tammy

    I think that The Mesh provides some important insights into how a less resource hungry future might appear. I’m not sure I agree with the idea that there is a significant place for huge corporations in their current form. My view for what it is worth is that there has been a consolidation of power and wealth in the hands of a relatively small proportion of the population and this goes for the UK as well as the US.

    That power creates significant barriers for new businesses and I’m inclined to think that wherever a corporation sees an opportunity they are likely to step right in and eat your lunch. And subsequently when the system catches a cold it is the poorest that get pneumonia.

    Small and Medium enterprises create 75% of the wealth of the UK (I don’t know the figures for the US) yet the business agenda seems to be dominated by the big players.

    The Mesh has a role in enabling ordinary people to challenge that dominance and create a space for working and living in different ways to the ‘norm’. I am inclined to think that it will take a fundamental shift involving a range of similar ideas that finally enables the population as a whole to obtain some level of personal autonomy.

    • Tammy Strobel September 24, 2011, 5:33 am

      @Kane – Thank you for stopping by! I agree with your analysis. The form of a “corporation” must change. But whatever form they take, incorporating some aspect of “the mesh” into their systems would be really valuable. If you have a chance, pick up a copy of Lisa’s book at the library. It was really thought-provoking.

      I loved her discussion of sharing; especially when it comes to cares, tools, etc. 🙂

  • Roberta September 28, 2011, 8:25 am

    This is very exciting. I live in the country – not too far out but far enough to disable me from using a lot of exchange systems in town (if we have any here in Cape Girardeau, MO). However, I do rescue dogs and basic train them before adoption. It is a skill I could “share” for mowing a lawn or fixing a fence which needs more strength than I have. I know I am speaking of bartering more than meshing but, in your interview, they sound similar, though bartering is on a smaller scale. One of my fav bakery/coffee shops is Panera/St. Louis Bread Company. A couple years ago, they started a donation only bakery: pay what you had or thought you could give for your meal; some paid more, some the normal price and some not at all; it was so successful they have (I believe) opened or plan to open other similar bakeries. Kudos to the Mesh!

  • Mike | Homeless On Wheels October 2, 2011, 12:54 pm

    This could work for individuals and small businesses. Large businesses/corporations would never be interested — they are ruled by greed. They want it all, they want it now, and if there’s anything leftover, they want that too.

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