A discussion with Kate Raworth, visionary of the Doughnut Economy, left me struck by its key principles. Distributed by design. Regenerative by design. There are many examples of the shared economy for individuals, less so between businesses. Leaders I work with seek to change this. Ecological systems are both regenerative and distributed; a template from which we we can draw inspiration.
“The secret of the prairie is its ability to maintain both above-ground and below ground assemblies in a dynamic steady state. It’s not the fact that nothing changes on the prairie (patches are always pulsing with change), but that the changes are never catastrophic. A prairie keeps pest populations in check, rebounds gracefully from disturbance, and resists becoming what it is not—a forest or a weed garden.”
Just as the prairie has above and below ground assemblies, so too does a business have above ground the products & waste they produce, below ground the resources that keep the whole thing functioning. Then there is the weather, or external resources, on which they are dependent but do not control. To behave regeneratively we must look beyond industrial revolution definitions of these sub-systems and how they interact. To survive and thrive we must be open to sharing what we have with the prairie such that the outcome is greater than the sum of the inputs.
For the above ground product or service to thrive, it must bring multifaceted value to a customer.
Consumers are placing increasing pressure on brands to deliver social and environmental value. Consumers perceived social status is extrinsically tied to advertising this value. Therefore incorporating secondary benefits which offer the consumer socio-environmental status are well worth while. Daryl Myers former COO of Carhood , an Australian startup; “Carhood offer(s) an alternative to the current, expensive (parking) options available to people who are travelling. Carhood also returns secondary value to the consumer in the form of cash in exchange for hiring out their car while they travel.” In this way Carhood provides an example of how to return distributed value to a customer.
Below ground or internal resources keep the whole functioning. They are less tangible but no less important. The knowledge which keeps the below ground functioning much like a plants DNA, it is at best inaccessible and at worst inaccurate. Critically it is the code that unlocks what we have to share. An ecological assessment will determine if knowledge is accurate, accessible and actionable. For example: how might Australia’s 100,000 homeless benefit from the Airbnb community’s generosity enabled by the Airbnb platform? The government could accelerate uptake by providing the homeowner a tax rebate equivalent to the cost of providing a bed. Skeptical? Versions of this vision exist (eg sparekeys.com.au), however scale and business to business equivalents remains elusive.
A glance at the weather forecast (and then out the window) should confirm that for all their knowledge, not even meteorologists control weather phenomena.
Evolutionary practice builds businesses that are not only resilient but designed to thrive in the conditions they are presented. Adaptive change becomes part of how business is conducted. Resilience is the outcome.
Just as evolution ‘teaches’ a species to thrive in the conditions with which it is presented .
So while the share economy continues to challenge our concept of personal assets and how they are used, I am passionate about supporting leaders to unlock collaborative potential in the way they conduct business. To the benefit of the prairie. And those who seek to thrive on it.
TED talk by Kate Raworth, an introduction, 17 mins
Book by Dan Barber, “The Third Plate: Field notes on the future of food“, factual and well researched, approx 500 pages
Article by Forbes, “What will car ownership look like in the future“, 10 mins
Report by Climate works Australia, “Future of private transport“, 45 mins
Service business, Australian Founded, Carhood
Article by The Conversation, “Insects that look like sticks behave like fruit and move like seeds“, 12 mins