The Collaborative Economy Honeycomb

While on extended maternity leave, as an English-speaking new mum in Germany, I was pretty motivated to find the support network and things that I needed at an affordable price. I thrived on English books from Amazon, adding the German Hausfrau‘s extra shopping trip to discounters Aldi or Lidl, and bargain hunting for needed (OK, often not needed!) childrens’ clothes and toys at locally organized Kinderbazaare (Children’s Bazaars). While saving some pennies with a young and growing family is always good, more importantly it became a focus for social activity with ‘people like me,’ and I actually loved the challenge of researching and finding exactly what I was looking for – whether goods or services – when and where I wanted them.

Jumping forward 10 years, and in the middle of planning a house move, many of the options I find myself now turning to are part of what has become known as the Collaborative or Shared Economy – to buy a new kitchen for an awkward space, move a piano up three flights of stairs, and research my new community (among other things). So I was interested to see a new model from Jeremiah Owyang, founder of Crowd Companies, a council for large corporations who want to lead in the Collaborative Economy, of what he calls the Collaborative Economy Honeycomb.

According to Jeremiah, the Collaborative Economy enables people to efficiently get what they need from each other. They use powerful technologies that enable Crowdfunding, Peer-to-Peer lending, the Maker Movement, and the Sharing Economy. If you look closely, the crowd is becoming like a company: self funding, designing, producing, and sharing what they already have:

“Similarly, in nature, honeycombs are resilient structures that efficiently enable many individuals to access, share, and grow resources among a common group. Various types of bees work in a collaborative manner to feed, care, and grow offspring and grow the colony.  Furthermore, the honeycomb structure spreads the load across the structure, wastes little in its design, and are easy to replicate at scale.”

So in this visual representation, this economy is organized into six discrete families (goods, services, space, etc.), 14 sub-classes (bespoke goods, personal services, workspace, etc.) and dozens of example companies (Airbnb, Uber, Shapeways, etc.). It’s a useful representation of an evolving world and some of the key market forces. Missing for me (so far) are some of the lagging factors – it never pays to overestimate the strength of driving forces by underestimating the inertia of lagging forces. These could include:

  • Recognition of personal relevance – in terms of time (the now factor), location, motivation
  • Time sparsity – and the perceived value of time investment required to investigate and begin using a different way of doing things
  • Community pull – peer pressure and network factors pulling in either direction
  • Perceptions regarding security and risk – and the sophistication of mitigating factors put in place by service providers or independent suppliers
  • Culture and language factors – theoretically, this is easy to overcome in a crowdsourced model, but often it is easy for new-start founders to fall back on their own cultural references and not recognize the importance of getting this right

The companies listed are just a representation: there are over 9,000+ companies, many which vary by country and geography. There is a full directory of companies at the Mesh Index, at managed by Mesh Labs run by Lisa Gansky.

Ronna Porter

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