the rise of sharing, the richest economy of them all?

This week I have been researching the latest trends around the sharing economy, and working out what this means for your typical business. The sharing economy should not be confused with the circular economy, although both don’t do themselves any favours by sounding so similar. That said, there are numerous points of intersection – both aspire to turn us consumers into users through prioritising access over ownership.

But while the circular economy is ‘business-friendly’ and allows the industrial process to keep on puffing away, its sharing twin is rather more disruptive. It bypasses traditional routes of commerce. People share, or trade, directly with each other. They are no longer reliant on companies for such transactions. It’s such a personal exchange and it doesn’t necessarily have to be monetised.

This type of sharing can take many different forms, and many businesses have already entered this space with some success – but more by offering open platforms (often digital) to enable this movement to scale. They are brokers, effectively.

Think on this: Airbnb plans to become the world’s largest hotelier, yet it owns no real estate. Facebook is the world’s largest social media channel, yet it creates no content. Uber claims to be the world’s largest jobs creator with 300,000 drivers (and growing), yet it owns no vehicles.

There are some compelling statistics out there that suggest we are on the tip of a megatrend. Analysis undertaken by PwC puts the global value of the sharing economy at $15 billion. This is forecast to rise to $335 billion in just 10 years. Some believe these are conservative estimates as the figures are based on just five vertical markets – there are plenty more markets out there where sharing could feasibly take flight.

What remains to be seen is how established corporations and brands, who have market share to lose should their propositions become displaced by sharing dynamics, react to this. There are a number of routes they could take in theory. If they make the right decisions, they could help address some of the barriers currently preventing the sharing economy from scaling further. But – and it’s a big but – it’s not without risk.

This new economy is about having soul. It comes with a purpose. It’s about making connections that matter, that go beyond a simple transaction. It was, after all, borne out of a dissatisfaction and distrust of big business values. Destroy that, and you destroy what it means to share.

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