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Age of disruption

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Articles - January 2014
Monday, December 09, 2013

The sharing economy

0114 Disruption 04
An "aquapocalypse" - extreme flooding, drought and groundwater depletion - is "all but certain" to hit the U.S. in the next few decades.
Source: UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling

Robbins, Scherer, Oborne and Solur work in completely different industries. But there are several threads connecting their thinking about the future. First, an array of new technologies — and generational changes — are deconstructing formerly top-down organizations and companies. Along with global environmental and economic transformation, mobile devices and social-networking platforms are also catalyzing innovative business models organized around connection and convergence.

“Most of us here are digital immigrants: people born before computers,” says Solur, speaking to the New Relic crowd. “Our kids are digital natives.”

Solur references a TED Talk claiming the Earth’s carrying capacity will top off at 10 billion people. “We are moving toward a world where sharing of resources is absolutely necessary.” To store data, companies used to purchase large servers; today, they can lease processing power with Amazon. Instead of checking into hotels, a growing number of travelers use Airbnb to rent owner-occupied rooms.

“We are moving,” Solur says, “into an economy of digital hippies.”

On a rainy Friday morning, I met with Steve Gutmann, an entrepreneur who fits easily into the digital flower child category. The former head of business development at Getaround, the peer-to-peer car-sharing outfit, Gutmann recently launched Red Truck, an e-commerce startup. He also rents out his driveway, currently to a New York transplant who doesn’t want to pay for parking in the Pearl District.

“Innovation happens when there is technological change and accelerates when there is economic disruption,” Guttman tells me. “People are looking for new ways to make money, and everybody becomes an entrepreneur.” Gutmann admits to having a short attention span. “My wife rolls her eyes: ‘Honey, you’re always off to something new.’ But to me it’s clear that business as usual is 90 miles an hour down a dead-end street. Why would I want to get a job doing something that is not disruptive? Then you’re on the Titanic.”

It’s an apt metaphor for a transportation guru. Rising gas costs, bike commuting and declining numbers of teens getting driver’s licenses are already changing the urban-transport game. The next stage, says Gutmann, is the merging of car sharing with driverless technology, pioneered by Google and expected to show up on city streets in the next five years.

People tend to think of driverless technology as an add-on to personal cars, Guttman says. But what’s more likely is that city dwellers will view this technology as a service, like calling for a taxi. Gutmann predicts that car sharing company Car2Go, for example, will eventually offer the door-to-door mobility of driverless car travel.

“Instead of walking down the street to get a Car2Go, you’re just going to call it,” Gutmann says. He leans across the table, eyes sparkling. “Here’s the really disruptive part of it: Your kids will be able to take it.”


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