Posted: February 12, 2014

The futurist: The cure for stuffaholics

The sharing economy and the next great opportunities

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the first of three parts.)

Many of us suffer from a sinister and often contagious disorder, something I call just-in-case disease.

We own toolboxes full of tools, just in case we need to fix something. We have kitchens full of appliances just in case we want to prepare a meal. We have cars in our garages just in case we need to go somewhere. We even have closets full of clothes we know we’ll never wear just in case we get desperate.

Wealthy people suffer from an even more extreme form of just-in-case disease. They own yachts, summer homes, extra cars, fancy jewelry, snowmobiles, and even private islands just in case they need something to keep them entertained.

Many of these items are hugely valuable assets that only get used occasionally. In the grand scheme of things, they represent an incredible waste of natural resources – hardware, buildings, real estate, equipment, and art – all sitting around collecting dust.

We’ve all become stuffaholics, addicted to more, more, and don’t-stand-in-my-way because I want more!

When it comes time to get rid of our stuff, we suffer from another affliction, separation anxiety. When it comes time to say goodbye to our stuff, we find ways to avoid giving it the death sentence and actually throwing it away. 

As a result of our separation anxiety, we’ve created a massive self-storage industry to “age our stuff” just a bit longer. In the U.S. alone we have over 2.3 billion square feet of rentable storage space.

Nigel Marsh sums it up well when he says, “There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”

There is, however, a cure for this ailment, and its called the “sharing economy.” 

The sharing economy is creating some amazing business models around the use of “other people’s stuff.” Here’s why it will be such a disruptive force in our future, and some of the next great opportunities in this space.

History of the Sharing Economy

When it first started, sharing didn’t make sense as a for-profit business model. Sharing was always done as part of charitable organizations.

Libraries – The earliest form of the sharing economy happened thousands of years ago with libraries. Information was both scarce and valuable, and it didn’t make sense to keep scrolls, books, and codices hidden behind locked rooms.

As a result, the earliest form of libraries were born as public reading rooms, and to prevent people from stealing the priceless manuscripts, each codex was carefully chained to a podium or table. 

TED – Another important marker in the sharing economy happened in 1984 when Richard Saul Wurman noticed the significant convergence between Technology, Entertainment and Design. As a result, the TED organization was born, but it wasn’t until 2006 when the first six TED Talks showed up online.

This sharing of ideas from the world’s top experts has mushroomed into a cultural phenomenon with thousands of new TED and TEDx talks happening all over the world every year and hundreds of millions viewing them online. Listening to these talks is free, but company sponsorships have generated massive revenue streams for TED Inc.

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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