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March 12, 2009

What are we going to do with this sharing thing?

Breaking bread2
Picture courtesy of kmf221

When Tim Berners-Lee created the worldwide web at CERN, his working model was that of a free-market economy, unrestricted by the boundaries of geography.

The priority was to make technology accessible to everyone, not to create a product for financial gain.

The reasoning was that if he had a commercial interest, it would be hard to remain neutral about developments on the web and true to his original vision.

This was a moment that began a change in the course of our commercial history that is perhaps only now just beginning to fully unfold.

Up until this epoch-making shift we lived in a world of ‘give and take’ and ‘keep’. In that moment, it changed to beginning to be about ‘share’.

And now, thanks to the ubiquity of the web, ‘share’ is everywhere.

When Twitter, for example, defaults feeds as public and shared instead of private, we’re encouraged to live in a world characterized by ‘share’.

‘Share this’ is more than a widget, it’s an invitation to the group mind to become active, it’s an encouragement, it’s a way of life, a clarion call to participate in a new kind of collaborative economy.

As we change our behaviour, so we change our world, with profound implications for economists, marketeers and social media experts everywhere.

At the Social Networking World Forum in London this week, one thing that was noticeable was how much the economic agenda has already shifted towards what Julie Meyer, CEO of Ariadne Capital described as ‘financial systems that serve the ecosystem’ as an imperative.

Alongside this, planted front and centre, there was also the conventional agenda, the big question that loomed large, how do we monetize for profit, where 'share' was barely there.

It seems we’re currently stuck in the middle between these two conversations. It also seems inevitable that the impact of ‘share’ is not going to go away anytime soon.

Personally, I’ve never really liked selling, but I do like sharing. When financial systems serve the whole ecosystem, brands blend into communities by having permission to exist instead of being pushed into place. This is a cheaper and more durable way to go. It can create communities populated with a sufficient diversity of interest to create a thriving marketplace. Working with a collective mind can serve a common good and share the spoils, collaboratively, non-exploitatively.

It's a world where egos get left at the door, and it implies a different set of values to the ones we've had as long held assumptions. Conventional values, the ones that have underpinned competitive gain and commercial profit, the ‘I win: you lose’, dog eat dog, winner takes all, and ‘profit from’ as opposed to ‘profit with’ mentality, they don’t really resonate in the world of share.

‘Share’ is where the consumer must be credited, and paid attention to. Share asks businesses to embrace their duties and obligations of corporate responsibility fully, moving towards the creation of social capital in tandem with their audiences as part of a collective whole, where the traditional roles of consumption and production are redefined and redistributed.

Are we toying with the idea of share as a token gesture instead of looking at what it may turn out to mean? ‘Share’ is an idea who’s time has come but how many businesses are countenancing ‘share’ fully, at either a strategic or a practical level?

Whether we’re looking at the G20 and global financial regulation, the distribution of our energy or how to credit the participation of advocates in our brands as followers at a micro-level, the issues are the same. From here on in, it may not be possible to create a sustainable business model for the future without explaining what we’re really going to do with ‘share’.


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Anne, you have made a wonderful distinction between simply filling up space and actually sharing it with others. Sharing also means using it for a proactive reason: to teach valuable lessons, to share wisdom with others, to spur a conversation that might yield an untapped opportunity. Equal opportunity means that plenty will fill the space available for everyone, but that's much too easy. I believe that in these tumultuous times, sharing will become even more important.

Thanks for sharing, Anne! That is what bloggers do (hey, that's us). It is an offer without expecting a return, hopefully to be pleasantly surprised by what does return. Value is in the eye of the beholder.

Selling starts with an offer as well, and I like it, because it enable customers to choose value unseen before, (not all of it clear to the salesperson). In return I expect to get paid the price. If despite my honest effort to bring understanding the customer does not want or if or I am not at all sure my offer can deliver value to this particular customer, I would not make advances.

Seeing both sides makes me quite immune to pressuring sales tactics which gave the profession a bad name.

As for explaining what we’re really going to do with ‘share’, see one corporate model at http://corporation2020.org

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