Adil Abrar is the Founder of Sidekick Studios and co-founded The Amazings, a marketplace for retired people to sell their experiences, skills and passions direct to their local community.
Turn on the news.
The oil is running out. The welfare state needs to shrink. The government has run out of money. Households are knee deep in debt. There are too many people in the world. The good times are over.
Sigh. Turn on the internet. Find another world, where resources are abundant.
Find Book Crossing: 1.7 million people, ‘reading and releasing’ millions of books around the world. The concept is elegant – let’s not allow books to gather dust on a bookshelf, they’re a resource that can be shared. In the act of sharing, people can forge new relationships, discover new ways of understanding their favourite books and enrich others’ lives and their own.
Find Sidecar and Lyft, both creating new possibilities by re-imagining lift sharing. Fire up an app, find people who are heading your way, and grab a ride. The result could be close to alchemy. On the one side, fewer cars on the road, and a smaller environmental footprint. On the other, friendships forged, income generated, even micro-jobs created. All of this out of the waste implicit in most single person car journeys.
There’s more. Storkbroker and Thredup are marketplaces for families to buy and sell children’s outgrown clothing. Without services like these, goods and materials that have had significant amounts of energy gone into designing, manufacturing and distributing them, are being put back into circulation rather than landfill. Energy is being transferred, not lost. Would-be consumers are making tight budgets stretch further.
These are just three examples. There are literally hundreds of similar services appearing, almost on a daily basis, in every sphere of life. People coming together to pool, share, and re-use everything, from under-used household equipment like power drills, to airplane luggage allowance, freight containers, empty spaces, money, food and homes.
The explosion of services in this space have been given a name – collaborative consumption – and it is starting to feel like a movement. All over the world people are turning what has been previously wasted, underused or just ignored, into new forms of value.
What unites a lot of these ideas and ideals is the notion that where others see scarcity, they see abundance. Libraries may be under attack, they are certainly going to be around in fewer numbers than previously, but Book Crossing shows there is still an abundance of books which could be put to use. As anyone who lives in London, and has to deal with the traffic, can testify, space on the roads is a premium. Yet Sidecar and Lyft see an abundance of capacity in spare passenger seats.
It is this idea of re-framing the discussion about scarcity into one about abundance which underpins my startup, The Amazings. Western discourse on population dynamics is that we are faced with an ageing population and there will be fewer younger people as average family size have fallen over the generations. The analysis is that this will result in a scarcity of resources. Too many older people, not working and dependent on the benefits systems, with not enough people of working age contributing taxes. The analysis has merits. But are we doomed to suffer the predicted outcomes?
We think otherwise. Instead of thinking of older people as a burden, perhaps we should think of them as an asset that is under-used. If you have survived the slings and arrows of life for 5, 6, 7 or more decades, it’ll be highly likely that you’ll have accumulated knowledge, skills and experience that now have a value. What new mum wouldn’t want insight into parenting? Or how could a would-be journalist benefit from someone who has lived that career for many years? Or wouldn’t it just be useful to know how to mend a dress from an experienced seamstress.
The choice we have is to focus on scarcity of resources, or look through that and find an undeniable abundance of wisdom.
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