The teenage me didn't aspire for much in a material sense but if pushed, I knew what I'd have wanted when I grew up - a fast car and a room full of CDs. Cars and music, so far so predictable. But now I can finally afford such things, how is it that my best consumer experiences of recent months are Zipcar and Spotify - services that reject ownership of precisely the two things the teenage me thought I wanted most?
I'm interested in this because it taps into a concept that is starting to transition from a single generation to the mainstream- the sharing economy. Recognised perhaps in the US more than in the UK and sometimes termed as collaborative consumption, the premise is simply that access is more important than ownership. The appeal works on many levels - cutting down on costs, adding value and becoming part of a community that is connected through sharing resources. The desire to kick back against the systems and cultures of old that caused a global recession also plays its part in the movement towards cutting out the corporate middleman in the redistribution of 'stuff'.
Similarly, AirBnB, Craigslist and even Kickstarter - a crowdfunding platform brought to the UK late last year amid much fanfare - demonstrate that this isn't just for those looking to opt out, it is becoming part of day to day life. Yet there's a piece of the puzzle that's still missing -this is all to do with 'stuff', consumer fare essentially. What about the other facets of our lives that aren't about using things - can the sharing economy be applied to them? Can we apply the sharing economy to the way we work and the services we provide? Can we share our time in the same way that Zipcar shares its cars?
In a way, we've been doing this for years in the form of freelance working - but so far this has only reached organisations that wish to use freelancers, and the individuals who want to structure their working lives this way. But now there's an opportunity, as part of the creep of the sharing economy into all aspects of our lives, for 'rental' of people's working time to be transformed. This has already started in the way that we get small tasks done. The success of TaskRabbit in the US is a good example - the business has grown rapidly based on the simple premise of connecting individuals within a neighbourhood who can help each other get the tedious jobs in life ticked off their to do lists.
In the business I run, Lawyers On Demand, we are doing it in a professional, B2B setting -allowing clients the opportunity to share the legal resource they otherwise have to each 'own' (or outsource) individually, so they save on costs in the process. Our clients have no problem seeing the benefits for themselves but often ask, what's in it for the lawyers being shared? Our lawyers say that for them, offering their services on a 'shared' basis - coming onboard to do a job when an organisation needs it doing - allows them to gain a wealth of experience in various organisations at differing stages in their life cycle across a shorter time period. It's not for everyone but the benefits as they see them are not only a more interesting and engaging work life, but also a wider commercial understanding.
For Zipcar, the boom in the sharing economy has provided a business model so viable it attracted a purchaser from the very market it came into to disrupt. As more of us start to assess what we really value in our working lives we may find that the sharing economy opens up more options for our own working lives too, as portfolio working and 'renting time' become increasingly mainstream. For that teenage me, where 'careers counselling' was simply a short list of predictable job title, this idea would have been quite exciting.