By Stefan Sojka
The growing global movement to redistribute and reorganize resources presents unlimited untapped entrepreneurial opportunity.
I was defragging my hard drive the other day and it got me thinking – as one does, sitting there staring at a little colour-coded progress bar for three hours – perhaps it’s time to defrag our civilization. If my hard drive runs faster and more efficiently when all its files are organized into nice neat contiguous sectors and clusters, surely there is a big opportunity for improving off-line efficiency if we apply the same process.
Defragging is going on all around us already, of course; airline ticketing systems, car-pooling, off-peak hot water, express checkout lanes… but we are surrounded by so much complexity and so much inefficiency, that the opportunities are endless. It’s only a matter of identifying them, then working out clever solutions.
Many of our off-line systems have evolved over hundreds, even thousands of years, including the economy, transportation, communication and our public institutions, often with outmoded rules that have, like the inefficient way data is written onto hard drives, forced us poor humans that are lumbered with them, to endure a mountain of inconvenience and waste. Within all that inconvenience, some people make out like bandits (think of currency traders, recruitment companies or 1,000 other types of agency), but if we want long-term sustainability, we must look for ways to profit from making things better, not capitalizing on keeping them the same.
Rachael Botsman and Roo Rogers’ eye-opening book “What’s Mine is Yours – The Rise of Collaborative Consumption” documents an online movement of peer-to-peer sharing and reallocating, and identifies the new drivers and motivations that make phenomena like www.airbnb.com and www.zopa.com take off. The Web not only facilitates better resource and service allocation, but it has built-in personal reward incentives for participants in the form of social interaction, validation and relationship building.
Here are a few of my pet defragging projects I would love to see get up and running: House-swapping so everyone lives within walking distance of wherever they commute to every morning. A register for all your unused musical instruments/tools/books/stuff, so needy local kids can drop in and borrow them. Something (anything!!) that will permanently eliminate the need for filling out forms. A map/database of unused backyards that can be made available for suburban farming. A site for locally-based freelance experts who are happy to come to my place and show me how to use all my gadgets and software properly. Any niche or industry-specific version of existing Websites and businesses, where unused resources and people-power are made available to others.
If only this column was a two-pager, I would keep going!
Everywhere I turn and look, there are systems, processes and things being mismanaged, underutilized or overburdened. So, put your thinking caps on, register a domain name and start offering your brilliant solution. No one ever went broke identifying a need and fulfilling it perfectly. Build in the social media marketing component, so everyone tells everyone else about your idea and you have yourself a start-up!
Before you begin, spend some time checking out what others are doing in this area, try a few sites out that swap things, introduce opportunities, facilitate microloans, sharing, group investing and matchmaking and you’ll find a defragging movement so diverse it almost needs defragging itself!
We might be a fair way off the Utopian vision of Jacque Fresco’s Venus Project – www.thevenusproject.com – where all resource use is optimised by computers, and humans spend all day marveling at how clever we all are, but it’s nice to think we are at least heading in the right direction. If you look closely, you’ll see the path along the way is paved with fragments of gold.