A few weeks ago I wrote about my recent participation in the 2013 Roundtable on Institutional Innovation, an Aspen Institute event that took a close look at the impact of digital technologies on the evolution of companies and other organizations. At the Roundtable, I heard a number of interesting presentations. One of the most intriguing was The Collaborative Economy, by Jeremiah Owyang, a partner and analyst at Altimeter Group, whose research focuses on the changing relationships between companies and their customers.
Since the advent of the steam engine in the late 18th century, technology advances have been radically improving the productivity of business, enabling companies to significantly lower their prices while providing higher quality products and services. Throughout the Industrial Revolution of the past two centuries, a stream of disruptive technologies, - steam engines, railroads, electricity, cars, airplanes, phones, radio, TV and so on, - have transformed the economy and just about every single industry, as well as re-shaping the institutions of society.
Is our present digital revolution qualitatively different from those of the past two centuries, which were primarily driven by machines and other industrial-age physical technologies? Could it be that our continuing advances in digital technologies are now leading us to a new kind of information society and knowledge-based economy, which could, over time, be as transformative as the 18th century transition from pre-industrial agrarian societies to technology-based industrial societies?
The industrial economy has been primarily based on production, with GDP as the key measure of economic activity. The collaborative economy feels very different. There is a lot I find appealing about it, in particular, its potential impact on the really critical issue of jobs in the digital economy. Given that large public and private sector institutions are not expected to create enough new jobs, the collaborative economy might be one of the most important ways for individuals to come up with all kinds of innovative ways of making a living.