Why You Need to Pay Attention to the Sharing Economy

Companies are succeeding by thinking differently about assets and using digital platforms to gather people together around them.

Rbots[1]Early reaction to the rise of the sharing economy, where buyers and sellers match up online, was that it was a “socialist, hippie” kind of thing, business consultant Rachel Botsman told association executives in her opening keynote at digitalNow 2015, held May 28-30 at the Walt Disney World Swan Resort.

But the explosive growth and financial success of companies like Airbnb and Uber have proved otherwise —Airbnb is now the largest hotelier in the world, noted Botsman, author of What’s Mine is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption Is Changing The Way We Live. Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber aren’t anomalies, Botsman said, but illustrate a profound, technology-enabled shift that will disrupt many more industry sectors, including banking and healthcare.

Companies are succeeding by thinking differently about assets and using digital platforms to gather people together around them, she said. In the collaborative consumption model, technology creates, not marketplaces, but connected communities where, Botsman said, “the new currency is trust between strangers.”

Seamlessness counts, too. Another key to their success, Botsman said, is that they simplify complex experiences, using online networks to get things done with more efficiency and ease. Their models have relevance to associations and challenge leaders to think differently about how they think about their assets and define their value.

Reaction to her message at the conference was mixed, Botsman said in an interview with Convene following her talk. “Some people are confused. Some people are angry. Some people are saying, ‘Oh, we do all that already’ — they’re defensive. And some people are just excited and energized.”

Leaders who are embracing the change, rather than ignoring it or fighting it, “realize that this is a lens to get their organization thinking differently about creating value,” she said. “A lot of leaders have talked about how it can actually inject a humility back into the organization — humility that maybe we don’t have all the answers.”

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor of Convene.