The starting point of my inquiry into collaborability is mega trends are influencing the way we collaborate big time. It will also influence the way our economy is structured; hence our social fabric. It will affect everybody: individual citizens, companies as well as governments.
I have been theorising on this topic for some time now. But how to practically describe my notions? How to make these notions more tangible, for instance for my readers who come here with a business background and seek relevance for their own business rather for society as a whole? How can we for instance link technical advances, disruption of value chains to our social fabric and the way we collaborate?
In the USA discussions are going on about the demise of the middle class as a consequence of the various mega trends. I have posted several times on this issue at RPD as well. Another, while related, topic is about the disruptive effects on established value chains, hence the social fabric.
A discussion on Tesla’s distribution strategy, which does not include the traditional middleman, is a telling example. The “conservatives” are basically worried that the social fabric will be disrupted. Jonathan Coppage via The American Conservative Is Tesla a Threat?:
A start-up should be able to pioneer a new business model, and the big car makers should probably be allowed to adopt it as well. Yet the broader forces at work in our economy, which Tesla is only riding, should bear scrutiny. In each particular instance, we as consumers may leap to direct satisfaction while still enjoying the societal framework those brick-and-mortar institutions helped scaffold. But as the economy optimizes and cash flows polarize between consumer and producer, we may find our communities inexplicably hollowing out, even as we hum along in our American-made electric cars.
An intelligent reaction to Coppage article was given by Andrew Leonard via Salon:
The bogus Tesla backlash: What if the Internet saves the middle class?
I can wholeheartedly recommend you to read the entire article if you are interested in collaborability. Some quotes:
Tesla wants to sell cars directly from its website, thereby cutting out the middleman.
The middlemen are not amused, and they are leaning on their political connections to squelch the Tesla challenge. In North Carolina, reports Coppage, “the state Senate’s Commerce Committee recently unanimously voted to approve a bill, backed by politically powerful auto dealers, that would prohibit direct sale of automobiles over the Internet.”
You don’t have to look hard to find press coverage of the fight that is distinctly unsympathetic to the dealerships. They’re dinosaurs who have outlived their time, depending on their connections to preserve quasi-local monopolies that keep car prices higher than they should be in a perfectly competitive free market! They’re a classic example of unnecessary “friction” in the system.
It’s exactly that kind of local culture that Tesla currently threatens, writes Coppage. The real danger posed is not to the car dealerships, but to “civil society” — the network of local relationships between citizens and businesses and the market that provides texture, vibrancy and cohesion to a physically embodied community.[emphasis RPD] Tesla’s direct-to-consumer relationship eviscerates that local civil society infrastructure. What happens, Coppage wonders, when Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs cut out all the middlemen? Who is left? Just us, our smartphones and a mogul having a $5 million wedding in the redwoods.
The conservatives are postulating a major worry on the changes on our social fabric by the disruption caused by the mega trends. Ideologically they push it certain directions, but the assertion that disruptive changes potentially disrupting the social fabric is sound. Our social fabric is not a constant, it changes all the time:
Coppage provides some valuable historical background that complicates this framing. The power of local car dealerships turns out to be rooted in anti-trust struggles against big business dating to the 1920s and ’30s. Back then, politicians feared that two or three national car manufacturers would lock up the market and then jack up prices. Independent local dealerships, seen from this perspective, were originally a consumer-friendly innovation that boosted local community control and independence.
Tesla, and the discussions between “conservatives” and “techno-libertarians” hand us a practical example of the impact of the mega trends and how this will disrupt both our direct and more indirect ways of collaboration. But it also shows us that we have difficult choices to make (as far as they are not determined by autonomous processes). Shedding fossil fuels will also create changes in our economics and social structures that are far reaching.
NB An other advantage of this example is that Tesla it is not about the obvious advances in IT technologies, even though without them no electric car but it is basically about electricity replacing organic fuels to propel our “transporters”.
Update 16 March 2014: Tesla Evaluating ‘Judicial Remedies’ To Oppose Direct Sales Ban In New Jersey via Techchruch
Update 20 March 2014
Elon Musk, founder of Tesla via the Tesla company blog To the People of New Jersey:
An even bigger conflict of interest with auto dealers is that they make most of their profit from service, but electric cars require much less service than gasoline cars. There are no oil, spark plug or fuel filter changes, no tune-ups and no smog checks needed for an electric car. Also, all Tesla Model S vehicles are capable of over-the-air updates to upgrade the software, just like your phone or computer, so no visit to the service center is required for that either.
Read also at RPD: Will the „middle man” disappear?