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The Mesh: Why the future of business is sharing, by Lisa Gansky

January 3rd, 2011 · 3 Comments · Book Review, Talents, Innovators

By Marylene Delbourg-Delphis @mddelphis

The MeshThe Mesh, an old word meaning the “opening between the threads of a net” got its technology flavor with the concept of mesh networking generally defined as “a type of networking wherein each node in the network may act as an independent router.” For Lisa Gansky, in her book The Mesh, Why the future of business is sharing, “the Mesh is the new way of doing business.” It is made possible by the increasingly sophisticated understanding of consumers’ behavior patterns, as well as multiple technologies that matured over the last fifteen years, ranging from RFID, broadband management, GPS-enabled mobile web devices, to social media networks or data processing.

Described in chapter 1, “Getting to know the Mesh,” the Zipcar experience provides a foundational example from which Gansky presents the “Mesh business” that has fleshed out over the last ten years. It is defined through five main attributes:

  • Shareability: Products or services can be shared within a community (whatever it is);
  • Advanced Web and mobile networks, and information infrastructures: They allow real-time tracking of what is shared;
  • Immediate availability: Users can access the shared goods wherever they are physically;
  • Evangelization through social networking: Happy users spread the word about their experience;
  • Global service networks: Any Mesh service can come with a network of ancillary services through partnerships.

Gansky ends up adopting/adapting the technology definition of mesh networks: “A mesh describes a type of network that allows any node to link in any direction with any other node in the system.”

The advantages and the meaning of the Mesh economy are spelled out throughout the following eight chapters for both the users and the providers of Mesh services. The on-demand availability of physical goods creates a new type of cooperative and trust-based environment as well as, ultimately, a cultural shift that points toward the new aspects of our liberal economy. This includes:

Usage-based consumption models: Why not take advantage of shareable goods when they are easily available? How many cars do we really need in a family? Do we need to buy new clothes all the time? Why not swap children’s clothing and toys through ThredUp, for example? The Mesh economy provides us access to many goods while sparing us from the constraints and superfluous expenses of ownership, as well as the depreciative process of accumulating things. The throwaway economy is disappearing quickly.

Global anti-waste approaches:  While many anti-waste measures in our life are still primarily corrective, the Mesh is designed to structurally reduce the amount of garbage in the first place. Continued participation in the Mesh requires goods that hold up to repeated uses, i.e. that are durable and reparable. On the production side, this entails demand-driven and tightly integrated distributed supply chains that also provision “reverse supply chains,” as the goal is not only to sell products, but also to repair them or recycle and “upcycle” parts.

Marketplace-driven overhead reduction principles: Remember the noise ten years ago about how Internet was removing the middleman and how we were entering the disintermediation age (strikingly enough, a word that was coined in the sixties and originally referred to the ability for consumers to invest directly in securities)? This is actually happening. Tellingly, to defend itself in 2008, Prosper, a p2p financial company, had to argue that that it was not a bank, but a marketplace, which the SEC’s investigators admitted. Great news. Structures do not build the economy, consumers do… and they do so precisely in a marketplace where they expect transparency.

My summary: The Mesh, a consumer-driven free economy: Mesh businesses address people and send them recommendations and/or advertizing messages based on their personal behavioral patterns: that’s why they are winning at a fast pace. While traditional liberalism mandates the right to undertake from the entrepreneur’s standpoint and is predicated on mechanisms pushing products to consumers, the Mesh liberalism factors in the consumers’ pull and their ability to transform any company into a service company delivering services to which they may or may not subscribe, depending on the quality of the offering and assistance they get.

Netflix slayed the “movie dragon,” because consumers are the ones who make or break companies (more so than ever). They are free social animals, choosing with whom they interact and to whom they want to listen, and are moving away from business institutions that do not hear their conversations. In many respects, the world of the Mesh is the expression of a consumer-driven free economy as well as the market incarnation of Rousseau’s social contract “by which every person, while uniting himself with all, shall obey only himself and remain as free as before.

A very interesting book, which also includes an extensive “Mesh directory.”

Thanks to Seth Godin for attracting my attention to this book!

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