How Sharing Increases Innovation

4/26/10Follow @rmchase

I believe there is a strong tie between sharing and the ability to innovate. This post will walk you through the logic.

Innovation is built on these things:

1. The existence of problems and the desire to solve them

2. The ability to apply new ways of thinking to these problems

3. The cost of the inputs needed to solve the problem (skills, data, resources, devices, networks)

4. The ability to iterate, adapt, evolve and scale.

1. PROBLEMS: Frankly, there is no dearth of problems and some kinds of people really like to think about how to solve them if they have the time. So problem-solving people who have at least some time on their hands try to problem-solve and people who don’t have time, can’t. (Why are there so many fewer historical examples of women doing remarkable innovative things? Well, duh…)

2. NEW THINKING: The ability to apply NEW ways of thinking, with an emphasis on the word “new.” Problems that are kept hidden in discipline silos don’t get any new thinking applied to them. See all the great work done by Innocentive, that gets problems out of silos and opens them up to a diverse group of solvers.

3. THE COST OF INPUTS. Here is where I want to linger for a bit. There is a whole world of inputs that could come at much lower cost—wherever there is excess capacity, an underused resource that has already been paid for and which therefore has lots more value locked up in it! If only we could get people, companies, governments to “share” more—to make sure that their unused unneeded excess capacity was made available to others to make use of.

Exactly when are we NOT willing to share?

• When we believe that abundance only comes from hoarding and we perceive that everything is rivalrous (see this earlier post).

• When we have just witnessed a communal sharing debacle (Chinese cultural revolution) or when goods really are rivalrous.

• When things really are scarce, there is just simply not enough to go around and so we hoard to protect our closest family.

• When things are abundant, why bother?

If we look at these reasons for not sharing excess capacity (and thus facilitating a whole lot more innovation), I see lots of room for improvement. We have to stop our … Next Page »

Robin Chase leads Meadow Networks, a consulting firm that advises city, state, and federal government agencies about wireless applications in the transportation sector. She is also founder and former CEO of GoLoco, an online ridesharing community, and Zipcar, the largest carsharing company in the world. Follow @rmchase

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