Friday, March 16, 2012

Two ways of growing: Taking or sharing

It seems there a basically two different ways of growing:

- You can acquire more of something that already exists – in some cases by taking it from others – or:

- You can combine your resources with the resources of others, and, with a bit of luck, something extra and completely new will emerge through your interactions.

In other words: you can play a zero-sum game, where resources are finite, and your gain is someone else’s loss – or you can enter a non-zero-sum game, in which the entire pool of resources grows for all participants.

It’s a classic dilemma: Should you try to make the most of the situation for yourself, or should you share in the hope that you will be better off as part of a community.

My argument would be that we are moving towards more cooperation. It’s generally becoming a better deal to share.

Two trends in particular are changing the balance:
1)There’s a growing scarcity of resources, and 2) we’re increasingly connected.

Consequently, we are becoming much more interdependent – and I think that we are all becoming more aware of this reality.

We’re clearly approaching the limit to how much strain we can put on nature’s resources. The planet was once infinite for us, now it’s getting tight, so the battle for resources is evident - as the rising prices indicate.

This situation will only tighten. As we move along, we can either try to conquer from others – or we can cooperate to develop smarter ways of creating utility, expanding our possibilities through shared innovation.

One could argue that cooperation and sharing is how new true growth can happen. This is the amazing and hopeful insight of complex systems; that in the interaction between the elements of a system, something completely new can emerge – something, which is more than the simple sum of its parts.

It’s like magic, yet it’s completely normal, and it’s what drives this whole evolution onwards to new levels of complexity.

We need that kind of growth desperately these days, and luckily, it’s becoming much easier, cheaper, faster and efficient to share – not least because of digital networks, but also thanks to roads, shared language and culture, technical standards, trade agreements etc.

Furthermore, the fact that a large part of the value of our economy resides in bits means that in a great deal of our interactions, we don’t have to give up what we have when we share it with others. The cost of sharing is falling, as is the cost of connecting to others.

All told, there are strong indicators that sharing is becoming a more attractive strategy.

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