This is Part Six in a series of six blog posts reflecting on The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World, by Jeremy Rifkin (2011) as it relates to the topic of Entrepreneurial Innovation.
The defining feature of the new Collaborative Age will be replacing Adam Smith’s economic paradigm of unlimited continual growth with no regard for the supply of raw materials or consequences to the environment with a new respect for the commons as driving principle. The quest for community–online or in person–will override the need to be the guy who dies with the most toys. We see this in action today as people across the political spectrum have lined up behind net neutrality over the interests of greedy telecommunications companies attempting to control the new real estate: access to a free and open internet where innovation thrives and no one controls anything beyond the reach of their keystrokes. Because just like there could be no farming with farm land, the Collaborative Age requires a free communications commons available to everyone equally.
And we’ve seen that commons flex its muscles in the real world with several revolutions against authoritarian rule made possible by social media across the Arab world in 2011 in the so-called Arab Spring. In the wake of the fishy “election” of the severely unpopular Donald Trump with the assistance of hackers and social media operations in Russia, women’s marches simultaneously produced the largest public demonstrations in the history of the planet using nothing but social media networks available to everyone. And as Rifkin observes, “Similarly, the right of free and open access to the renewable energies that bathe the Earth–the sun, wind, geothermal heat, ocean waves and tides and so on–is increasingly becoming a rallying cry of a younger generation committed to sustainable lifestyles and stewardship of the biosphere.” (217)
As the new age dawns, poverty falls as new work arrangements form and work is democratized and value reflected in payment. The economic pie finds itself divided into so many pieces that we all just get together and bake a bunch more pies to split up into even more pieces. The debt economy fails as online education lowers costs and stops leaving students with a house payment for their education and predatory lending and the current financial industry that specializes in financial fraud at present will find that if it fails to invest in the new Collaborative Age, it will find itself replaced and certainly reduced in importance as social capital supplants financial capital for primacy. Consider that labor represents the largest fixed cost of any start-up. What if your start-up works collaboratively with other start-ups for labor and materials? As Rifkin points out, fossil fuel powered industry required covering huge up front expenses at start up placing centralized finance at the center of the economy. “In the new distributed and collaborative communication and energy space of the Third Industrial Revolution, however, the accumulation of social capital becomes as important and valuable as the accumulation of financial capital” and “the costs of entering into networks is plummeting.” (218)
Abundance is living proof of this dynamic. I started my business preparing tax returns and keeping books and other business services with about five free posts on my personal Facebook page back in 2014. With not a cent invested–only time and social capital (and being very good at these things of course)–I’ve successfully filled a niche in my network and earn a comfortable living in the Collaborative Age. Because the Third Industrial Revolution begins for you as soon as you decide to join us.