Sunday, June 22, 2008

Speaking about the new economy....

It's hard to believe that there was once a time where shopping was a chore. It was something that was done to replenish the larder, but it wasn't a source of entertainment and leisure, nor was it a form of therapy. Commerce is no longer something that happens in the other, but instead it's what water is to a fish. Think not, try to think of the last time you spent a single day not buying anything (and when you were sick in bed doesn't count), pretty hard. If you think one day is hard, imagine a whole year. After you're done imagining go visit Arduos Blog for the chronicling of one woman's attempt to not buy anything new for an entire year.

Shopping is part of our reason for existence in our modern world, now that most of our "necessities" are taken care of. Or that's the premise of Benjamin Barber's Book Consumed covered by the Independent.

Barber's premise is that marketing has really focused on infantilizing us, placing us a in a state of arrested development and constant stupor for wanting things now. Convincing us we need everything. The green marketing machines doesn't get off so easily as Barber explains:

Hyper-consumerism is a major contributor to environmental problems, yet so-called green marketers are as guilty as your average marketing man. "Don't fool yourself," warns Barber. "Green consumerism is still consuming. The simplest way to go green is not to consume, or to consume less, but these people want you to consume their way, because if you stop consuming they don't make any money."

I've always been big on the experience economy, since it tends to revitalize larger swaths of the economy instead of the mass production economy where one individual can service numerous people. While service economies tend to focus on one at a time. That's why I'm big on the food industry, oh and because I like to eat.

Our wants are bigger than our needs, and it's bigger than the resources available. Ironically, those wants are bigger than the amount of time we have to enjoy them, so they don't get enjoyed despite our acquiring them. Lest you think that's too depressing, it's instructive to learn about Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, a carpet manufacturer who had what he called a "spear in the chest" moment when he realized that he had to reimagine his carpet business in terms of cycles not transactions. Coming up with innovative solutions such as leasing his product instead of buying it, promising recycled disposal with free pick up. Paul Saffo futurist explains.

It’s an old example, but look at Interface, the residential and industrial carpet company. It bugged founder Ray Anderson that his product was getting thrown out whenever anyone remodeled. So he wrote his 1-800 number on the back of his carpets. “Call us, we’ll pick it up.” Installers loved it because it eliminated dump fees. Customers loved, it was environmental, etc. So Ray takes it a step further: He stops selling carpets and starts leasing them. Now he says, “We’ll charge you if you don’t return it.” So people start replacing only the damaged parts, like corners that were stained. Guess what this inspires? FLOR tiles. Suddenly Ray isn’t in the carpet business anymore; he has innovated a whole new consumer line of “beautiful flooring.”

Economies are by definition transactional, but how they are transactional is still an open question in this new world of ours.


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