Reflections on Life in the Sharing Economy | Episode 4

by Maria Paula Oliveira

Welcome to the penultimate episode of this series on the sharing economy. This episode is about YOU.

But first, a quick recap:

  • On Episode 1, we started this journey of a personal take on the big hype of sharing. The hype is not over: with about ten thousand companies, spanning over 16 industries around 133 countries, it is a transformative social and economic movement
  • On Episode 2,we talked about the key role that technologies, namely the internet and mobile communications, had on scaling-up sharing initiatives to a global level
  • On Episode 3, I told you about my experience hosting strangers for dinner, and also how incumbents are reacting to the advancements of the sharing model

During the last 4 years researching and living the collaborative economy, I have:

  • Tried the services of dozens of companies: Feastly, Carma, Yerdel, Nextdoor, Craigslist, Snapgoods, NeighborGoods, Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Grab, WeWork, Impact Hub, Breather and many others (I’m writing this at The Working Capitol, a brand new coworking space in Singapore)
  • Across 3 regions: United States, Brazil, and Asia
  • Met with hundreds of people with whom I exchanged goods and services
  • Spent and gained a few dollars
  • Saved over ten thousand dollars in baby gear
  • Transacted via 4 payment methods – PayPal, Visa credit card, cash and Google Wallet

Enough about MY experience. Now it is time to talk about YOU: how are you sharing?

New economic rules = New behaviors

A lot of times when I tell people about my experiences around the sharing economy, they ask me: how can I do it?

I will not fool you. Adopting new behaviors is hard. But as with most of the hard things in life, it is worth it.

Check this little story:

Right on the second day of my experiment back in 2013, I  learned the hard side of adopting new ideas. In the day following Amanda’s dinner, my first experience with the sharing economy, I needed to go to the south bay area, for two meetings. At the dinner, one of the attendees mentioned the carpooling app “Carma.” I immediately signed up for the service and soon found that a guy named Andrew was interested in sharing the ride with me. I told him I could offer the ride down there, but not the round trip because my meetings were in separate cities – one in Palo Alto, one in Redwood City. We exchanged some more messages that night and early in the following morning, but could not come up with a good solution for both of us, so decided to try some other time. I was so frustrated.

That was the moment I learned that adopting new ideas requires adopting new behaviors. And that is tough! New behaviors remove you from the comfort zone, take you out of the auto-pilot and put you in alert mode. You have to watch your actions. You got to think before you do. So here are 3 key elements that I’ve learned to be crucial to join the collaborative movement – things that people should practice and use; things that companies and regulators should promote and enable across the customer’s experience.

1. Openness and willingness

(Legend: What if instead of wasting, we shared and reused it?)

I like to compare embracing sharing with adopting new eating habits. You have to learn what to eat, where to eat, how to it, who to eat with…all this can influence in either strengthening or weakening your will to change, and ultimately define your success in forming a new life style.

If it weren’t for my conscious intent to pursue understanding a movement that is changing our world, I would probably have not gone through all that trouble to share a ride. It would have been so much easier to just climb behind the wheel and drive my way, in the same old manner most of us do on a daily basis. Instead, I tried my best to share a ride. To embrace a new culture, a new way of doing things. I was open. I failed in that attempt. I rode almost a 100 miles, back-and-forth, feeling guilty in my big, underused car. Not good karma for me that day, but my will persisted. As with all habits, adopting the sharing economy requires practice, discipline and time.

2. Tools and technology

Openness and willingness are important, but the ecosystem is also deeply relevant. Without the tools and technology available to exercise my will to share, I believe “wanting” would not suffice to sustain an effective behavioral change. As with my girls’ bazaar back in early 2000’s, without the proper ecosystem to support them, new habits are much less effective and impactful.

Take for example Airbnb. Before the service existed, I could have been open to hosting unfamiliar guests, but I certainly wasn’t willing to just go around Singapore shouting that I had a spare room. Now, with the aid of a tech-based platform, and a strong curation system, it has become much easier to express my openness and to exercise the habit of welcoming a guest into my house. (Legend: Trying to be a great host for strangers – the Airbnb life!)

3. Affirmative actions

Another fundamental piece of the ecosystem is the affirmative actions by public and private regulators. Similar incentives that have been given to promote electric cars are now being extended to ridesharing and carpooling, such as special parking spaces, dedicated lanes and reduced toll prices. (Legend: At a parking lot in California and at a mall in Singapore: practical measures for a new world)

There is still a long way to go on building a positive, reinforcing ecosystem for sharing. As I write this series, the clash between the current and the new model is in full swing. News abounds of lobbying by both sides to change/review laws. Even violent conflicts have occurred. Here are some recent examples:

  • In late 2016, New York City, Airbnb’s biggest United States market, started cracking down on Airbnb hosts, deeming short-term rentals or whole apartment units illegal. The company started a claim against the city, but dropped shortly
  • London cabbies, which traditionally undergo several years of training to obtain a taxi license, have protested Uber drivers for a couple of years already
  • When I was in Brazil, in 2015, taxis in Sao Paulo were organizing series of strikes to push for anti-Uber laws
  • In Singapore, in early 2017, Grab drivers were prohibited to carry families with babies or young children without proper car seats/restrainers, a demand from which regular taxis are exempt

The why

A constant question in my mind before I did the sharing experiment is “why.” Why are people getting out of their way to share information (Yelp, Tripadvisor), food (Feastly), transportation (Carma, Uber, Lyft, Zipcar), housing (Couchsurfing, Airbnb), time (TaskRabbit), office (RocketSpace), objects (Nextdoor, Craigslist) with others?
Some people are making a living out of this, like TaskRabbits, Uber drivers and some Airbnb hosts. Riders and guest are possibly getting a better deal compared to the traditional options, but with a potential discount in reliability and quality. So I kept wondering, why? By experimenting, by living the new models in my daily life, I understood that money is not the only thing driving people to share. There is something else. This something else is what I’d call “meaning.” Based on what I personally lived during my experiment and throughout my sharing opportunities in the past 4 years, the interactions promoted via the sharing economy carry a different, closer, more humane, more primal meaning. From the way people greet you to the conversations that naturally start and flow, to the fun/colored/practical tech that supports all of this… everything is more meaningful. It is like the humanity was brought back to business. (Legend: Does this look like an office? It is Airbnb’s headquarters in San Francisco. Picture credit: www.officelovin.com)

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • Adopting sharing habits requires that people get out of the consumption auto-pilot and are open and willing to adopt new sharing behaviors
  • Sharing brings more meaning than traditional consumerism
  • New business models will thrive only in an ecosystem promoted by private and public organizations that facilitates the adoption of new behaviors and pushes sharing as a viable (and economically interesting) alternative to buying

Next episode: The final piece of the series! You won’t want to miss it out.

To get firsthand access to the next episodes and much more business innovation insights, click here and sign up for my newsletter. It comes every two weeks with powerful business insights – and I’ll never spam you.

Follow @IXCHAT on Twitter

Wait! Before you go…

Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:


Maria Paula Oliveira is a business executive with experience in corporations and startups, in Asia Pacific, Latin America and the USA. Her work spans strategy, research, M&A, and innovation management. In Brazil, she led Experian to TOP 3 most innovative companies, and had founding roles in two Silicon Valley startups. She writes on strategic innovation, creative ways for business growth, and shares insights with a personal touch about ideas, technologies and business models that are shaping the world. Follow @mpaulaoliveira

Leave a Reply