"The Mesh is that next big opportunity – for creating new businesses and renewing old ones, for our communities, and for the planet. And it’s just the beginning."
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It took me a long time to read Lisa Gansky’s book, The Mesh. Not because it isn’t game changing, but because my mind kept jumping to all the ways I wanted to apply her concepts into my life. Pretty sure that’s the definition of an actionable book!
The Mesh talks about sharing and how cooperation and collaboration are the future of business. Gansky was lucky enough to be at the forefront of the development of the internet (she was part of creating GNN, the first commercial Web site) and if she says this business environment we’re in feels exactly like that momentous time, I’m inclined to trust her! She uses the example of Zipcar, a Boston-based company that makes owning a car a thing of the past. Zipcar is a car sharing service, where cars are parked in convenient locations across metropolitan areas and customers reserve, drive and return vehicles on an as-needed basis. Online, you can locate and reliably reserve a car, parked near or close-enough to your location, drive it for a few hours, a day or more, fill it with gas with the credit card in the vehicle and then return it when you’re through. No fuss, no muss – easy! The convenience of a vehicle when you need one without the hassle of maintenance and ownership. This is the very definition of Mesh – giving power to the internet to use physical assets more efficiently and boost an organization’s bottom-line with the “added advantage of lowering pressure on natural resources”.
The Big Idea
Get Caught in The Mesh
"With your Mesh lens on, you’ll also start to wonder: What is it I own, or my friends own that we value, where the relationship between the value and the relative cost is off-kilter? And can we form a community around offering that asset?"
Mesh businesses are those that harness the power of the internet, use the mass amount of data collected to provide customers with unique, environmentally-friendly experiences while collaborating with like-minded partners to fill gaps other companies have overlooked. This is the “future of business”, sharing goods, services and information to help people live happier lives for the long term future of the earth. Mesh businesses are those who have examined everyday situations, found probable pain-points or identified where an asset isn’t being used to its full potential, and creatively found a way to make it better or increase its efficiency. They’ve used the Internet and data collection to customize the product or experience and upped the value simply by using and sharing it in a different way. As the economy recovers, people lose faith in the “Big Brands” and change their thinking about materiality and “keeping up with the Joneses”, creating huge opportunities for Mesh businesses to thrive.
Quality Goods for Sustainable Living
"But the primary solution, and the happier path, is simply to produce fewer, more thoughtfully designed products and to use them more effectively. Then, less will be made – and wasted."
A key aspect of companies practicing Mesh, is that their products need to be sustainable. Materials need to be high quality, long-lasting and interchangeable so maintenance becomes as easy as the sharing itself. The whole idea behind the Mesh is that sharing means using fewer resources to create fewer products because everyone is using those products as efficiently as possible. Like in the Zipcar example, those vehicles aren’t going to be sitting idle all day, only to be driven for 20 minutes each way to and from an office. While one person uses that vehicle for getting to work, someone else can be using it during the day for grocery shopping or going to the beach for an afternoon. Or the idea of a tool sharing service – if you need a chop saw for a home improvement project, you can Google your local tool sharing Web site, reserve your chop saw and return it when you’re finished. You’re likely going to get a more expensive, higher quality chop saw than you’d purchase yourself at a way lesser price and this chop saw will be way less idle than if it sat unused in your garage most days. And if that chop saw breaks down, needs a new blade, or otherwise fails, the tool sharing company takes care of maintenance for you – their experts ensure its fixed properly using the highest quality materials for longer lasting use because they’re invested in that product. Sustainable products make for a longer lifecycle.
Truly the Information Superhighway
"What clinched Netflix’s advantage, though, was that it functioned as an information business."
We’re an information-driven society and we love personalized experiences – a virtual perfect storm for the Mesh. Mesh businesses are hosted online, using the Internet as the platform to get goods and services to customers when and where they want it. The beauty of the Internet is that it’s also an information goldmine, allowing Mesh businesses to collect data about buying habits, location, preferences, use occasions and shared recommendations, to provide exactly the goods and services customers want in the time and manner they want them in. Appropriate use of information also allows Mesh businesses to react quickly to customer’s changing preferences and to collaborate with other Mesh businesses to provide a more personalized experience. Gansky uses the example of a mobile app that shows you movie listings for your neighborhood cinema and also suggests restaurants you may enjoy before or after the show. And based on the movie you choose, the app may suggest similar movies you could rent from Netflix once you get home, with a downloadable coupon for microwave popcorn from your nearest grocery store. Customized suggestions based on the customer’s preferences makes for a truly personalized experience, one the customer is likely to tell his friends and family about.
By the end of Lisa Gansky’s book, I was absolutely sold on The Mesh. Seriously, imagine the possibilities if businesses took the hassle out of some of our biggest purchases, increased the quality of products and materials used in manufacturing, and offered us a more environmentally-friendly, higher efficiency use of those products…the benefits to our society and our environment would be immeasurable. Not only that, our experiences using those products would go from ordinary to personalized with the opportunity to experience people and places we may not even had known existed. Gansky puts it this way, “Throughout the world, we are reconsidering how we relate to the things in our lives and what we want from our businesses and communities. We need a way to get the goods and services we actually want and need, but at less cost, both personal and environmental.”