Why do we actually need six washers and six dryers in here? – I asked myself recently while standing in the laundry room of our multi-family house. Each residential unit has its own washing machine and dryer in one very large room we all share. And whenever I bring my laundry to the laundry room it is a rare occurrence that even one of the other household appliances is running.
Currently, there is an accepted truth making the rounds through the start-up community – that autonomous automobiles will short replace cars driven by humans. After all, the workload of the average vehicle is extremely low (it is in operation only a few minutes to at most several hours per day).
But, as the laundry room example shows, one doesn’t even have to leave the home to find examples of poorly-utilized appliances. On the contrary, it is far more difficult to find devices that have a high rate of utilization.
Poor utilization as a sign of disruption
It is only when one takes a look at everyday life from the point of view of utilization and workload that it becomes apparent how much potential for disruption can be found in most areas of life. And it also becomes obvious which specific changes we will be facing due to the interconnectivity of these devices.
On the other hand, these developments represent a golden opportunity for companies searching for new business models – to look for consumer needs that can be satisfied even more efficiently. Or, put another way: What are the major purchases we make without actually using the consumer products on a regular basis?
This approach is also an explanation for the success of many products. The iPhone, for example, improved utilization of the telephone, the iPod and the mobile computer by unifying all three devices and making them accessible through a simple interface.
Building business models on what the consumer doesn’t need
Naturally, many ideas derived in this manner can’t be easily implemented – at least for the time being. The mere idea of a communal washing machine causes obstacles that are virtually insurmountable if neighborly relations aren’t the best (something that occurs more often than one would think). However, technological progress, autonomous cars and drones that deliver our packages will provide viable concepts to solve these problems in the future, solutions we currently don’t even have on our radar. When robots collect our laundry, and wash, sort and iron it, then the idea works without any contact among neighbors.
In this sense it is good to consider what the consumer needs when developing new products. But, an approach that could be equally promising would be to think about what the consumer already owns, without actually using it very often.
More work to work less
If we take a step back then the unique situation that is currently evolving becomes obvious: It is likely the first time since industrialization that economic and ecological interests overlap.
If we discuss Shareconomy and the optimization of workloads this also means that we will be needing less of those products that can be shared – for the simple reason that far fewer will be needed. Whereas hundreds of thousands of vehicles are in motion every day during the morning commute, at least as many are parked in garages or on the streets unused. In the future, whenever I lease a car, it will be delivered to me as needed, meaning that we as a society will need far few automobiles.
In this way we might arrive at a situation in which economic growth is equated with resource conservation and not with ruthless exploitation. I don’t include just natural resources but the manpower of the overall workforce as well. Because with advances in automation, networking and artificial intelligence, the utilization of machines can be optimized (i.e.: increased). At the same time, though, human labor will become less and less significant. This circumstance will confront us with new challenges (what will we do with all that free time – and how will we actually afford it?), but none that can’t be met. If even CEOs of large multi-national corporations are thinking about the concept of an unconditional basic income, one can’t exclude the possibility that there might be something to this idea.
Such seemingly utopian concepts for the future might not be very trendy at the moment. But, if we look at all the challenges our society is currently being confronted with, we should give these concepts some serious thought and exchange ideas among each other. For it is important to have a vision, if only in its seminal form, of a world that we want to create together. One further reason being that the digitization of our business processes isn’t for economic growth, but for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of making the world a slightly better place.
Kacper Potega is a Product Owner with a background in business management and marketing. At AOE he is part of the Scrum team that implements sophisticated enterprise web applications for Deutsche Telekom. He is particularly interested in connecting technology and design in ways that create competitive advantages for businesses.