• Envisioning Improved Future States

    Envisioning Improved Future States

mo·bil·i·ty
mōˈbilədē/
noun

the ability to move or be moved freely and easily. synonyms: ability to move, movability

Looking back over the last two decades and the advent of the internet, we can see significant changes taking place within the mobility landscape. How many of us get from place to place is being altered. Given the relatively short time increment, these changes have been pretty remarkable. But while these recent inflection points and advances seem disruptive or transformational, it’s critical to remember that “mobility” is an ongoing evolution. This is especially true when approaching the space in terms of innovation.

Take smartphones for example. Ubiquitous wireless connectivity, miniaturization of computing, and rising sophistication of mobile apps are not only shifting how we get around, but also how we think about it. However, as impactful as smartphones have been within mobility, when we consider things like driverless cars and autonomous vehicles, smartphones are revealed to be yet another springboard into “the next thing.” But what is that next thing? That’s the underlying question. While we can never know for sure, we can develop capabilities to anticipate it.

Like anything else, there are dynamic forces at work that will continue to drive innovations and transformation within the mobility space. But what are those forces, and what are their trajectories? One of the keys to innovating successfully in mobility is being able to identify, map, and consider these forces (e.g. trends, cycles, plans, projections, events, ideas, issues) in order to anticipate potential changes in future. This analytical and imaginative focus on what is shaping the ecosystem (rather than fixating on the things being generated) raises critical questions and perspectives that we may not be thinking about. It shifts our thinking and perspective away from “entrenched certainties” of today to the critical uncertainties of tomorrow that should inform our approach to innovation.

While technology is obviously playing a significant role in the evolution of mobility, it is also important to consider the forces at work related to people and our shifting identities, attitudes, and behaviors. As urban populations and lifestyles strain the built environment and transportation infrastructure of cities, more and more people are experiencing dissatisfaction with the status quo and a desire for better options. When combined with the rise of social media, the “internet of things,” and emerging automation/machine learning technologies, this demand is creating new kinds of opportunity spaces within mobility for innovation.

These and other “people related” forces at work can spark radically divergent trajectories of change that we are not able to predict. A prime example of this is the advent of ride-sharing solutions, which have found an especially rich nich within increasingly interconnected and “collaborative” urban ecosystems. With high levels of individual ownership, deeply trenched taxi services, extensive public transit, and the rich heritage of driving in America, who would have predicted the emergence of a service like Uber? Yet, looking back, if we examine the forces at work, the signs and market potential were there, ripe with opportunity.

While still fledgling, these early iterations of novel mobility services are fueling the emergence of a dynamic new market, one where not only unknown, but entirely unforeseen kinds of forces are reshaping the landscape. It’s an exciting time. As a result, I’ve payed special attention to where and how mobility ecosystems are evolving – specifically in the automotive sector. While not comprehensive, here’s a short summary of changes I see as being related to the evolution of mobility. As always, this emanates from my focus on the customer, and their point of view:

  • With the advent of the internet and growing power of “users,” customer-centric business models are making a comeback.

  • As automation and global economics collide, they way people make money is being disrupted.

  • Collaborative connections between people are sparking new relationships with ownership and how people they use “assets.”

  • With declining costs and rising efficiency of electric powertrain technologies, electrification is moving beyond the emotional appeal of sustainability.

  • As the economic and political influence of our urban regions increase, they are behaving more and more like “customers”

  • With the expansion of IoT (internet of things), people expect infrastructure to be more dynamic and responsive.

  • With the emergence of connected, intelligent, and autonomous vehicles, more than ever, data is a double edged sword that is now everywhere.

As always, if you have thoughts, please share them. I’m also always happy to connect in person and generate some creative friction around new perspectives and ideas related to this post.

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Every time I hear or read something that uses the term “sharing economy” there’s this little tattle-tail voice in my head that says “actually, the sharing economy has little or nothing to do with sharing – bring your wallet.” While slightly annoying and sometimes counter productive, the voice does make a valuable distinction. There is a significant amount of juxtaposition going on that dilutes the clarity of meaning and intention behind the word “sharing.” Now, the noteworthy thing here is that the resulting confusion works in favor of the concept – meaning that your mind automatically opts (defaults really) for the simplest, truest, and most direct interpretation of the word “sharing” (granting temporary use of something to another who needs it).

But let’s be honest, that isn’t what is happening. Is there a burgeoning new economic model that is based on the childlike simplicity of granting others temporary use of our things – like the name implies? No. Of course not. We want them to pay us to use our stuff. Just like the unwitting and seemingly gullible rabbit in the commercial, this fundamental and “irresolvable inauthenticity” results in a fairly deep bias in me caused by the misdirection and subsequent unrealistic expectations set by the name.

I think it would help everyone (especially DMBA’s who are tasked with innumerable innovation challenges and strategic analysis that require us to get that the “beating heart” of this emergent phenomena) if we simply ditched the subterfuge of “sharing” in favor of something more direct and accurate. It would eliminate this underlying inauthenticity (for me) and make the not insignificant sustainable intent and market mechanics and value so much more transparent for everyone. That would be a good thing. From my perspective, when it comes to sustainability, we need to make the actual “working guts” – the innovative stuff that actually make products or services sustainable (or regenerative) — as simple, open, and transparent as possible.

To me, what gets at the core of what we’re talking about (and remember, I think sustainability is about efficacy and efficiency) is the idea of eliminating waste (e.g. C2C or waste as food). But to get at the truest and most direct, and most productive meaning, I think we need to use the word “surplus” rather than “sharing.” Surplus captures the unrealized potential upon which the entire economic misnomer of “sharing economy” rests. Again, if we’re honest, we’re not actually talking about sharing. We’re talking about leveraging an asset, and in most cases, leasing. So, consider surplus.

Let’s shift gears and look at the word “economy” for a minute. The notion of “economy” implies that there are lots of people who are innovating successfully (predominantly with internet-based technology) to discover and scale ingenious new market-driven solutions to leverage surplus value. Aside from lowering transactions costs and facilitating trust between potentially remote and unknown buyers and sellers, these new solutions enable a broad spectrum of distributed parties to monetize the surplus value (unrealized potential) contained within privately owned assets. Because the bulk of the assets’ value has already been covered (the risk and cost associated with the asset have already been assumed by the owner), there is a significant amount of flexibility in how the remaining surplus value can be leveraged.

Essentially, the surplus value can be liquidated at a price point that does not need to consider cost of goods or acquisition of the original asset. This flexibility enables a “pay for what you need” pricing structure that enables the surplus value to compete as a more cost effective and substitutes for commercially available assets. This dramatically impacts that cost/benefit trade-off assessment in the mind of consumers – do I buy (assume the risk and costs of the entire asset) or do I lease (assume dramatically lower risk and costs for the use of only a percentage of the asset)?

At the end of the day, if we are trying to be specific about what we say in order to provide clarity as design strategists, what we are actually talking about is “surplus innovation:” finding previously unavailable ways of connecting underutilized resources with unanswered need. The terms “sharing” and “economy” don’t really help us get to the core value that we are all driving at as innovators in the Anthropocene. They invoke the wrong meaning and send us down the wrong path. To me, surplus innovation points us in the direction of biomimicry, waste as food, symbiosis, sustainable business and a regenerative economy.

So the next time someone starts talking about “Uberizing” something, the next time someone wants to debate or discuss “disruption”, the next time you’re sitting around wondering where that “social venture” will come from that will enable you to change the world, I hope this post will provide you with a valuable reframe and more productive approach.

As always, if you have thoughts, please share them. I’m also always happy to connect in person and generate some creative friction around new perspectives and ideas related to this post.

“All is connected… no one thing can change by itself.”
– Paul Hawken

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