Giraffes move in and out of herds, forming and reforming into diverse groups without fighting, without interruption of their life-sustaining grazing on the open plains of Africa. Unlike other animals (including humans), giraffes exist without a dominant, ongoing single leader; yet when there’s a need for a leader to rise and send out warning signs, the herd accepts any member to risk the momentary role.
—Dr. Hubert Glover, 2013
By nature giraffes welcome other herbivores into the herd (including zebras, wildebeests, hartebeests, and birds), animals that aren’t blessed with the giraffe’s extraordinary height and vision. By constantly moving forward to feed while living in a diverse, ever-shifting, dangerous world, giraffes symbolize twenty-first-century leadership that centers on people working together on an increasingly level playing field.
As the giraffes of technology predicted about the hyper-paced, messy direction of our future economy, we can’t simply return to the moon this century. Repetition won’t work. We must move forward together, determined to understand the global economy, a complex yet promising setting in which the advent of technology causes geographical and socioeconomic barriers to collapse and creates a more democratic existence as well as the ability to connect to information and others.
Information is powerful.
A sharp business model is moving this idea further, the “mesh economy” or sharing-based business that focuses on collaboration. Technology not only helps people connect but also fosters trust between strangers. That’s key in a model that focuses on swapping, lending, borrowing, and even sharing skills. Using a strategy known as “collective consumption” (once the norm in rural areas, where farmers shared barns and special vehicles), Zipcar is a significantly growing mesh business, making a fundamental shift so that people have access to cars that are sprinkled around neighborhoods in dense cities or other populated areas such as universities. By sharing, people in these communities now have access to cars they once had to buy, maintain, and pay insurance for—even though they rarely used cars since they had access to work and shopping through subways and walking. Zipcar (http://www.zipcar.com) gives them a better option to bypass traditional rental companies when they need a car near their home to drive to a specific location a few times each month without planning or spending a great deal of time going to a rental agency such as Avis or Hertz.
People are more empowered than in the past, and leaders must understand this shift, accept it, and learn how to evolve. In London they’ve taken the mesh business further through Good Gym (http://www.goodgym.org), with the goal to take an energy surplus to where it’s needed. For example, an active jogger can take a three-mile run (which she would do anyway three times each week) with an envelope stuffed with vital information that an elderly man in her neighborhood needs that afternoon. The younger runner uses her exercise time to help an elderly person in her community, a unique connection creating a new herd.
Hundreds of sharing businesses are arriving, moving away from traditional brick-and-mortars into collective businesses of people that act through trust.
- Airbub: books a room in a private home with the owners (or without) all over the world’s continents. (https://www.airbnb.com)
- Kickstarter: helps people raise money for projects in the arts, including film, art, music, and publishing. (http://www.kickstarter.com)
- Kiva: loans twenty-five dollars or more to a farmer or someone in any field in the developing world who needs to create a business; the loans get repaid, without interest. (http://www.kiva.org)
In an article in The Atlantic, Sara Horowitz describes these new businesses as a “Quiet Revolution,” and “a return to basics, with a focus on community, health, ecology, happiness, and balance. At its root is the idea of mutualism—people coming together, pooling resources, and meeting their own needs.” Even though government and big business are not leading this movement, all leaders should be aware of this growing new herd of humans with shared needs who work well together.
Today, however, most businesses are firm (not customer) centric. Leadership must act to increase benefits for the customer as the web swiftly moves forward. Research has predicted that, in the next fifty years, we’ll be dealing with many more people—not simply a pretty unit of measurement cherished in yesterday’s businesses. Companies must embrace customers as being the new CEO, or one day they’ll be tossed away like rotting fruit.