Tag Archives: book review

What’s Mine is Yours

Review of What’s Mine is Yours – How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live, by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers

I need to declare an interest upfront,  in that I know and have enjoyed working with Rachel Botsman, one of the co-authors of this book. Rachel is a graduate of Oxford and Harvard universites has worked for President Clinton and as a successful management consultant. But no bias on my part – this is an interesting, engaging and important book!

What’s Mine is Yours posits that we are at a tipping point in a new way of living – based on sharing, bartering and helping each other out. This is partly driven by rejection on the part of newer generations towards the excesses in consumption of their Baby Boomer parents, partly by a desire to husband our earthly resources better, partly by increasingly straitened economic circumstances for many, and all of this facilitated by technology and new connectedness that we enjoy now through social networking and mobile communications.

The book is written in an involving anecdotal style, using real stories and experiences to bring the concepts alive. Botsman and Rogers have interviewed a number of key entrepreneurs and opinion formers. It sets up the context for collaborative consumption and explains the socio-demographic and psychological forces that have encouraged the desire to share instead of own, to be more “we” and less “me”. There are plentiful examples to demonstrate what collaborative consumption is, how it has arisen and the many forms it takes. Finally the authors explore how this phenomenon will further evolve and its likely long term impact.

I’ve always been a bit of an early adopter, so several of the emerging organisations and companies practising collaborative consumption were already known to me: I’ve rented a van from StreetCar; rented out my own car several times to strangers through Whipcar; I’m in the process of negotiating a house swap in Australia; I’ve acquired  jars for jam-making via Freecycle and given away furniture through Freecycle and Street Bank; I regularly rent DVDs through Lovefilm and have bought and sold on eBay. I’m also a co-founder of a website dedicated to living sustainably and creatively by making and mending things rather than buying and binning. All that may indicate I’m heavily pre-disposed towards the concept of collaborative consumption, but  as someone who has been an Olympic standard conspicuous consumer and big spender in my time, I think it says more that  if people like me are getting into this, then Botsman and Rogers have identifed a very real element of the zeitgeist and we are going to see a lot more examples of collaborative consumption before long.

Not only is it happening: it also makes a lot of sense. To use an example from the book, when doing a spot of DIY we want the hole not the drill (apparently the average usage of an electric drill is 12 minutes in its entire lifetime!). You want to see the film – not collect plastic boxes to sit idle on your shelf. It’s about access not ownership.

But collaborative consumption is about more than accessing ‘things’ – it’s also about sharing and accessing services and skills. Bartering requires a “double coincidence of wants” a lawyer with a leaking tap might normally struggle to find a plumber in need of legal advice but the Internet has dramatically changed that. Apparently there are already around 500 online barter exchanges in the Americas, including Bartercard with more than 75,000 members across nine countries who exchanged over $2 billion of goods and services though its network in 2009.

Obviously a pre-requisite of collaborative consumption is trust. One of the theses Botsman and Rogers put forward is that  to establish trust we will increasingly rely on our personal reputation capital. At first this sent a chill up my spine – another excuse for people to monitor and spy on my activity online? But already we are all subject to credit checks, like it or not, so checks on our reliability and trustworthiness are probably an inevitable consequence and facilitator of collaborative consumption. This is already operating extensively in peer ratings – as done by the self policing system on eBay – but it does also raise a concern that one’s reputation could be blown by a spiteful comment from an individual – as some hoteliers have found with abusers of Trip Advisor. It means we’ll all need to be vigilant and active in developing and protecting our ‘reputational bank accounts’.

This is a very well researched and thought-provoking book, packed full of entertaining examples and written in a very accessible and conversational story-telling style. You can buy it on Amazon What’s Mine Is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live

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Can a company really expect to deliver happiness?

I’ve followed Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, on Twitter for some time now by one of those fortuitous accidents. I was lucky enough to get sent a couple of review copies of Tony’s book, ‘Delivering Happiness’ and read it right through in a sitting.

The book is subtitled ‘A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose’ and is in 3 sections, one for each of these Ps. The first, Profits, tells Tony’s personal story and demonstrates how he has entrepreneurship coded into his DNA. He recounts his childhood enterprises from worm farms (an early failure) to badge selling (a big success) and then his creation of his first company, Link Exchange, as a result of being bored one weekend and experimenting with some computer coding. He went on to sell the company to Microsoft a couple of years later for $265 million. Fascinating as this story is (and Tony tells it with humour and pace), the real meat of the book comes in the two following sections as he tells the story of Zappos, the online shoe and apparel retailer, from conception to its recent sale to Amazon for $1.2 billion.

The trials and tribulations of getting the company going, keeping it afloat when cash was short and dealing with several setbacks that could have sounded the death knell to the nascent business, make fascinating reading. However it’s the insights offered into the unique culture that is Zappos, that makes this book unmissable for anyone interested in corporate culture, employee engagement or the creation of a great place to work.

Whilst the Zappos culture is unique and not readily replicable, particularly in a large long-established organisation, it provides some fabulous stimulus to help you come up with your own ideas for creating a culture that is unique and special for your own business. Here are some examples:

The Ten Core Values

I thought ten was overdoing it a bit (I try to get companies to stick to no more than about 5 or 6) but there’s ample evidence in ‘Delivering Happiness’ that these are values that are lived and breathed and not just words on a mouse mat or printed in the front of the annual report. In fact they were whittled down from an original list of 37. Tony includes a write up on each value by a different member of the company to explain with a story how these are brought to life. Story-telling seems to be a strong part of the keeping this culture vibrant and alive.

The Library

This started with the boss lending out the odd book but evolved into 100 titles available in the lobby to be lent out to employees and visitors. In fact some of the books are required reading for employee development and have even developed into courses. I have a feeling one of them is Good to Great as there was a lot of evidence in Tony’s philosophy of the thinking that went into that book regarding leadership, vision, “getting people on the bus” etc

The Culture Book

Every year, each employee is asked to write a personal statement on what the Zappos culture means to them. These paragraphs are compiled into a hardback book which is distributed to all employees, new hires plus any customers, suppliers, or others who happen to want one. I put this to the test by emailing the company to ask for one. It was delivered to me here in the UK a couple of days later by UPS. This is really putting money where mouth is – as there is no censorship – everything submitted goes in the book. It’s lavishly produced and illustrated so must cost them a tidy sum but “It’s a short term expense, long term investment.”

New employee induction

Given the strength of the culture, it’s obviously not going to be everyone’s cup of tea – and like other culturally driven organisations, Zappos recognises the importance of not only getting the right people ‘on the bus’, but also getting the wrong ones off it. At the end of the induction process new employees are offered $2000 to quit, thereby ensuring a high level of commitment among those who last the course. Although as the recruitment process is very values-driven, they don’t get taken up on the offer that often.

The Pipeline

Rather than using that old chestnut favoured by company reports: “Our people are our greatest asset, Hsieh’s philosophy is to value the pipeline of people rather than the individuals. The long term intent is to hire only at entry level and promote and develop their own talent pipeline, hence the emphasis on learning and development. The company offers a wide range of courses and boot camps both specific to the internal culture and covering other topics from Tribal Leadership to Grammar and Writing!

So if you’re one of those people who loves the experiential approach to business, this is an autobiography that has a great and inspiring story to tell, from Hsieh climbing Kilimanjaro while the company was running out of cash, uprooting the entire company and moving to Las Vegas, and the trials and tribulations of managing stock availability  (yes he even makes that interesting!) I recently read another successful entrepreneur’s biography and despite me knowing the other CEO personally and admiring much of what he’s achieved, it wasn’t a patch on this book.

If you’re a student of business culture, responsible for  customer service, a struggling entrepreneur or someone fascinated by leadership, then this is a gold-mine of a source-book. And if you doubt that making people (customers and employees) happy is a profitable business strategy, then prepare to be convinced!

>> More information on the book

>> Buy the book on Amazon