The Stewardship Worldview: Power to the Crowd

Source: neWTom

The planet earth recently reached an important, albeit arbitrary milestone, as the global population reached 7,000,000,000 people (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011), prompting widespread discussion over whether the planet could sustain the growing population amid unchecked hyper-consumption.  Miller and Spoolman (2010) echo the debate, asking, “Can we provide an adequate standard of living for a projected 2.7 billion more people by 2050 without causing widespread environmental damage” (p. 94)?  Some, that hold an environmental wisdom worldview, have used the milestone as an opportunity to question our future amid concerns of overpopulation and overconsumption (Miller & Spoolman, 2010), environmental damage and non-renewable energy depletion (Sanjayan, 2011).  These modern, global, challenges lead to difficult ethical questions, none more pressing than whether everyone should have the right to have as many children as they want, or whether society should seek to stem or regulate population growth.  Regulating population growth is a temptingly simple approach, yet comes with many unintended consequences; rather the consumption side of the equation offers more opportunities for improvement.

Population growth is very concerning, and society should seek to productive ways to stem overpopulation.  The regulation of population growth through government policy is in place in China; while effective to reduce the population has numerous unintended, negative, consequences (Miller & Spoolman, 2010).  Rather, given that TFR lowers in predictable stages commensurate with the transition from developing to post-industrial economies, the focus should be on economic development; in conjunction with family planning and gender equality (Miller & Spoolman, 2010).  In this manner, population growth will eventually reach equilibrium.

In addition, it is important to recognize that the world is changing in interesting ways.  Ridley (2010) argues persuasively that prosperity is the result of the interchange and mating of ideas, made possible by trade and specialization.  With the advent of the many-to-many communication model made possible by the Internet and the Web, innovation is occurring at an unprecedented pace (Baym, 2010).  Shirky (2010) argues that the growing connected population is creating a cognitive surplus that increasingly is being applied to solve problems unaided by government or business, using the power of the crowd.  How then is this cognitive surplus and mating of ideas used to address the problems of overconsumption?

Botsman and Rogers (2010) describe unresolved environmental problems and financial uncertainty as catalysts to a growing shift from hyper-consumption to collaborative consumption; enabled by the crowd and the network.  They go on to describe collaborative consumption as the fifth ‘r’ of sustainable living; reduce, reuse, recycle, repair, and now redistribute (Botsman & Rogers, 2010).  Examples include redistribution markets like eBay or various swap sites, collaborative lifestyle capabilities like, or product service systems like Zip Car for car sharing.  The growing perspective on collaborative consumption rises from people tackling unresolved problems through collaboration and innovation; the use of our growing cognitive surplus for the good of the population and the planet we share.

“Can we provide an adequate standard of living for a projected 2.7 billion more people by 2050 without causing widespread environmental damage” (p. 94)?  The answer depends on us.  A better question is: Can we harness the cognitive surplus of 7,000,000,000 souls to promote economic growth in the developing world, reduce overconsumption in the developed world, and preserve the environment?  This steward’s answer is yes.


Baym, N. K. (2010). Personal connections in the digital age. Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA: Polity.

Botsman, R., & Rogers, R. (2010). What’s mine is yours : the rise of collaborative consumption (1st ed.). New York: Harper Business.

Miller, G. T., & Spoolman, S. (2010). Environmental science (13th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

Ridley, M. (2010). The rational optimist : how prosperity evolves (1st U.S. ed.). New York: Harper.

Sanjayan, M. (2011, October 31, 2011). A Letter to #7,000,000,000. HuffPost Green  Retrieved November 20, 2011, from

Shirky, C. (2010). Cognitive surplus : creativity and generosity in a connected age. New York: Penguin Press.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2011). U.S. & World Population Clocks. Washington DC: U.S. Census Bureau.


Hypothesis: Liminal business

Major U.S. corporations that predate the Internet are liminal businesses that exist in the space between the traditional economics of the 20th century and an emergent economy characterized by fundamentally different human behaviors and values; as a result, many are likely to experience significant business disruption by new competitors that understand how the world is changing and have the flexibility to align their products and services to the new value system.

In a nutshell, I think that many mainstream businesses are embracing social media as tools without necessarily having an understanding of how human behavior is changing as a result.  Examples are all over the place, of people getting together in unique ways with their own agenda for change.
  • Open source versus corporate built: Linux, Wikipedia, Firefox, Shareware, Freeware
  • Product-service systems versus product manufacturers: hardware and software solutions versus SaaS
  • redistribution versus hyperconsumption
  • carrot and stick versus autonomy, mastery and purpose
  • peer recommended versus brand identity
  • trusted behaviors versus credit report
  • friction versus flow
  • me versus we
  • and on and on.
Early in the class I was struck by symbolic interactionism and the implication of the idea that meaning is created through the interaction between people.  What does that mean for a society that has developed an exponential capability to interact through many-to-many communication mechanisms when interaction volumes increase astronomically?  I suspect it means a period of rapid change where new ideas take hold and are implemented by people rather than institutions (open source, arab spring, collaborative consumption, etc), simply because of rapid growth of cognitive surplus applied in altruistic ways (e.g. microfinancing) to address pervasive problems that mainstream institutions can’t seem to solve.  I think there is evidence (on web sites) that many businesses do not understand how fundamental the changes are and simply view social media as a new set of tools by which to market, advertise, and reach people, rather than applying social media strategically to address fundamental shifts in behavior and values.

Symbolic Interactionism – meaning arises out of interaction with each other a.k.a. When ideas have sex

Just watched Matt Ridley’s optimistic TED talk on the power of exchange, relating law of comparative advantage to the realm of ideas and meaning. 

 I have been musing on social interactionism since my first sociology class, because the idea of meaning created through interaction resonated in my mind.  Made me curious about the impact of many-to-many communication made possible by Internet, digital media, and peer to peer technology allowing a never-before-seen-in-human-history volume of interactions.  What does it portend for meaning?  Ridley sees it as the exchange of ideas (or as he puts it, when ideas have sex and reproduce) creating greater prosperity a.l.a. Ricardo’s law of comparative advantage.  Pretty compelling argument, makes me believe that rise of collaborative consumption and other altruistic notions made possible by crowd, network, p2p, is the result of our ideas having sex.