Lisa Gansky identifies the characteristics of "mesh" businesses like Netflix and Zipcar.
The Book: The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing by Lisa Gansky, Portfolio, Hardcover, September 2010.
You want to see a movie, but don't want to spend $25.00 on a DVD that you will watch once, and then let sit uselessly around your home gathering dust. Instead, you decide to join Netflix, receive shared DVDs in the mail, and then send them back to whence they came when you're finished with them.
You want to have consistent access to a vehicle, but you don't want to deal with maintaining or parking it—or dishing out hundreds of dollars a month for insurance. So, you sign up for Zipcar, and share vehicles with the many others around your city in the same situation.
Your kids have quickly outgrown their clothes, but those shirts and pants are in too great a condition to throw away, and take up too much closet space to store. So, you decide to try thredUP to swap those clothes for new clothes from other families online.
Welcome to the Mesh. It is a term coined by Lisa Gansky in a fascinating new book of the same name—The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing. Gansky has identified four characteristics Mesh businesses have in common: They offer something that can be shared, they use advanced web and mobile data networks to track the goods they offer, they focus on physical goods, and they rely on word-of-mouth and social networks.
Mesh businesses have given up the sell-to-own, one-off transaction in favor of the ability to rent out a product or service over and over and over (and over) again. The Mesh is not exactly new, of course. We've always had libraries, hotels and public transportation. The difference now is how new technologies, and the ability to access real-time information about everything around us via GPS-enabled mobile devices, are expanding what we can share with one another:
Up to now, the information revolution has primarily swept through industries and services that are or can be digital—numbers, text, sound, images, and video. Related sectors, such as banking, publishing, music, photos, and movies, have undergone massive change. Now, mobile networks are rapidly expanding that disruption to physical good and venues, including hotels, care, apparel, tools, and equipment.
Many books can tell us how to conduct conversations and share information online. The Mesh reveals how technology is facilitating ways to share the physical essentials of our lives—from transportation to clothing, shelter and entertainment—creating less waste and less clutter in our homes in the process of doing so, and generating profits for the businesses that get there first.
Reviewer Jack Covert is the founder of 800-CEO-READ, a leading bookseller to corporations and large organizations, based in Milwaukee.