The Biggest Challenge In The Collaborative Economy: Leadership Vs. Ownership


While the discussion-dust settles and the collaborative economy is slowly showing it’s new face, most of us are focussing on new business models, especially when it comes down to making money. Hundreds of blogs emerge daily about the best way of doing business, and as big players publish their collaboration frameworks, it seems to me as we’re skipping the most important point of all.


The collaborative economy is built by groups of collaborators, but haven’t we completely forgotten how to collaborate?


The collaborative economy shows us new ways to crowd-fund investments, new ways to look at resources that were previously unused and new ways to connect to big groups of customers. It has become amazingly easy to start your own initiative today, but many of them fall back on traditional ways while they aren’t able to understand the most important change that’s going on.
It’s the change from production through hierarchies to co-creation through partnerships. Many companies are (re)painting their house with these new colours, while the foundation remains rotten.
Many new companies nowadays are proving that talk is cheap by using the term ‘collaborative’ for a traditional business model while their fan-base turns against them. The first crowdfunded companies are pulling the plug from failing business models, as we are all trying to break free from the traditional ways of doing business.
Why new+old is a deadly combination
Not understanding the power of the crowds is not really the issue here. Everybody knows what impact a big crowd of people can have. It’s much more the inability to actually get a crowd to have an impact that brings these examples to mind:

– Crowdfunded companies with advertising strategies?
If 50.000 people funded your company, why do you still have to buy advertisement to sell product? Aren’t people telling all their friends about it?
– Crowdfunded companies with big overhead?
If 50.000 people funded your company, do you need to find 1000 employees, or could you find and form groups within those 50.000 possible experts, who already love your company?

– Resource sharing companies with low wages?
If you’ve found an unused resource where money can be made from putting them to use (let’s say cars), how did you arrive to a situation where the drivers don’t think you pay them enough?

– Resource sharing companies with shareholders?
If you’ve found unused resources to start your company (eliminating the need for investment cash), why does your company sell shares to shareholders who only want short-term gains?
Clearly, our next challenge is to completely break away from the old way of doing things, and learn how to do them together in new forms of partnerships. It’s going to require us to forget a lot of ‘business basics’ we use today. It’s going to require us to stop celebrating leaders, and to start rewarding crowds for their work. And it’s going to require us to get over ourselves and lose the fear of sharing.
While discussing this yesterday, one very important aspect seemed to return in the successful initiatives that emerged from Competence platforms (if you’re not familiar with the term yet, please read…).
We found that every single idea had a leader or group of leaders that carried the idea, found others to help with the idea, passed over leadership when necessary and were accountable for the execution. Not for the success, because the whole group was accountable for this. There’s a really big difference between leadership and ownership, and i feel that one of the fundamental changes lies in the changing definitions, norms and values around these words.
What do you feel is changing, or should change to really transform into a collaborative economy?


  1. For me this is the heart of the matter: "And it’s going to require us to get over ourselves and lose the fear of sharing." You could write a book on that subject alone. This cannot be forced, but needs to come from a call within, I feel. We can only inspire people by leading by example. Igniting that spark. Show them how much joy getting over yourselve can give. Even when the process is not always a joyride. It took me a while, and still I'm in the progress. I'v lived through the proces in order to know what I'm talking about. And to have compassion for those who've yet to make the transistion.

  2. @Felix Lepoutre, Anne-Kee Deelen and Cees Hoogendijk, could you help me with some advice/wisdom for my startup DeDeelkelder? I totally agree with Felix, but I feel that I need some guidance to keep from the business setup we are used to.


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