Have you noticed how all the new trends in tech startups form a return to our tribal village culture, rather than leading us further down the path of “development”, away from our origins as primitive societies? I was just reading about the startup Lyft that lets users offer a lift to anyone in their vicinity against a fee.
This reminded me of daily life in a country like Uzbekistan (pictured on the left) – hardly anyone takes actual cabs – you just stand by the road and whoever wants to stops and will give you a lift for a fee that you negotiate. It’s what happens in places like Tashkent every day, but now techies in San Francisco have discovered it. Think about all the successful tech start-ups you know: Facebook? you see what your friends are up to and chat with them. Linkedin? Ditch job search engines and find out about job opportunities from your friends. Apparently, technological advancement in the 20th century went so far that now we need all those tech start-ups to take us back to the roots when business was based on relationships and trust. The only thing missing is some sort of gossip app that presents the old villager peeking through the window (or probably, this also exists already!).
How did we get here? For many decades following the post-war economic boom, economies “developed” towards more technology, more complexity, more consumption, and above all, more debt. It all came down with a bang in the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008. Just as the universe expands and contracts and the oceans ebb and flow, we developed to an extent that made the amount of complexity and detachment unsustainable, and we are now in a contraction phase – contraction in debt, contraction in complexity, and above all, a reduction in faith in technological development on the loose that takes over our lives.
Technology is now used to serve a new economic model that is based on trust and relationships. Social media, though presented to us as a new fancy marketing trend, is mainly a return to our tribal roots and serves to connect us with family and friends that we have lost touch with as we are scattered across different continents and holed up in offices most of the day, rather than living and working in our communities.
Using this framework to evaluate corporate business strategies and start-up ideas, I would look at them based on how they serve our human need for trust and relationships. A lot of the failures of online sites focusing on coupons/discounts and betting are linked to the fact that they are trying the old model of faster/cheaper/more and lack trust and meaning. Promising start-up ideas are those that help us transform our detached and complex lives to simpler and more social experiences. They are particularly promising if they are used to improve industries that show the biggest breakdown in trust – such as finance, real estate and also food and pharmaceuticals.
Bringing true value add and trustworthy information to these broken industries will change our economies for the better while also promising to be sustainable and successful business models. I encourage you to apply these principles of tribal economics to what you experience around you in your personal and working life and tell me what you discover!