Disruption Leads to Opportunity: The Sharing Economy's New Rules

madison 01/16/2019

Despite the American economy doing better than it has in a while (by numerical standards), many people are still feeling the crunch of the country’s post-recessionary environment.

American wages haven’t kept up with the country’s escalating cost of living in addition to the gradual-yet-evident restructuring of the American economy.

The demographic feeling their pocketbook tighten is American teachers, who are some of the most important people in any person’s lives. To offset this squeeze, teachers are using the sharing economy to help supplement their incomes.

Airbnb has released the results of a survey containing a surprising statistic that 1 in 10 of its hosts is an educator of some kind. The conclusion that can be reached is that many of these teachers are using the sharing economy to offset stagnant and even declining pay.

This is isn’t the only platform that teachers use to supplement income. It isn’t uncommon to see a teacher driving for Uber, Lyft, using Upwork to get extra writing gigs, or helping out on a site like TaskRabbit.

In fact, that’s what lots of people of all backgrounds and walks of life are doing.

A New American Dream?

The reorganization in the world economic structure has taken many people by surprise. As a result, many people are trying to pivot and adapt to life in this new world.

In days past, there was a clear-cut division between what you “should do” vs. what you “should not do.” If you went to school to become a lawyer 40 or 50 years ago, you were virtually guaranteed to become a lawyer for the sole fact that you went to school for law.

These days that is just not the case. You can graduate with a law degree, pass the BAR exam, and struggle to find work (not to discourage anyone reading this from the law).

The dissolution of traditional structures of new stability (work, finance, etc.) due to modern technology has taken many people off guard.

While this new technological world has come with many challenges, it has also come with many different opportunities.

Just because you went to school for a certain degree does not mean that has to be your fate. You can now pivot into a variety of different careers through some form self-education and self-motivation.

Flexible work schedules, telecommuting, freelancing, delivery driving, all sorts of possibilities are available to the person who wants to re-envision their life as they see fit.

Beyond the public relations efforts of platforms like Uber and Airbnb, there may be deeper reasons why the term “sharing economy” is so popular: It captures some of the thinking and the idealism of the early proponents of economy-wide sharing approaches. It hints at the shift away from faceless, impersonal 20th-century capitalism and toward exchange that is somehow more connected, more embedded in community, more reflective of a shared purpose.” - Arun Sundararajan, The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism

The American Dream itself has been restructured while at the same time harkens back to the early American settlers. No longer do you have to aim for the “white picket fence,” two kids and a house in the suburbs type of life to become “successful”.

A new version of the American Dream exists through creating and capitalizing on opportunities via the massive amount of resources at any one person’s disposal. It’s a new type of “rugged individualism” that helped make America what it is today through the efforts of the millions of people who arrived at its shores with virtually nothing.

An Opportunity to Flex or Fold

There are many stalwarts of “the way things were done” and resistance against the sea change of the Internet. At current, four generations of people are colliding in our society: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z.

The seat of economic power rests with the Baby Boomers and some of Gen X, who have had more time to solidify their standings than Millennials or Gen Z. However, social change and social power rests with the younger generation - those who will inherit the world after the Baby Boomers are gone and when Generation X is retired.

Millennials and Gen Z are “digital natives,” meaning that they grew up with technology are more reticent to use it to creative ends than Gen X and Boomers. These two groups have experienced a massive amount of change in a short period and see it as a way of life.

Boomers and some of Gen X, on the other hand, are less likely to embrace this change and see a lot of what’s going on with the sharing economy as a “fad” or a “trend.” The sharing economy could very well be a trend. However, it’s unlikely.

In 2016, more than one-third of the American economy reported working in short-term gigs, contracts, freelance assignments, or some combination thereof. In addition to that, the number of people who participate in this gig economy is expected to grow to 43% by 2020. The freelance economy is expected to grow 3x as fast as the overall US workforce.

Whether this be a trend or not, those statistics are not insignificant. It’s clear from this data that the people who are willing to forge a course ahead via the sharing and gig economy are likely to come out on top, whether they be Boomers or people coming straight out of college.

Who Will Succeed In This New World?

“There will be growing pains along the way — and more horror stories, no doubt — but the sharing economy is here to stay.” - Glenn Carter

In a culture of massive disruption, structure dissolution, layoffs, downsizing, and mergers, it’s an excellent question to ask: what stays the same?

The fundamentals of what makes a successful person stay the same.

Someone who is willing to be open to growth and sharing opportunities - as is seen in the people who open their doors to other people via Airbnb.

Someone who is willing to embrace change and learn something new - as is seen in the millions of brave teachers who want supplemental income

Someone who is willing to question the “old ways” of doing things for something that could be more beneficial - like the Millennials and Gen Z.

All of these create someone who can adapt no matter where they go, or what situation they’re placed in.

An Interesting Time

“There are some things that are irreplaceable. In the service industry, there things that are deeply human that people want to participate in. So I think this is the beginning of a golden age,” – Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb

Now is an interesting time to be alive. With less security, more ambiguity, and heaps of uncertainty, people think our best days are behind us.

To be honest, we’re just getting started and our best days are stretching out ahead in a sea of endless possibility. No longer do you have to select one of 3 careers and hope you’re a good fit. Now, you have the ability to carve your own path and create your own destiny.

That sounds like a winning deal to us.

Maybe the teachers who jumped right into the sharing economy have more lessons to teach us outside the classroom.

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