Strategic spaces for social production

There's lots that the public and private sectors cannot deliver, even though we need these things done. Clay Shirky first got me thinking about those limits in his book: Here Comes Everybody. He gave us the visual metaphor of a "Coasian floor" that stops firms from going below what they can afford to do. Yet there lots going on below the floor by volunteers, amateurs and peers. In his follow-up book: Cognitive Surplus, Shirky goes into more detail about the how everybody engaged in social production can be motivated and committed to high quality contributions. His two books have given me optimism about social production picking up the increasing slack from the inherent limitations of most producers with their private and public business models.

Here are some of the other inherent limitations of most forms of public and private production that are not shared by social production.
  1. Most producers are eager to scale their enterprise, enlarge their installed base and develop loyal purchasers of additional deliveries. Small is not beautiful for private and public producers. Superior size is the prize and getting bigger moves them toward this goal. Thus we have enormous corporations, governmental agencies and NGO's that cannot address granular problems, micro-contexts and individualized concerns.
  2. Most producers reward their employees with paychecks, bonuses, perks and benefits all with cash value. They feed a mass addiction to extrinsic rewards which skews judgement, trashes self motivation, kills creativity and fixates on short term objectives. They cannot realize the wisdom, creativity and long range designs of intrinsically motivated social production.
  3. Most producers spell out job responsibilities to to hold employees accountable, to justify terminations and to realize conformity, consistency and mechanical efficiency from their hires. These job designs inspire revenge rather than the desired forms of cooperation. They cannot throw out the job descriptions in favor of varied roles, results-only specifications, emergent teamwork and timeouts to reflect on possible collaborations.
  4. Most producers provide layers of management to oversee the underlings, conduct meetings, review the outcome metrics and evaluate performance. They do not allow for self-managed teams, self-directed individuals or unmanageable collaborations with their customers, constituencies or communities.
  5. Most producers deliver services that depend on a scarce supply of qualified professionals supported by a large capital investment. in a fixed location. These limitations necessitate bringing the problem to the solution via waiting rooms, waiting lines and waiting lists. It's not feasible to staff, equip and fund a system to provide community outreach, house calls or personalized service on more than an exception basis.
  6. Most producers seek a sellers market where they maintain a limited supply, short window of availability or premium version which supports charging higher prices and paying lower prices for inputs. This avoids the slippery slope of discounting the price or commoditizing the exceptional features that often occurs in a buyers market. Yet this strategy also makes enemies of customers looking for a bargain, free trial or entry level involvement at first.
  7. Most producers can provide services but not actually serve the public. They can figure out what the customers need and deliver special services for delivery, installation, reconfiguration, customization, repair and replacement. However, they cannot allow the value to be defined "in the eyes of the beholder" or to develop an empathic relationship with each buyer which could establish trust on an individual basis.

These inherent limitations of private and public production define, for me, the slack they cannot pick up. This slack becomes a "blue ocean" or "white space" of untapped demand where unprivate and unpublic business models can set up shop:
  • High school and college dropouts who got more emotional baggage to impair their performance, ambition and self-crated opportunities from formal education settings, but who will thrive in informal, peer-to-peer and social production settings for getting prepared for the next economy.
  • Citizens in a community who are not sick enough to need a doctor, ER or EMT, but need lots of preventative care, patient education and support for managing chronic symptoms.
  • Unemployed workers who will never get their old jobs back and who need to transition into new roles, self concepts and success routines that make a lot of difference and not much money.
  • Spiritual seekers who lost their faith in the confines of institutionalized religions, but who could find their faith again in communities of spiritual practice, service to others and caring for the community itself.

Only social production can leverage these opportunities. They are inherently small, resourceful and close to the personal problems. More importantly, they are free of those staggering limitations of most producers.

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