As collaboration and crowdfunding go viral around the world, nothing fits any more. When this happens it's a sure sign that the current paradigm, the theories that encapsulate it and the assumptions they're based on, are breaking down under the weight of all the 'anomalies'.
The most telling and obvious of these changes is hidden in plain sight: We never used to be hyper-connected. As a result tectonic plates have moved, the ground-rules have shifted and it's proving impossible to understand the fast emerging crowd economy through the lens of traditional economics. We need a new atlas.
This matters - not least because it's these theories, paradigms and the frameworks built on them that inform the decision makers in government and the traditional economy - and us all. We need a new lens which can bring all this into really sharp focus and through which we can start to understand the shift that's happening all around us, this new paradigm, and which we can use to better inform future decisions. This is why we recently formed The Crowd Research Network, bringing together researcher and decision makers from academe and the crowd ecosystem. It's also why I've co-founded TheCrowdDataCenter.com and we collect data from over 20,000 live crowdfunds every day.
The crowd economy has gone viral. Our data shows that it's now spread across almost every nation on Earth, creating previously undreamed of opportunities - and new economic options - for the vast majority of the world's online population.
Big data is starting to provide many new insights - but we need more. The launch of the first interactive map of the crowd economy caused a huge stir in August, revealing as it did that London had become, for the moment, the World Capital of Crowdfunding. There's more to come. The data is constantly yielding these new insights allowing us real-time views inside this new eco-system on both a global and local scale.
But we need to start to understand how better to read and understand all this data. Every day it becomes clearer that traditional economic paradigms just will not cut it, losing their power to explain or predict.
A wise man said "there is nothing new under the sun....except the Internet - and that changes everything".
They've served us well for over two centuries since Adam Smith, and done well to survive this long. But as, after a little over two centuries, the limitations of Newtonian physics became increasingly apparent and it's hegemony finally came apart as we entered the space age so too is economics failing to encompass the new, hyper-connected and more human-centric, economic models, of the Internet age. It’s breaking down, it may be noted after a slightly longer reign. (Newton's Principia Mathematica was published in 1687, Einstein's Special Theory of relativity in 1905. Smiths Wealth of Nations was published in 1776... You do the maths!)
There are new factors at play never dreamed of in Smith's philosophising. A wise man said "there is nothing new under the sun....except the Internet - and that changes everything". We are beginning to see those changes mature as the Internet interacts with, changes, and is changed by society. It's changed or removed most of the borders and boundaries and redefined everything from what a nation is to what it is to be human, part of a family and part of society.
Now it's redefining what employment is and how it works, how jobs are created and how innovation happens. Not to mention how capitalism works, who gets funded, why, and who gets to decide. These are not small changes - they could hardly be bigger. But one thing that has not changed was identified by a later, and no lesser thinker: Charles Darwin, who published 'The Origin of Species', posthumously in 1859, whose thesis is often summarised in the phrase "survival of the fittest".
As this new eco-system takes hold world-wide and we grapple with the challenges it throws up - not the least of them to understand what's happening and why - this gives us an enduring framework to help build a new understanding - to create a new lens.
It's important to understand that the new, post industrial, crowd economy has people not machines as it's model and at it's centre. That it has a new DNA to which the words, passion, care, humanity and hope are central, not entirely foreign. But it's equally important to understand that these are not the only or main reasons why it is destined to grow, change and, who knows, even overtake what we now know as the mainstream economy. The reason is this: It's fitter, less wasteful and more efficient of it's best resource - humanity, and human creativity in all it's forms.
The industrial revolution mechanised muscle power. The information age freed information and knowledge. Now it's the turn of human creativity - the same human creativity behind all these great thoughts and great thinkers. Not to mention the technologies that created the industrial revolution, the space and information ages and the Internet.
As we enter the new, crowd, era where the Internet and social media has connected us all in a new way we need a new kind of economics and sociology to understand it's dynamics and psychology. This has the potential to not just free us individually, harnessing our creativity but is already bringing us together in new, fluid and dynamic ways foreseen pre-internet in 1990 by another great thinker: Steve Jobs as the 'third major revolution" of personal computing and networking,
We are just at the beginning of crowd era and have yet to see what the crowd can really do. As the UK Chancellor said on the 6th August "We stand at the dawn of a new era". He went on to say it's crucial we (in the UK) start now to understand how we must adapt and change to stay on top of this financial innovation. It's as true for Europe and the world as it is for the UK and London.
So we need a new insight, a new lens, a new understanding and, perhaps, a new science that brings all this together. I think of it as 'Crowdonomics'. We have a big advantage that none of these big thinkers had at their disposal; Big data.
Thumbnail from gettyimages. This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Join Barry at Crowdsourcing Week Europe, a three day gathering of prominent voices in the crowd economy coming to Copenhagen, Oct 14th -16th.