In the midst of today’s political, regulatory and economic uncertainty, entrepreneurial spirit and energies need to continue to forge ahead with propositions and business models which have the potential to drive us towards a more dynamic Britain, a Britain more openly connected to our world and ultimately a more stable Britain.
The emergence of the sharing economy is a shining example of how the tech industry is making the entrepreneurial spirit happen through innovation, disruption and new job creation.
It offers opportunities on so many levels for consumers to be engaged, to show entrepreneurial spirit, to make extra money from their properties, their unwanted goods and their hidden talents or skills, ultimately encouraging more economic activity, healthy competition, more openness and greater choice to consumers.
From odd jobs and accommodation, to travel and even dog-sitting, everywhere you look there are sharing economy success stories, powered by new consumer-friendly technology, which are creating new ways of doing things, new business opportunities and communities.
So much so, even the wider business community is becoming more accepting of it. A recent survey from the Global Business Travel Association just this week reported notable increases in corporate travel policies expanding to permit taxi apps such as Uber and Lyft and home-sharing options are beginning to gain traction too.
With all this in mind, surely the sharing economy is a win-win scenario for consumers, the economy, entrepreneurial spirit and wider technology industry?
Not in Luke Johnson’s eyes, as I learned this week from his polemic on the evils of the sharing economy (“Sharing upstarts? No they are tax-avoiding skimmers”, The Times online, 31 January 2017). In his piece, Johnson attacks what will assuredly be a major boon to the UK economy in the post-Brexit landscape.
Ironically, the entrepreneurial spirit and a challenge to accepted norms, driving change and disrupting conventionalism is what has supported Johnson’s career to date. And for which I have long admired him.
It is precisely the openness that forges a strong sharing economy, that has propelled the UK to digitally-driven success over the last decade. By promoting a certain form of insularity at a time when we need more proponents of this openness, has the effect of trying to reverse the vehicle uphill. The UK will stall.
Instead, we should be seizing global opportunities to make one of the fastest developing and most exciting components of our economy an even stronger engine for growth.
There seems to be a view that by opening ourselves up to change or global markets that we irrevocably lose what is precious to us in the UK, that our very way of life is under threat. It is true there is a balance. For example, I love the iconic London cab – I sincerely want it to thrive.
I am persuaded by the revolutionary simplicity that Uber offers too – it is helpful, easier and better than the mini-cab often was. That London cabs often have signs saying “CASH ONLY” is an unforgivable inconvenience today and technology simply makes life easier. Everyone needs to adapt and there needs to be a degree of competition to make things better.
In the same way there is a worry, which I share, that digitisation creeps into every waking moment of our lives and turns us into electronic-zombies. Balance is called for.
Personally, I am a huge fan of the arts and crafts movement, a reaction against industrialisation in the 19th Century, today – some of those sentiments ring true – we need to also find time to value the present, personal interaction and nature.
Digital detox should go hand in hand with embracing the opportunities of the digital age. We must find acceptable cultural norms like, putting phones away for meals or not taking mobile phones when going out for a country walk. This is common sense and some of it plays catch-up in a rapidly changing world. Balance, not rejection or unhelpful polemics.
I also embrace balance, a global economy in tandem with enjoying the very best of the local, even taking time out to embrace digital detox. They are not mutually exclusive – we should embrace the best of both.
Opportunity and change come hand in hand. Business leaders like Mr Johnson, the government, educators – we all have a responsibility to inspire people to do things differently, to challenge the status-quo, build rebellious businesses that stand-out and to know that the system will adapt to them, not require them to adapt to it.
It is – I would argue – precisely this buccaneering spirit that we need to instil in our entrepreneurs if we are going to create great businesses that compete on the global stage.
To create a truly Great British entrepreneurial spirit and culture, perhaps we need to consider being just a little bit less overtly British about it.
Hugo Burge is the CEO of Momondo Group
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