6 Inevitable Trends That Will Totally Transform Everything: Sharing

In this week's Rule Breaker Investing podcast, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner brings his listeners a special treat: an interview with futurist/writer/journalist/pioneer and all-around clever person, Kevin Kelly. Among other things, he was a co-founder of pioneering online community The WELL and the founding executive editor of Wired magazine. He's written for The New York Times, The Economist, Science, Time, and The Wall Street Journal. His most recent book, published in 2016, is The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. And he's not talking about specific technologies like autonomous vehicles or blockchain -- he's looking at shifts that are so wide, they're verbs.

Frankly, it's a great interview, and David would encourage you to listen to the whole thing -- but it was so long that to fit in all 12, his producer had to split it in two, with the second six in a bonus podcast. Meanwhile, for those who would like to enjoy this chat in smaller bites (bytes), we at The Fool are happy to oblige.

In this segment, they talk about sharing, which in one sense needs no explanation. But what we're doing with it, abetted by technology, really is taking us somewhere new.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Feb. 14, 2018.

David Gardner: Let's just go to No. 6. This is a really interesting one. No. 6 kind of comes from accessing. There's some flow throughout your book. No. 6 is "sharing."

Sharing doesn't need any definition, but you go to a very interesting place in this chapter, describing yourself later in the book as having, for much of your life, subscribed to sort of a traditional American individualism -- and I would say that's the same of myself and probably many of us here. But you begin to talk about the power of socialism, but not with a capital "S." Not really. This is more of a trend toward Social. To the sharing economy. More sharing, kind of overlapping with our last trend, as I mentioned, accessing. Give us a little bit more about that. It's a very interesting thought.

Kevin Kelly: There's a whole discipline called the sharing economy -- and often the Airbnbs and the Ubers are included in that -- the idea that you're sharing your car, or you're sharing a room in your home. But I think it's much, much bigger and broader than that. When we start to talk about this thing, language becomes a problem because in a certain sense, the best word to describe a lot of this is socialization, socialism, social network, social media.

It's the word "social," which in American tradition has a kind of political baggage around it. It's sort of the wrong word to use, but it's actually the right word to use. This is not like a political thing. This is much more along the lines of seeing what this technology has done. It's mostly communication technology. It's permitting us to collaborate in many ways we could never collaborate before.

If you think about Uber, it's a kind of collaboration. It's taking ordinary people who have a car, and other people who need a ride, and it's allowed them to collaborate to deliver a ride. Or Airbnb. You're collaborating. This collaboration, this kind of sharing, is becoming embedded and we're kind of not even aware of it. Eventually it will have some social implications, but right now it's being enabled by technology.

And the message I wanted to suggest is that we're just at the beginning of this. We're just at the beginning of understanding the ways in which we can now collaborate in multiple-size groups over multiple distances in real time. I would make a prediction that in the next 10 to 20 years that we will witness the creation of a project where a million people are going to work together in real time to make something that was simply impossible to do in real life.

You just couldn't have that number of people together adjacent. You couldn't have them working together. But that's possible with these new technologies. That is the frontier that we're going into is collaborating in ways that we had not ever imagined at a scale in real time that we had never imagined. Again, Wikipedia is one example of that kind of collaboration.

Gardner: Where people work for free.

Kelly: Where people work for free. But that's not the real news. The real news is that you have a million people around the world working on something together that was not possible. They weren't doing it in real time, but that's the next step.

And so, companies will begin to harness more and more of that and businesses will begin to take advantage of this. It's a global platform. We're making a global machine. If you take up all the transistors, and all the chips, and all our phones, and all our devices -- they're all wired together -- it's like a big machine that we've made together. That is the platform that we're making and that is the frontier in the sharing world, where these technologies allow us to share work, share interests, share effort in a way...

Gardner: Share our own personal health data.

Kelly: Exactly, that's another example.

Gardner: Patients like me.

Kelly: That's right. Or genetics. You have your genes...

Gardner: 23andMe...

Kelly: ... you have your gene sequence and then you share that data, meeting people that are related to you. Finding out health issues. Finding out performance. Hints. All these things are multiple examples of how we're going to make both businesses and new cultural norms by sharing in ways that were not possible before.

Gardner: Here's a quote for all of us stock pickers. "We have barely begun to explore what kinds of amazing things a crowd can do. There must be two million different ways to crowdfund an idea, or to crowd organize it, or to crowd make it. There must be a million more new ways to share unexpected things in unexpected ways. In the next three decades, the greatest wealth and most interesting cultural innovations -- lie in this direction.

"The largest, fastest-growing, most profitable companies in 2050 will be companies that will have figured out how to harness aspects of sharing that are invisible and unappreciated today. Anything that can be shared -- thoughts, emotions, money, health, time -- will be shared in the right conditions, with the right benefits."

That's a lovely summation. He wrote it himself, so it's easy to quote Kevin back to Kevin.

Kelly: And let me just give you one business example very briefly, and it kind of goes to the idea of flowing in data.

Let's take two car companies. Ford has been around for hundreds of years. They have manufactured 100 million vehicles and they're worth $44 billion. Then there's Tesla. Everybody's heard about Tesla. They're struggling to make cars and they have barely made 200,000 cars. I think it's less than 200,000 cars. But their value, their cap is more than Ford.

And you say, "Why would that be?" Well, because in Ford, even though they've made 100 million vehicles, they have about zero knowledge about how individual owners use their car. They have zero miles of knowledge about how individual customers are using their cars. In fact, in most cases they don't even know who their customers are. They don't have any data about them.

Tesla, on the other hand, even though they have several orders of magnitude less vehicles sold, has 1.3 billion miles of user data. Of how their individual customers are using those cars in great detail, so they're basically a data company. They're basically a company that knows and is sharing, their customers are sharing their data of how they use things with that company. That's the value that we're getting, because they can actually customize a car to the individual rider. They can upgrade it. They can use that to make the cars better, etc. That's a case where sharing what you are using with the maker is really valuable.

David Gardner owns shares of Ford and Tesla. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford and Tesla. The Motley Fool recommends The New York Times. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.