A Larger Context & Bigger Transformation
Creative Commons based open business models are part of something larger, a bigger transformation taking place in society and the economy.
This really struck home for me when, in response to our open call for nominations on who we should interview for our book on Creative Commons based open business models, we received tons of suggestions — many of which didn’t use Creative Commons at all.
In checking out all the suggestions we receive it quickly became apparent that “open business models” is a large context within which Creative Commons based open business models are a subset. While all of our interviews have focused on organizations and businesses that use Creative Commons I‘ve really enjoyed getting a deeper sense of this larger context. Understanding the big picture within which Creative Commons based open business models sit is helping me see the bigger transformation unfolding.
I want to share in this post some of things people recommend we explore and the non-Creative Commons based examples of open business models that are part of this larger context. Lets start with a few fun examples.
Calling themselves the first crowdfunded brewery BrewDog decided to do something breweries just don’t do — openly release all their recipes. Here’s what they say about their DIY Dog initiative:
“With DIY Dog we wanted to do something that has never been done before as well as paying tribute to our home-brewing roots. We wanted to take all of our recipes, every single last one, and give them all away for free, to the amazing global home-brewing community.
We have always loved the sharing of knowledge, expertise and passion in the craft beer community and we wanted to take that spirit of collaboration to the next level.
So here it is. The keys to our kingdom. Every single BrewDog recipe, ever. So copy them, tear them to pieces, bastardise them, adapt them, but most of all, enjoy them. They are well travelled but with plenty of miles still left on the clock. Just remember to share your brews, and share your results. Sharing is caring.
This is anti-corporate beer writ large; a new way of doing business. For generations, companies have fiercely protected their ‘secret’ recipes — clinging to a classified ideal, yellowing documents nervously hidden away by the founders, keys to the safe around their necks. Is it co-incidental that these same companies are the plodding remnants of another age; desperately clinging to their foundations?
For businesses born in the 21st Century it is all about sharing. Who cares about 11 herbs and spices? Here are 234 beers; our entire back catalogue and those yet to be released.”
From an open business model point of view not only do they give away all their craft beer recipes they’ve also devised a unique way to attract investors with their Equity for Punks Own a Piece of BrewDog pitch. Here’s what it says:
“Brewdog is an alternative small business owned by thousands of people who love craft beer. They are our shareholders, our friends, our community and the heart and soul of our business.
We have a community of over 14,500 equity punk investors, and this is your chance to join them.
In 2010, we tore up convention, turned the traditional business model on its head and launched Equity for Punks giving thousands of people a front row seat to the craft beer revolution.
And now it’s back. Bigger and better than ever.
You can find out more about investing in BrewDog by downloading the prospectus here.”
Unfortunately they don’t have a prospectus for Canada. :(
But I want to try all the BrewDog beers. :)
I like BrewDog’s openness, playfulness, and inventiveness. The benefits for shareholders in the prospectus are especially fun. They don’t use Creative Commons (recipes aren’t copyrightable) but they’ve embraced open sharing as a means of building community and understand the benefits that come with that.
Monique Belair at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges sent me this amazing story on underwater vertical farming.
“Our goal is to build a just foundation for the blue-green economy. Saving the seas is not enough. There is 40 percent unemployment in my hometown. I wouldn’t be doing this work unless it created jobs for my people, unless it opened up new opportunities for the 3 billion folks who depend on our oceans to make a living.
For the first time in generations, we have an opportunity to grow food the right way, provide good middle-class jobs, restore ecosystem, and feed the planet.
Our old economy is crumbling. The old economy is built on the arrogance of growth at all costs, profiting from pollution, and the refusal to share economic gains with 99 percent of Americans. But out of the ashes of the old economy, together we are building something new based on new-economy principles of collaboration, community-driven innovation, shared profits, and meeting social needs. Because ocean agriculture is still in its infancy, we have the unprecedented opportunity to build a model from scratch, to build from the bottom up an economy that works for everyone, not just a few. We have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of industrial agriculture and aquaculture. This is our chance to do food right.
We addressed the first question of farm replication and scale, not by patenting or franchising — those are tools of the old economy — but by open-sourcing our farming model so that anybody with 20 acres and a boat and $30,000 can start his or her own farm.”
Bren Smith’s identification of the new-economy principles as being about collaboration, community-driven innovation, shared profits, and meeting social needs is very much part of what we are finding with Creative Commons open business models.
We’ve received tons of suggestions that we interview companies that have a open business model based on free and open source software. I’ve really enjoyed seeing how hugely important, popular, and influential free and open source software has become.
We’ve received suggestions that we look at Gimp, Audacity, Synfig, Inkscape, VLC, Joomla, Ubuntu, and many more. As fascinating as these are free and open source software have their own special non-Creative Commons licenses. Given our open business models work is focused on Creative Commons use we’ve not interviewed them. However, I do want to acknowledge that there are many diverse and compelling open business models based on free and open source software and the suggestions we’ve received are great examples of another piece of the larger open context.
I’ve always admired the work of Eric Raymond who defined a taxonomy of open source software business models in his essay The Magic Cauldron (also included in his book The Cathedral and the Bazaar). If you have any interest in open business models I highly encourage you to read Raymond’s work.
The Magic Cauldron uses clever and memorable descriptors like, “Widget Frosting”, “Give Away the Recipe Open a Restaurant”, and “Accessorizing” to define categories of businesses and the ways they generate revenue. There are lots of commonalities between open source software business models and those based on use of Creative Commons so the reading is well worth your time.
We’ve also received suggestions that we interview businesses that are based on open hardware. Companies like littleBits for example. littleBits mission is “to democratize hardware by empowering everyone to create inventions, large and small, with our platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks.” This kind of mission which talks about democratizing and empowering everyone is very much in line with Creative Commons based open business models. It’s a theme that is central to the larger context and bigger transformation I’m seeing. While littleBits licenses its web site with a Creative Commons license the core of their business makes the circuit designs for its modules available via the CERN Hardware License.
One of the signals that a bigger transformation is taking place are the many different licenses in play for making things open. While Creative Commons has become the de facto standard for licensing content to be open others have created licenses for making software and hardware open.
Some licenses attempt to mitigate the traditional economies tendency to extract and exploit. While most of these licenses are not yet in use they are nonetheless fascinating to look at in the larger context. The CopyFair license and the Peer Production License are good examples of licenses in development that try to instil more reciprocity. The Commons Transition organization is developing projects and featuring stories that map out the potential for commons-based reciprocity licenses. All these licenses share a common belief that value and innovation are maximized through open sharing rather than closed hoarding. The larger context includes harmonious use of these licenses to change the default way of operating from closed to open and engage in business in such a way that the benefits of sharing are reciprocal.
The larger context also includes some aspects of the sharing economy. Shareable is doing the best job I know of making evident the social and economic transformations being generated by the sharing economy. And I should be clear upfront I’m not talking about Uber and AirBnB who in my view co-opted the sharing economy term but in fact are examples of traditional approaches that try to maximize extraction value for themselves.
Shareable’s list of the Top 10 Sharing Economy Predictions for 2016 are full of examples of the larger context I’m exploring. Everything from platform cooperatives, sharing cities, and combining global open design communities with local production all are part of this larger context and bigger transformation. They all advocate for a shift of value distribution to address economic inequality.
Finally I want to hint at something even bigger that this work has led me to explore — economic transformation. Books like What Then Must We Do, The Ecology of Law, and Postcapitalism all do a great job of describing the historical context of how we came to choose free market capitalism as the ideal form of economy. They describe the social and ecological problems it has produced, and the transformation needed to improve global well-being. As Paul Mason says in Postcapitalism, “The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy, between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.”
Creative Commons open business models are part of this larger context, this bigger transformation prefiguring what comes next.