Last weekend I experienced an amazing example of abundance. My friend in Thailand called me. She and her friends took a drive two hours out of Bangkok to a nature preserve. When she was there she used her GSM cell phone to connect her laptop to the Internet and show me live video of the waterfall she was visiting.
The examples and levels of abundance are staggering.
First consider who she is. She is a young missionary from the Philippines teaching English in Bangkok. Her monthly salary is 750 USD. She is the youngest of 6 children of a disabled fisherman. She sends money home to support her parents, helps her other siblings with loans plus tithes 10% to her church. That doesn’t leave a lot of disposable income. So keep that in mind.
This call was not for business, it was just for fun. This is one of the characteristics of Abundance. When things are so cheap you don’t pay attention to the price. Except for the GSM connection to the Internet, the call was free.
She has a laptop with a webcam. So do a billion other people. Just 15 years ago the idea of a laptop was an outrageous luxury item. Now a computer with more processing power than everything that ran WWII is casually taken to a park. And this laptop wasn’t provided by her work. It was a present.
Nearly everyone on the planet has access to the Internet. Most of it high speed and capable of video. Cafes, restaurants, and cheap hotels give access away for free. Some of the poorest people in the world have such cheap and easily available Internet service they can spend hours sending Nigerian SPAM email.
She had a GSM phone to access the Internet in the middle of the countryside. She wasn’t in a big city. She was out in the jungle looking at a waterfall. The GSM phone is three examples of abundance. She could afford to have the equipment. The service was there. It was cheap enough that she didn’t care about the cost. Just 20 years ago making any phone call between Thailand and the USA would require scheduling overseas operators to make connections and it would be so expensive only governments or large corporations would do it. Today a young lady on a day trip calls a friend half way around the world and thinks nothing of doing it.
She used Skype to do the video conference. The software and the service were totally free. Once she was online everything was free.
The fact we even met to become friends is another example of abundance. Global communication is free and easy. Two people out of 6.5 billion on the opposite sides of the world with no people in common were able to meet based on shared interests and values. It wasn’t long ago that was nearly impossible. Now today its common place.
Abundance is the design of the universe and we are seeing the accelerating effects every day.
This article will introduce a concept that my next book covers in great detail. It is the biggest problem facing society and the most wonderful opportunity. It’s called Free.
While I was in Thailand I spent two days at Maesa Elephant Camp learning to be a mahout (elephant driver). It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. Interacting with the elephants, the scenery and the way the staff treated us was amazing. One of the things I got to do was make a painting with an elephant.
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Mark Frazier with Kong Kham Painting at Maesa Elephant Camp
Many of these elephants used to work in the timber industry. The need for elephants for logging has dropped so these elephants and the mahouts were out of work. This is an example of how technology advances and makes things free. Elephants once were the cheapest way to harvest logs in terms of time and materials. But now new technology makes it even easier. People used to pay mahouts to ride elephants but they no longer get paid to do that. That is the negative side.
The positive side is timber is much cheaper now so people in general have extra resources to use on other things. And that leads us to the positive effects of Free.
When the real cost, in time and materials of a product or service drop to the point where people don’t put much thought to the cost it is treated like Free. Think of a buffet. People will try a dish they might not because it costs them nothing. And of course the only way that a buffet can work is if the scale of sales make the individual costs cheap enough to let everyone take as much as they want. This is relative Free. An example of absolute Free is a by product of another process. If you were going to throw it away it is free.
Now that no one would pay mahouts to ride elephants some innovation was needed. The solution, charge people to ride elephants. This exact same thing has happened with many industries. Now that people have extra leisure time because the products are so much cheaper they value experiences. They are willing to pay to do something in the old way just to have fun.
After spending two days riding elephants I can assure you that doing it all day every day for a job is not fun. You would have to pay me to do that, but I was more than happy to pay to learn how to ride elephants and enjoy being with them for two days. It was fabulous. A once in a life time experience.
For the last 3 weeks I’ve been in Thailand. As I always do I look for innovations or different approaches to innovation. Thailand is a very decentralized nation. This seems to contradict the extreme nationalism but things here don’t get done on a centralized basis. The bulk of activity happens at the personal and family level.
Any place you go there is someone selling something. Go to the park and there is someone renting mats to sit on the grass. Walk down the sidewalk and there are hundreds of food carts and other miscellaneous things for sale. And on the roads there is extreme variety. Bicycles, push carts, motorcycles, tuk tuks, cars, trucks converted in to buses, mini-buses, full sized buses and trucks. You might even see an elephant.
It’s well known that Bangkok traffic is some of the worst in the world. It took me 4 hours to ride a bus 6 miles (12 km). They don’t even bother having schedules because it is impossible for a bus or a car to know how long it will take to get anywhere in Bangkok. This is a huge drag on productivity. But rather than complain, Thais find their own individual solution.If you need to get someplace in Bangkok the fastest way is a motorbike. There are motorbike taxis and entire families riding a single motorbike. Motorbikes ignore most traffic laws and all concepts of safe riding. Helmets are required by law but seldom worn. And if there is any space at all the motorbike driver will race into it. This leads to hoards of motorbikes collecting at front of traffic revving their engines at the light resembling the start of a race.
My second home is Chicago and even though Chicago has nearly double the population density of Bangkok traffic runs very smoothly. Chicago’s traffic problems are mainly during rush hour on the expressways leading into or out of the city and surrounding sports stadiums before and after a game. Chicago has a subway and elevated, and buses that show up every ten minutes and you don’t have to negotiate the price of riding a taxi. Chicago is very organized and centrally controlled.
Am I suggesting Bangkok become more centralized? No. The centralized control is not what makes Chicago work. It’s the variety of options available to the individual. But didn’t I say that Bangkok has more options? Actually no. Even though there are many different types of vehicles they all have to travel the same path. The only way to travel through Bangkok is the city streets. If the roads are crowded in Chicago you can take the subway or light rail. You can drive on the city streets or the free way or the toll-expressway. And the buses have dedicated lanes.
The motorbikes in Bangkok have found an alternative road, the space between cars. When cars, trucks and buses are stopped the motorbikes drive between. Motorbikes don’t compete for the roads with the larger vehicles. The motorbikes are able to use an over looked resource, the small space between vehicles.
The motorbikes also follow another important aspect of successful innovation. An individual can easily purchase a motorbike. For the price of one months rent you can buy a motorbike. It does not require a large investment and switching to motorbikes can be done one person at a time. Incremental investment but huge gains for the person choosing a motorbike.
Bangkok has one elevated train called the Sky Way and a second Sky Way line under construction. The Sky Way is the nicest train I’ve every seen. It greatly helps those who want to travel along the line but it doesn’t do much good for others. The Sky Way is extremely expensive to build and doesn’t help anyone until the whole thing is completed. This is high cost and high risk.
One of the reasons the personal computer revolution and now the Internet has been so successful for innovation is nearly anyone can try something. The barriers to entry are very low and the rewards can be extremely high. Decentralized or at least distributed systems are much more likely to result in successful innovation. The “moon mission” approach usually fails. One of the big benefits of Predictive Innovation Method is it reveals all the alternatives. This allows you to build towards a large end goal but do it with small and progressively successful steps. That reduces risk, maximizes profits and eliminates the threat of competition.