Elephant Painting, example of Free and innovation

December 8, 2008 · Posted in abundance, economics · Comment 

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.