Inter view with Martijn Aslander by Jorrit Timmermans
(translated into english by Rodien de Maar)
About transformations to a Network economy
The storm is a metaphor for the changes happening in our world. Changes
with impact and results that are incalculable. They are also happening
within the economic world. Many of our old patterns have had their
longest time. We are richer than ever and have more capabilities than
ever. But the consequences of this growth in our world are slowly
but unmistakeably felt by everyone.
Thankfully storms settle down and give new energy and chances. Martijn
Aslander knows what the possible consequenses are. Martijn, who lives
off networking and connecting people, is involved in more than a 1000
projects on yearly bases. He does this by following his heart. He
turns all the available information technology into value for himself
and others. His attitude to life is best described by the scouting
law which he learned at an early age. A scout goes into the world
with the other to discover this world and make it a better place to
live in. He is honest, loyal and never gives up.He is economical and
sober. He is a go-getter, cares for nature and respects himself and
the other. You can definitely count on him.
The economy is the sum of all the transactions and barter mechanisms
that keep our society in place. Untill now the focus has been on collecting
as much profit and capital goods as possible. But now that seems to
be changing. We seem to be asking ourselves whether more money is
needed, useful or valuable. On account of frequent usage of scarce
resources, striving towards maximum profit often fails. Also companies
have the tendency to waste the talent of many people. The well known
rat race in which employees carry out their limited tasks day after
day, restricts the enormous worth that people could actually bring
into the economy. Martijn quotes futurologist and trend watcher Justien
Marseille by stating that our society is making a jump from maximisation
of profit to one of maximising usefulness. This simply means that
you do the thing which you are good in, in the place at that given
time which makes for optimal worth. Talent as an important impulse
for the economy, thats new.
How is it possible that individual talent suddenly has the room to
grow? Until now, we were restricted by means only available to organisations
to be able to produce. This was certainly true when our economy relied
on agriculture. With the coming of mechanisation and industry, this
became more amplified. Later, when the computerization was a fact,
it brought us the home computer and the internet. After this, the
individual had meaningful tools at their disposal. With the home computer,
everyone is able to write their own book, produce a movie or compose
their own music. And the internet is our direct link to the whole
world and thus the market. At the same time, the costs decrease so
fast that everyone can join in to show their talent and offer their
This development gives us the freedom to ask ourselves what on earth
we are doing. And whether we might actually want to do it differently.
There are still so many people that are not satisfied with what they
are doing. Information technology gives us the opportunity to do things
that were impossible in the past. Dependent on our talent we seek
and find the necessary knowledge, information and contacts on the
internet. This leads to an economy driven by networks instead of companies.
And money does not seem to play the biggest role. The new barter system
seems to be one of talent, knowledge and information.
Critics say it's impossible to make a living this way. So Martijn
decided to test this theory and take on the experiment of not asking
any money for his work. Soon he found that he either had a lot of
money or hardly any money at all. But he always had just what he needed
that at his disposal just. A computer, an overall subscription to
public transportation, insurance, an office and indeed just plain
money. Because if you can offer something that is valuable to many,
then people are more than willing to donate in order to keep it coming.
Martijn let go of all pretences and trusted that he would be fulfilled
in all his needs at all times. Seeing this was a success; he began
thinking of what we really need in this world.
The answer that he found is not directly a logical one. What we really
need according to him is movement. Evolution makes us constantly adapt
to our environment. And adapting means movement. With those kinds
of dynamics our nature makes us search for ways to do things in a
different but foremost better way. It makes us want to learn, to try,
to create and to innovate. A natural process which unfortunately is
discouraged in our present school system. While the bigger problems
in our society social cohesion, innovation, care system, education,
competition with other countries like China and India scream
for our capacity to adapt.
How this natural movement can be started is something Martijn knows
all about. Every year he organizes a large festival in the woods in
Drenthe, a province in the Netherlands. In three days a whole village
is built where people can even pay electronically. While normally
a festival of this scale would cost a couple of hundred thousand euros,
Martijn and his enthusiastic and talented crew do it for less than
12.000 euros. And no script is even used. The circumstances in which
this project can develop is mainly dependent on something Martijn
calls swarming. A varied and motivated group gets together for a certain
project. From within their own skill, everybody participates a little
which means that the pressure all round is kept low. Because of the
joint exchanges everybody learns from everybody. And after the project
is over, everyone goes their own way again or starts on the next project.
Super functional cooperation
What is happening is, its using the network as a business. It
groups together around a certain project and organizes that which
needs to be organized. Then afterwards, it falls apart again. At first
glance it seems more chaotic than businesses as we know it now. However,
nature knows only how to use this form of non-organization also called
the organic fluid pattern. A swarm of birds, a school of fish, a termite
hill, these are all examples of a super functional cooperation in
subtle tuning with each other. It is this coherence that spontaneously
comes up in a network driven by a mutual goal. The internet and the
ease with which like-minded people know how to find each other, makes
people act as one organism, one species working together on this planet
more than ever before.
Martijn is an insider when it comes to the technology used within
the network economy known as Web2.0. This is the term used for a collection
of useful tools which the internet offers for free. Tools for project
management, file-exchange, marketing, information sharing. The sourcecode
for these tools is accessible to everyone (open source). The unwrittenrule
in the open source community that is Web 2.0 is that in exchange for
using the tools, you have to make your own improvements and adaptations
available under the same conditions. A much talked about example is
the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia: it's content is freely accessible
to anyone and everyone can contribute. The accuracy of Wikipedia is
nearly on the same level as the renowned Britannica Encyclopaedia.
And the number of topics is many times larger. Small contributions
by a large group of enthusiastic users make for the open source mentality
in which products become better and extend fast. See the power of
the economic network grow.
The Holy Trinity of Dynamics is the term used by Martijn to describe
this. It describes a new consciousness of information. Ideas are important.We
already knew this. Also the connections between people are important.
But information is the key between the ideas and the people. With
information you pull people towards you. Information is necessary
to create an idea, to carry it out and to talk about it with others.
Consciousness about information in our society has not yet taken a
We have to be nice
Besides the technological tools that are available to make the most
of the network economy, there are some personality traits that come
in handy. Martijn mentions a fast working and flexible mind, an open
attitude, curiosity and courage / guts. And the most important part
of all, is being nice. He realises that you need the other as much
as he needs you.
The distant sound of the hippies can be heard in his approach. "I
still have a bone to pick with them" Martijn says jokingly. Their
enthusiasm and ideas appeal to him a lot. They just didn't have the
means to execute them. Martijn does. And that he has a point is something
you see for example in the opinion of the Belgian top economist Bernard
Lietaer. This great thinker is a true believer in complementary economies,
where regional currency and bartering play a central role. To rely
on a monetary economy alone is much too instable. A disaster like
the one of 9/11 makes the dollar collapse and looses our faith in
the economy. While it says nothing about the productivity or creativity
of people. The revival of true value is the core of the network economy.
Besides, says Martijn, a monetary economy can only grow by locking
your money away in a bank so interest can be collected on it. Social
capital on the other hand grows when you give it away and share it
freely with others.
Information is the new currency
It is an interesting thought that giving leads to growth. You can
only spend money once. Then it is gone. Ideas, information and access
to your network are something you can give away over and over again
without loosing anything. The reverse, keeping your information to
yourself, leads to being excluded eventually. And without connections
you loose all worth. In the network economy, information and networking
are the new currency. It is valuable and exchangeable. And it stipulates
that you should behave yourself. Only in a good
relationship with the other there is room to exchange talent and value.
It means that we have to become human again instead of taking on a
role in which we perform transactions for money. It is obvious that
we are in need of a redefinition of the economy.
Instead of profit maximisation we are moving towards optimisation
of usefulness. Value creation wil happen better and faster in a networked
environment instead of in bricks and mortar companies. As a direct
result social capital shall become an important factor. The relationships
between people will be more important than the transactions. Having
faith in the value of the other and opening your own knowledge and
network guarantees you can join in. Status will be decided by the
ease with which you have flexible access to information and the connections
with others. Perhaps the main change will be finding our humanity
again in everything we undertake.