Participation Economics and the RenGen

The economics of “free” user generated content threatens the business model of intellectual property. Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, grapples with this topic in his next book. I plan on reading the preview copy on the plane to Austin, TX this week as I make my way to SXSW Interactive. There, I’ll sit down with Chris Anderson to discuss the emerging culture that’s being facilitated by the Web and ask where he sees “free” going as a business proposition.

In a similar vein is Mudhavi Sunder’s the forthcoming book, iP: YouTube, MySpace, Our Culture. A legal scholar and expert on Intellectual Property, Sunder argues that our new “participatory century” will move business beyond the creation of more intellectual products to facilitating participation in the cultural sphere. He calls for a new understanding of modern intellectual property law that supports the capacity to author our own lives. To create meaning. To build a new understanding of cultural production as more than outputs–but a system of meaning that helps the society evolve as a worldwide Knowledge Economy.

What’s vexing about these disruptive changes in the economics of creative production is that it pits business against social progress. The white space, and where the action will be, is to invent new business models that make economically viable the social progress that naturally follows from a more democratic and participatory culture.

Creating new business models for creative output is difficult work. Perhaps that is why it occurs so rarely. As the Internet facilitates vast amounts of creative expression, there is more “product” than there is audience to appreciate it. The glut may change the impulse to create. Instead of being about the drive to create original ideas, authorship may be the quest to find new roles for one’s content within the culture, to help people think differently about their lives and problems, or to spark further innovation. That automatically implies that authors can’t work in a vacuum, they must work within a context because innovative thinking moves from the concrete to the abstract–not the other way around. The new crop of innovators who will create economic value will do so using what’s at hand. Sunder agrees that, “Increasingly, we now understand that we develop our autonomous selves by inhabiting tradition, not just resisting it.”

So begins my journey to uncover those RenGen thinkers, business leaders, upstarts, and innovators who are forging new economic opportunity by creating the culture. And they do so as a means to an end–as a quest for purpose over product. That desired end is an entirely new system of meaning–the values, belief systems, mores and commercial products that support life. From this context, economic value will also emerge. This is the early work of rebirth.

I’m rounding up my research team. Join me on the march toward the renaissance. If you have observations to share about people or ideas at the vanguard of this next age we are embarking upon, please drop me a line.