Sharing and empowerment: a virtuous circle

Today I want to write about how as we begin to share more of our data, I believe we can be empowered to do more of what matters to us. More sharing means more empowerment.

Let me explain what I mean.

The more we connect and share with those we trust, the more we can learn about ourselves and each other, and indeed about our wider communities. And the more we learn, the more we are likely to understand, and the better we are able to tell stories – about ourselves, about each other and about the world around us. All of this means we can make informed decisions.

When sharing gets smart

Let’s take smart meters as an example. These are the devices you can connect to your energy meter to send detailed records of your energy use back to your energy supplier (the UK government wants to have these rolled out to every home in the UK by 2019). By receiving real-time meter readings your energy supplier will be able to send you a much more accurate bill. At the same time, the energy company will be able to aggregate real usage across a wider group and be able to better manage supply and demand. In theory this means they’ll be able to improve energy pricing, which should be a win for everyone: a better service at a lower cost, and better margins for the supplier.

Now, what if you could share that information with another organisation that was working on your behalf? This other company could help you understand even more about your energy use, help you change your behaviours or indeed save money and become greener if that’s what matters to you. Based on your actual usage they could help you to find out which supplier can give you the best deal, or even give your whole street the best deal. By sharing your energy data with other people or groups you trust, you are able to learn and understand more and be able to tell a better story; a story about you, or indeed your street. This means you’ll be able to make better decisions – in this case you’d be able to make an informed decision about which energy supplier to use rather than trying to navigate the confusopoly that exists today.

Happily, such helpful organisations are beginning to emerge. A great example is called billmonitor. These clever clogs ask you to share your mobile phone bill with them so they can analyse it; they compare your last few months’ mobile use to the open market of mobile phone deals out there and then suggest the the contract/ company for you to get the best deal. They believe that 76% of people in the UK are on the wrong mobile phone contract, paying too much money and getting too little value. They believe that they can save the average person almost £200 a year. What a great idea.

The point is that it shouldn’t just be your energy data that you should be able to share, but all the types of data you create. I suspect ‘billmonitor’ have used that brand name exactly because it’s generic; this is a repeatable model which should work across other utilities, perhaps even other industries like your grocery shopping and banking. And it would all be volunteered by you – not automatically scraped and harvested by others without your permission.

A virtuous circle

So, back to this idea of sharing.

I believe that as I understand more, I can better tell the story, and that’s when I am able to make better decisions e.g. about what to buy, what price to pay, what behaviour to change and how. Such decisions mean I can become empowered to save time, effort and money, which frees me up to focus on what matters – to spend that time, effort and money on what I believe. The thing is, the more focus on what I believe, the more I am able to listen to what matters. And as we listen, we’ll learn more, and therefore understand more. And so on and so on, round and round. I think that it fits together as a virtuous circle – it would look something like this:

This all happens – and is reinforced – when we connect and share with those we trust.

Let’s take an example: patientslikeme. The more health data that patients share about themselves, the more the group learns and understands more about each other, and about the group generally. And the more they understand, the better a story they can tell about the individual or group as a whole. They can begin to see trends and opportunities which help them make better decisions: the patient can make informed decisions with her doctor about her medication or her fitness routine based on group feedback; the group can exercise their buying power – perhaps to lobby to lower the price of a drug, or to show that there’s money on the table for a drug that’s not yet been brought to market; the group can also share aggregated results with the medical research community, who in turn can help improve the very medical science which will help improve the lives of the group.

When these individuals are enabled to connect and share with those they trust, they can make better decisions and in turn are freed up to focus on what they believe. In this context, making informed decisions means helping people get better and live longer in less pain. And as they do this, they can listen to, or perhaps simply pay attention to what matters – their family, sport, their hobbies, their career or whatever, because we’re all different.

The bigger picture

I think this virtuous circle applies everywhere, including business. The more companies listen to their customers – what they want, how, when and why – the more they’ll learn and understand about what to sell, how and when. And the more they understand, the better they can tell the customer’s story – about why they are in business to serve customers. And the better the story about why the company exists, and why people do business with them, and what their customers believe.

As these stories are told, the better business decisions they’ll make, both tactical and strategic. And if they make better business decisions, this will give them the business oxygen – increased revenue, cash-flow, profit, shareholder confidence, attraction and retention of talent – to focus on what matters; the customer. Once again, it looks something like this:

I believe that if we are given the opportunity to connect and share with those we trust, we’ll get better at listening, at learning, at understanding and telling the story.

This means we’ll make better decisions, and ultimately be able to focus on what matters. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a patient like me or an organisation, the point is the same: the more we share with those we trust, the more we can be empowered to do what we believe.

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