Fulfilling more than one function

In modern societies characterized by a division of labor, more and more functions are separated from others.

This means that to eat, we go to a restaurant. There are youth clubs for young people and senior clubs for the seniors. Every function has its own space. To buy things you have to go to a store. You borrow books in the library and go to the office to work. Plays are presented in the theater; audacious directors bring extravagant productions – where? To the stage, in a theater.

The isolation and loneliness that exist in modern societies are related to this division of labor. Everyone is sitting in his or her own space. Why are we so delighted by the tiny French villages we know from our vacations? Young and old sit together; some read, others play cards, and somewhere in the midst of this a barber is cutting somebody’s hair. In many places our work world is so streamlined and so differentiated that it offers us the opportunity to reintegrate functions.

Many years ago I held a workshop on the subject of business hours where without any preconceived ideas the participants examined multiple uses for buildings. What events could you hold in a supermarket? Why isn’t a law office used for exhibitions during the day and as party space at night? How can you make use of space that is unused part of the time? Perhaps a bed store as a place to test-drive a mattress overnight, or maybe even as an unconventional hotel?

Being able to serve more than one function has significant economic advantages. You don’t have to build, furnish, illuminate and heat these spaces. The only limits are set by your own imagination.

Reintegration brings not only economic advantages, but it also serves a good societal function. It counteracts isolation; it brings people together who would otherwise have little to do with one another.

We can learn from nature, which uses things many times over.

It is rare that something has only one function. From the biologists and ecologists we learn that a blade of grass fulfills at least six functions. Applying this notion to an entrepreneurial idea, you should be asking yourself: what things are piling up in some place that I can utilize for free somewhere else?

What I’m talking about isn’t waste recovery, but a good eye for things that were devised for other processes, which I can reuse for my own purposes for as low an investment as possible. In nature, multiple uses are the norm, and highly diverse forms of cooperation have developed which have made mutual economic uses possible.

During my student years I often didn’t have an apartment of my own; instead, I moved into friends’ apartments as a room sitter. Not only did this provide me with variety, but it was also very luxurious. I didn’t have to set up housekeeping or pay for it, and I got acquainted with books, art and objects of everyday use from all over the world that I would never have encountered in my own apartment.

And my hosts were happy, too, because I was careful with their things, watered their plants and at the end gave them a generous gift. A present that cost only a fraction of what I would have had to have paid in rent. Luxurious also because I did not have to deal with landlords and gas and electric bills, bureaucratic things that all of us dislike.

For a long time I lived out of a suitcase and later made an entire move in a VW Beetle with a sunroof. It is similar to hitchhiking: before I had my own car, I met lots of people, and every day was a great adventure. Later I drove my own car, and from then on I had to worry about repairs, taxes, and insurance bills. Every unfamiliar engine sound could be an ominous sign that some repair would soon be needed. This is not even primarily about money, but about effort and loss of focus, about complexity.

The focal point of my ideas is how to do the most with the least effort. I’m not speaking in favor of freeloading, but of intelligent combinations that create a win-win situation for everyone.

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