Somewhat possible

By Jeremy Wilson on September 26th, 2013

Visitors to the Science Museum in London were struck by an intriguing sight at the entrance to the IMAX theatre last night: a tree-lined corridor surrounded by a milling crowd of London’s tech-savvy youngsters. Even more beguiling was what the throng were doing – neatly penning their wishes in Sharpie onto small wooden boards and attaching them to the tree.

The tree diorama had been put there by the team behind Lily Cole’s new start-up impossible.com as part of the launch for their app. They were an echo of the original “giving tree” created in Cambridge for the launch of impossible.com, itself a reflection of Japanese shinto trees. According to Lily, the trees are a “physical real demonstration of what will be happening on the app.”

The trees were just a prequel to the main event, a conversation between the science journalist Dr Roger Highfield and impossible’s founder Lily Cole held in the Science Museum’s IMAX theatre. The packed auditorium at the science museum was testament to the seductive pulling power of impossible.com.

For those confusing impossible’s principles as simply a bien pensant socialist scheme were dispelled by Roger and Lily’s conversation. Roger gave a fascinating overview of how cooperation is at the core of nature, from bacteria to naked mole rats. The science worked symbiotically with Lily’s exposition about the impossible app.

She conceived the idea for her new sharing economy during the depths of the financial crisis and has followed through with admirable determination on her plans to make a moneyless system for exchanging goods and services. At the core of her thesis is a belief in the universal kindness between strangers, a belief that impossible taps into.

There remain many unknowns for the impossible dream to confront: trust, expectations and greed are all things that will have to be managed with care. But judging by the enthusiasm shown on all sides last night, a new sharing economy is on the cards.