Will Doing Things For Free Revamp Our Economy?

Will Doing Things For Free Revamp Our Economy?

For Model and actress Lily Cole trust and risk taking are allowed to flourish in her new social network impossible, where people think differently about basic transactions.

Dory Carr-Harris, PSFK
  • 17 june 2014

Blending what we desire with what we need is a recipe for pushing boundaries and breaking new ground. In Dynamic Doers, a series by PSFK and iQ by Intel, we look at versatile entrepreneurs, artists, designers, and developers who are always evolving and changing much like the Intel based 2 in 1s, a line of new multifunctional devices that are a tablet when you want it and a laptop when you need it.

Lily Cole has the uncanny ability for switching her focus from one project to another at a moment’s notice.  Maybe because been working at it constantly since she was just a teenager.

Discovered as a model at age fourteen, two years later she appeared on the cover of British Vogue. She landed her first leading role on big screen in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus at age 22 and throughout that she was earning a degree in the History of Art from Cambridge University in England.

Her ability to focus on one aspect then pivot to a completely different demanding task has allowed Cole to break new ground. She recently developed a gift economy social network called impossible that provides a platform for people to share wishes and dreams that others on the network can help make come true.  By enabling people to do things for others for free, impossible network aims to stimulate growth of non-monetary transactions between friends and strangers.

According to Cole, impossible has the potential to proliferate what is happening in places around the world such as England, where officials say that the amount of things people do for free for each other right now in the UK is equal to more than the GDP.  She’s convinced that once individuals believe in themselves and trust others, they will more freely take risks and achieve much more than they could ever imagine.

Blending her work and her passion together in daily life allows her to tackle challenges, seize opportunities and actively shape her future.

In a recent conversation, Cole describes the greatest misconceptions about the gift economy, why trust is essential to productivity and why we all need to do more things for free.

Desk 1

What drew you to the world of modeling?

I didn’t know if I was ever drawn to it. It’s just kind of how life works. You’re given an opportunity, and you take it.

I explored what I could there. I feel like I learned quite a lot from it, but it was never something I saw myself doing long term.

What prompted you to move away from that world?

When I was 18, I stopped and started doing films. That did really draw me in, and so I prioritized that in how I was spending my time.

I was never feeding modeling all my energy, and as other things took more and more of it — like school, acting projects and now impossible — obviously you’ve only got so many hours in the day, and so much energy to give.

Impossible Screengrab copy

What inspired you to create the network, impossible?

A conversation with a friend three years ago gave birth to the idea. We were saying, “What if there was an online platform that could connect people to do things for each other for free?”

It wasn’t even that we used the terminology “for free,” but it was more an alternative to using money to get things done. It was post‑recession and we were seeing what difficult social situations people were in and whole countries were in. I finished university, and spent the last two years developing the concept and building a team.

What do you think is lacking from today’s charitable giving environment or organizations? Was there a specific void that you were trying to fill with impossible?

No, I see this as filling a void in normal society. I actually don’t see it in the current charity space. I think that charity deals with cases of extreme need. This is more about me and you and how we interact with each other. Most of the time, it’s mediated through transactions and through money.

impossible is more about looking at that dialogue, and saying, ‘Isn’t there another way that we can all speak to each other that actually might make us feel more connected, make us feel more supported and cumulatively make us all a happier, richer society?’


This project has been classified as being part of the gift economy. What do you think is the largest misconception about the gift economy that you’ve come up against after launching this project?

That it is an aspirational utopia. I think it’s a misconception because this type of economy has occurred in many other societies in the past. Humans can interact in this way. The British government actually says the amount of things that people do for free for each other right now in the UK is equal to more than the GDP.

It’s the most self-rewarding, self-fulfilling way of being. It makes you happy that you’re giving, but also because you become part of a new society.

What’s the most rewarding experience you’ve had so far with the platform?

For the most part it’s really, really fulfilling to see how many people agree with this notion, and if I hadn’t had so many people agree in the process of making it, I wouldn’t have actually made it.


Thinking about all the different projects that you’re working on currently and that you have in the past, how do you balance them? Is that challenging or does it come naturally?

A bit of both. I’ve been insanely busy since I was 15, and when I was modeling a lot, I was in school. When I was at University, I was doing film. I’ve always had a few different things to juggle, but I’m always doing things that inspire me. Right now I’m focusing on impossible full‑time, and then this summer I’m going to do a play, ‘Days of Troy’, so I’ll switch gears and do that for a few months.

Sometimes I struggle and I do get a bit overwhelmed by having to cross‑over things, but I’m trying to segment things so that I can be really focused on what I’m doing for a period of time.

Do you ever feel stretched too thin between these projects? What are your sort of strategies to deal with that?

I did before. Like a year ago, year and a half ago, I was doing impossible, and doing several other things at the same time. It was really challenging because I felt like I wasn’t giving either of them, like any of them, enough attention. Right now I am giving impossible all of my attention because I really care about it and I know it needs that to work.

I try to get eight hours of sleep a night. I get fed by the fact that my life’s constantly filled with people and ideas. The fact that I’m even able to have these ideas and bring them into reality is really inspiring. I’m kind of fed by that dynamism in a way.

Desk 2

What do you think is a major lesson you’ve learned over the course of all your various projects?

Trust. Like to trust in everything. Trust in people more. Trust in yourself. Believing in yourself and that in life that things tend to work out, and when things don’t work out it’s usually for the best.

Is there any sort of advice you would give to people thinking about creating their own projects?

Power to you. There’s a Goethe quote I love that says, “Anything you dream you can do. Begin it now. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” I think it speaks to our power to individually achieve much more than most of us imagine we could. Because once you believe in yourself, you will take risks that you might not have before.

Also, we’re always much more powerful in collectives than we are individually. Being open to people’s support and help is important. I couldn’t do what I’m doing without lots of people helping me.


Images by Catalina Kulczar

Blending what we desire with what we need is a recipe for pushing boundaries and breaking new ground. In Dynamic Doers, a series by PSFK and iQ by Intel, we look at versatile entrepreneurs, artists, designers, and developers who are always evolving and changing much like the Intel based 2 in 1s, a line of new multifunctional devices that are a tablet when you want it and a laptop when you need it.


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