Makers rule

Dec 02 2012 09:08
*Ian Mann

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson

THE BEGINNING of any major change is barely perceptible. It is only when the change is full blown that it becomes clear, but that may well be too late to take the advantage of an early understanding. 

In the 20th century, if you had a great idea for a new product you would have to overcome three primary challenges. The design you take to the manufacturer to produce under license for you would need to be popular enough for the manufacturer to risk making it. Then the product would need to be popular enough for a retailer to allocate shelf-space to it in preference to another product. Finally, it would need to be popular enough for the purchaser to be aware of it and so buy it.

The owners of the means of production will always have control over what is produced and the owners of the distribution medium will always have control over what gets distributed.

All the paperwork and cost that would be required to patent your invention aside, it is understandable why so few products, relative to the number of great ideas people have, ever saw the light of day.

That is all changing, explains Wired magazine editor, Chris Anderson (author of The Long Tail,) in his latest book, Makers:  The New Industrial Revolution. Behind this new industrial revolution lies the digital world with the web democratising the tools of both invention and production.

The revolution being described in this book is not the information revolution; it is a vastly more important one, with an order of magnitude to match. The digital economy, defined broadly has worldwide revenues, is in the order of $20 trillion according to Citibank and Oxford Economics. In contrast, the world of physical things that can drop on one’s foot, which Anderson calls the world of Real Stuff, is worth $130 trillion.

A revolution in the world of Real Stuff in not only important because of the value of similar increase (15% increase in the Real Stuff is worth 100% in the digital world,) but also for employment. The numbers employed in the digital world are significantly lower than in the digital world, relative to value. And, after all, we might spend time in the world of bits, but we live in the real world of places and things.

Today more people than ever can be Makers. We make food, plant gardens, take videos, and assemble photo albums. Millions of DIY-ers used to work alone, suddenly they can work together with ease.

Today you can also take an idea to the design level with ease thanks to the plethora of sophisticated design tools. In the past this would have needed to be done in an industrial design shop, today it is as easy to do on your desktop. To produce a prototype is also made so much easier since design tools have common communication abilities so you can send it to a fabricator over the internet and have it turned into something you can use, sell or demonstrate.

When printers were attached to computers we were able to self-publish if you didn’t mind the dot-matrix print quality. If you wanted a professional look, you would need to go to a professional printer. Today, you can produce photo quality from that R1 000 colour printer on your desk. In the early years of colour printers they were a major investment, now they are affordable and we have one at home.

3-D printers are too available so you can “print out” an object you have designed on your computer. This is not science fiction, it is available today. And tomorrow they will be as affordable as colour printers. The impact is that you can design and make the product you invent yourself. Two of the three primary challenges have been eliminated ... Now you control the design and production.

Producing a single item or 100 is really only a matter of menu setting, making it possible for you to start small with little investment and grow as demand does.

If the web has proven anything, it is the power to communicate with people you have never met in parts of the world you have never visited. Selling over the internet is nothing special, just another avenue to a market used by everyone from large corporations to a grandmother with jewellery she no longer uses and would like to sell.

Now you can start your business at home. Now many more cottage industries can flourish. The first industrial revolution saw this phenomenon explode too. In the new industrial revolution it will allow the engine of job creation, the small business, to get into its stride again.

Read this fascinating book. It is about the present, no less than the future.

Readability          Light --+-- Serious

Insights              High +----- Low

Practical             High ---+- Low

 - Fin24

* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy.


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