I read this book sometime last year and it was encouraging, refreshing and empowering to know that the next industrial revolution will be lead by the makers themselves, harnessing the power of sharing and global collaboration. As the Internet today connects more people than ever, the economy of tomorrow will be powered by things connected to the Internet and automation.
Do read this book, Makers - The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson and hope you too will get to reflect about the upcoming economy, just as I did :) Here are some thought provoking paragraphs that I picked up while reading…
##Onset of another industrial revolution
The rise of the DIY industry
This was the start of the DIY music industry. The tools of the major labels recording, manufacturing, and marketing music were now in the hands of individuals … They didn’t need to compromise their music to get published, and they didn’t need to sell in big numbers or get radio play … The relative obscurity conferred authenticity and contributed to the rise to the global underground that defines Web culture today.
For physical goods, the twentieth-century limits to choice were based on three distribution bottlenecks - you could only buy things that passed all of the three tests: (1) The products were popular enough for manufacturers to make (2) The products were popular enough for retailers to carry (3) The products were popular enough for you to find (via advertising or prominent placement in stores near you). As Amazon showed, the Web could help with the latter two, right out of the gate.
Birth of Internet
… started as a way for academic labs, especially big physics facilities with expensive equipment used by researchers from around the world, to connect to each other … just months after the first websites went live, I realized that I had been incredibly lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I was witnessing the birth of a new medium …
Third Industrial Revolution
There are those who argue that the Information Age is a Third Industrial Revolution. Computing and communications are also “force multipliers”, doing for services what automation did for manufacturing. Rather than amplifying human muscle power, they amplify brain power. They can also drive productivity gains in existing industries and create new ones. And by allowing us to do existing jobs faster, they free us up to do new ones.
Maker movement momentum
The alien language and techniques of physical creation are intoxicating for the geeks; they’re rushing to explore this strange new world. But that is just the first wave of what is quickly becoming a mainstream phenomenon. Soon these early tools will become as ubiquitous and as easy to use as ink-jet printers. And if history is any guide, it will change the world even faster than the microprocessor did a generation ago.
Ideas turn into bigger ideas
Projects, shared on-line, become inspiration for others and opportunities for collaboration. Individual Makers, globally connected this way, become a movement. Millions of DIYers, once working alone, suddenly start working together. Thus ideas, shared, turn into bigger ideas.
Making it public
And those projects can become the seeds of products, movements, even industries. The simple act of “making in public” can become the engine of innovation, even if that was not the intent. It is simply what ideas do: spread when shared.
Fast pace of sharing and learning
Rather than a solo obsession, he likely would have been part of a community of equally obsessed people from around the world. Rather than inventing everything from scratch, he would have built on the work of others, compressing decades of work into months. Rather than patenting, he might have published his designs on-line, like other members of his community.
High-tech, global, small
The great opportunity in the new Maker Movement is the ability to be both small and global. Both artisan and innovative. Both high-tech and low-cost. Starting small but getting big. And, most of all, creating the sort of products that the world wants but doesn’t know it yet, because those products don’t fit neatly into the mass economics of the old model.
Internet transforming culture
Only when the computers were combined with networks, and ultimately the network-of-all-networks, the Internet, did they really start to transform our culture.
Power of democratization
That’s the power of democratization: it puts tools in the hands of those who know best how to use them. We all have our own needs, our own expertise, our own ideas. If we are all empowered to use tools to meet those needs, or modify them with our own ideas, we will collectively find the full range of what a tool can do.
##Automation and computers
Computers amplify human potential: they not only give people the power to create but can also spread their ideas quickly, creating communities, markets, even movements. Now the same is happening with physical stuff. Despite our fascination with screens, we still live in the real world.
Arrival of Machines and the balance of power
The arrival of machines to turn agricultural commodities into goods that could be sold around the world promised the opportunity to shift from a nation that commanded global power by force to one that used trade instead. But its greatest impact was initially at home, where the immediate effect was to both reshape the landscape and hugely elevate the living standard of millions…
The move from hand labor to machine labor freed up people to do something else. Fewer people in society were needed to create the bare essentials of food, clothing, and shelter, so more people could start working on the non-essentials that increasingly define our culture: ideas, invention, learning, politics, the arts, and creativity. Thus the modern age.
Natural iteration of use of computers
Yet when the truly personal “desktop” computer did eventually arrive with the Apple II and then the IBM PC, countless uses quickly emerged, starting with the spreadsheet and word processor for business and quickly moving to entertainment with video games and communications. This was not because the wise minds of the big computer companies had finally figured out why people would want one, but because people found new uses all by themselves.
Making things has gone digital
We are surrounded by physical goods, most of them products of a manufacturing economy that over the past century has been transformed in all ways but one: unlike the Web, it hasn’t been opened to all. Because of the expertise, equipment, and costs of producing things on a large scale, manufacturing has been mostly the provenance of big companies and trained professionals. That’s about to change. Why? Because making things has gone digital : physical objects now begin as designs on screens, and those designs can be shared on-line as files.
Power of publishing online
Taking publishing out of factories liberated it. But the real impact of this was not in paper, but in the idea of “publishing” online. Once people were given the power of the press, they wanted to do more than print out newsletters. So, when the Web arrived, “publishing” became “posting” and they could reach the world.
Physical products - digital info
What’s different now? The simple answer is that DIY culture has suddenly met Web culture. And the intersection of the two lies in digital design: physical products that are created first onscreen … Physical products are increasingly just digital information put in physical form by robotic devices such as CNC mills and pick-and-place machines making printed circuit boards … hardware is mostly software these days, with products becoming little more than intellectual property embodied in commodity materials,
Global sharing and remixing
And the more products become information, the more they can be treated as information: collaboratively created by anyone, shared globally online, remixed and re-imagined, given away for free or, if you choose, held secret. In short, the reason atoms are the new bits is that they can increasingly be made to act like bits.
power of sharing…
When you share, community forms. And what community does best is remixing exploring variation in what a product can be, and in the process improving it and propagating it far faster than any individual or single company could.
Business model and cash-flow
Because we’re online, we’re global from the start and tend to grow more quickly than traditional manufacturing companies because of the network effects of online word of mouth. But because we’re making hardware, which costs money and takes time to make, we don’t show the hockey-stick exponential growth curve of the hottest Web companies. So, as a business, we’re a hybrid: the simple business model and cash-flow advantages of traditional manufacturing, with the marketing and reach advantages of a Web company.
Charging for a web company vs a hardware company
Profit is always a tricky question for Web companies, since they tend to put a priority on growing traffic, and charging money gets in the way of that. But for hardware, which has inherent costs and must be paid for, charging the right price is key to building a sustainable business.
Pricing and profitability
One of the first mistakes budding Makers make when they start to sell their product is not charging enough. It’s easy to see why, for all sorts of reasons. They want the product to be popular, and they know the lower the price, the more it will sell. Some may even feel that if the product was created with community volunteer help, it would be unseemly to charge more than it costs. Such thinking may be understandable, but it’s wrong. Making a reasonable profit is the only way to build a sustainable business.
In a sense, all these companies give away the bits and sell the atoms. All the design files, software, and other elements that can be described in digital form the bits are given away freely online, under a license that usually offers almost unrestricted use as long as it continues to be open and shared. But the physical products themselves the atoms are sold, because they have real costs that must be recouped.
##Elements of new economy
Open source vs patents
Today, inventors increasingly share their innovations publicly without any patent protection at all. That is what open source, Creative Commons, and all the other alternatives to traditional intellectual property protection are. Why do they do so? Because the creators believe they get back more in return than they give away: free help in developing their invention … Inventors also get feedback as well as help in promotion, marketing, and fixing bugs. And they accrue “social capital”, a combination of attention and reputation (goodwill) that can be used at a future date to advance the inventor’s interests … Odds are that it was invented faster, better, and more cheaply than it would have been if it had been created in secret.
Formation of an entity, company
The community exists for the project, not to support the company in which the project resides. Yet communities can’t make physical good by themselves. Somebody has to do the manufacturing, handle the inventory, get the liability insurance, and run the customer support, and that takes money, a legal structure, and real day-to-day responsibilities. Thus, a company.
Kickstarter solves three huge problems for entrepreneurs. First, it simply moves revenues forward in time, to right when they’re needed … Second, Kickstarter turns customers into a community. By backing a project, you’re doing more than pre-buying a product … Finally, Kickstarter provides perhaps the most important service a new company needs: market research. If your project doesn’t hit its funding target, it probably would have failed in the marketplace any- way … Crowd-funding is venture capital for the Maker Movement.
Making in public
The act of “making in public”, which is what Kickstarter project leaders do, turns product development into marketing. The creator posts an idea, then updates frequently on the progress to completion. Backers comment and the creator responds, evolving the product in response to feedback. In the course of this public exchange, money is raised, but, more important, a product develops a constituency. The backers are not only rooting for the product because they’ve put some money into it, but also because they feel a sense of co-ownership in its creation.
Makers and entrepreneurs
All Makers who aspire to become entrepreneurs have heroes. These are people we read about who started with little more than a passion and access to tools, and then just didn’t stop. They just kept making, building, and taking chances until they had a real business. You can still see the path from the basement workbench to the marketplace, and the consequences of having been built by hand.
21st century product development
On the product development side, the Maker Movement tilts the balance toward the cultures with the best innovation model, not the cheapest labor. Societies that have embraced “co-creation”, or community-based development, win. They are unbeatable for finding and harnessing the best talent and more motivated people in any domain.
Institute for the Future’s model for “lightweight innovation”
- Network your organizations, 2. Reward Solution Seekers, 3. Err on the side of openness, 4. Engage actively
4 desktop factories
(1) 3-D printer (2) CNC machine (3) Laser cutter (4) 3-D scanner
Creating with 3-D printers
It is the reverse of mass production, which favors repetition and standardization. Instead, 3-D printing favors individualization and customization. The big win of the digital manufacturing age is that we can have our choice between the two without having to fall back on expensive handcrafting: both mass and custom are now viable automated manufacturing methods … At that point, the incredible economies of scale that an HP or Epson can bring to bear will kick in. A 3-D printer will cost $99 and everyone will have one.
The ultimate dream of the Fab Age is just that the universal fabricator. Just like the Star Trek Replicator, it’s a machine that can make almost anything on command. This idea has fired the imagination of science fiction for decades. In his novel The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson imagines an entire society transformed by “matter compilers” that can make anything, rendering scarcity obsolete…
In a sense, even Lego blocks are “intelligent matter”. They carry with them their own rules of assembly and have pre-assigned functions, such as hinges and wheels. Sounds crazy? It’s not - it’s already all around you. That’s the way nature works. Crystals, after all, are made of atoms self-assembling into incredibly complex structures, from snowflakes to diamonds. Your own body is made up of proteins assembled under the instruction of your DNA/RNA from amino acids, which themselves are made up of self-assembled atoms. Biology is the original factory. “Intelligent materials” describes some of the basic building blocks of life.
21st century workshop - how to become a digital maker
(1) CAD programs (Google SketchUp) (2) 3-D Printing (3) 3-D scanning (4) laser cutter (5) CNC machine (6) Electronics
##Reflecting on the new economy
With the power of the Internet and the Maker Movement, there are already many communities that are ditching the traditional models of doing business in the favor of sharing their making process, connecting with their community and giving out the digital designs for further iterations online. Here are some that I found:
- Dangerous Prototypes
- Adafruit Industries
- Sparkfun electronics
- 3D Robotics
- RasberryPi foundation
- Maker Bot
What technologies or tools are you most excited to be working on? Other examples of companies or projects that are leading the Maker Movement?