Atoms are the New Bits — The Next New, New Insight from Chris Anderson
Bob Morris told me about this a few days ago. (I don’t know how I had missed it. Thanks, Bob).
Chris Anderson is at it again, explaining the way the world is changing. Anderson introduced us to The Long Tail, and then argued for the arrival of Free. (I’ve presented both of these books at the First Friday Book Synopsis). Now he says that the industrial revolution is upon us in a whole new form. The article is: In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits and it basically says that big is going to lose to small, and small is definitely the future.
Here quite a few excerpts, with a couple of my observations at the end. (the full article is definitely worth reading).
Here’s the history of two decades in one sentence: If the past 10 years have been about discovering post-institutional social models on the Web, then the next 10 years will be about applying them to the real world.
This story is about the next 10 years.
Transformative change happens when industries democratize, when they’re ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks. The Internet democratized publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of both participation and participants in everything digital — the long tail of bits.
Now the same is happening to manufacturing — the long tail of things.
The tools of factory production, from electronics assembly to 3-D printing, are now available to individuals, in batches as small as a single unit. Anybody with an idea and a little expertise can set assembly lines in China into motion with nothing more than some keystrokes on their laptop.
Today, micro-factories make everything from cars to bike components to bespoke furniture in any design you can imagine. The collective potential of a million garage tinkerers is about to be unleashed on the global markets, as ideas go straight into production, no financing or tooling required. “Three guys with laptops” used to describe a Web startup. Now it describes a hardware company, too.
“Hardware is becoming much more like software,” as MIT professor Eric von Hippel puts it. That’s not just because there’s so much software in hardware these days, with products becoming little more than intellectual property wrapped in commodity materials…
We’ve seen this picture before: It’s what happens just before monolithic industries fragment in the face of countless small entrants, from the music industry to newspapers. Lower the barriers to entry and the crowd pours in.
The result has allowed online innovation to extend to the real world. As Cory Doctorow puts it in his new book, Makers, “The days of companies with names like ‘General Electric’ and ‘General Mills’ and ‘General Motors’ are over. The money on the table is like krill: a billion little entrepreneurial opportunities that can be discovered and exploited by smart, creative people.”
Peer production, open source, crowdsourcing, user-generated content — all these digital trends have begun to play out in the world of atoms, too. The Web was just the proof of concept. Now the revolution hits the real world.
In short, atoms are the new bits. (emphasis added).
This means that one-person enterprises can get things made in a factory the way only big companies could before.
Everybody’s garage is a potential high tech factory. Marx would be pleased.
Bill Joy, one of the cofounders of Sun Microsystems, revealed the flaw in Coase’s model. “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else,” he rightly observed… With the Internet, you didn’t have to settle for the next cubicle. You could tap the best person out there, even if they were in Dakar.
Not all US manufacturing is shrinking, however — just the large part.
It’s the ultimate virtual manufacturing company: Aliph makes bits and its partners make atoms, and together they can take on Sony.
Welcome to the next Industrial Revolution.
In the article, Anderson tells the story of the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper (an idea that Ford stole – he ultimately was awarded nearly $30 million). Today, he could have turned the idea into product on his “own,” much more quickly.
As I pondered this article, these were some lessons that I saw about the new future that has arrived/is arriving
1) Collaboration has always been about collaborating with the best/smartest/cutting edge people. Now, the tools of the era allow us to collaborate with those people regardless of where they work or live. It will be collaborate with the best, or die.
2) The future will be owned by individuals – “you (whoever you are) will own you.” Your ideas, your innovations, your concepts, will increasingly be owned by the individual who came up with them. And that individual will find the workers to turn the ideas into products on his or her own. The idea person will not have to build a factory.
3) The changes will keep coming. This new chapter in the industrial revolution is only that – the new chapter, the latest chapter. There will be others to follow.
What are they? We don’t know.
Great advice from the master, Roger Ebert – forget career, just keep getting better
When a young Will Leitch wrote Roger Ebert for advice and counsel, Ebert wrote back:
He emphasized that such ephemera like “career” and “success” were mostly beside the point. “Just write, get better, keep writing, keep getting better. It’s the only thing you can control.”
Just keep getting better. That’s the challenge, in any and every endeavor, and the greatest advice of all.
Does your company/organization communicate clearly? (lessons to learn from successes and failures in signage)
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
Cool Hand Luke, 1967
There are a lot of lessons in this article from Slate.com: The Secret Language of Signs: They’re the most useful thing you pay no attention to. Start paying attention by Julia Turner. Here’s one:
Consider Leslie Gallery Dilworth, a Philadelphia architect who took a road trip with her husband through Spain in the 1980s. Throughout the journey, they’d marveled at the simplicity of the European road signs, which were easy to use even though neither of them spoke Spanish. Upon their return to Philly, they got lost on the way from the airport to their house, when a bad set of signs directed them to a local dump. Dilworth was so struck by her own city’s inhospitality that she spent much of the next decade working with the city and local stakeholders revamping Philadelphia’s sign systems. Today, she’s the CEO of the Society for Environmental Graphic Design, the premier American professional group for sign designers.
This article contains stories about bad signs. The most tragic was the bus crash three years ago with the Bluffton University baseball bus from Bluffton, Ohio, which crashed in Atlanta, killing seven people. The accident was caused significantly by bad signage.
But it is also an article about how valuable helpful signage can be.
But, even more so, it is actually a reminder of this lesson: communication really is key to success. And a failure to communicate leads to… failure!
The clear and simple lessons are these:
#1 – Businesses, organizations, companies, governments need to be crystal clear in their communications with their citizens/customers. Ambiguity, a lack of clarity, can confuse people, harm people, and in the worst cases, even kill people.
#2 – People need to pay attention to all attempts at communication. If it is clear, follow the directions. If it is unclear, scream, and cajole, and work and think like an activist, in order to compel clearer communication.
If you ever write an article, send a memo or e-mail, design a web page, and the people reading can’t figure it out (or, it’s a hassle to figure it out – remember, people hate hassles!), then it is your fault.
I remember my experience of reading the book Waiting for Your Cat to Bark? Persuading Customers When They Ignore Marketing by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg, and thought that one point they made was this: every time a customer has to figure out “what do I have to do next?” on their own, when a company fails to give clear direction, is a bad communication moment for a company.
Clear communication. Easy to figure out. No confusion. That is the goal.