A way of doing things in the future

Back in 2004, I had to dig into the massive production of the Institute for the future (IFTF) to prepare some work intended to raise the global awareness of public leaders in french’s Aquitaine region. Then I met Anthony Townsend, a research director that had joinded the IFTF a few months earlier, during the first edition of the Cinum seminar. For many, IFTF represents the « US vision » of the future and therefore the voice of Anthony’s presentation didn’t make it easily into the Cinum « french » way of seeing things. Some prepare for the future while others prefer to dream about it while drinking red wine…

Anyway, the IFTF released recently a very straightforward but visually interesting mind « map » that tries to show how production and innovation are going to evolve. May I suggest you to have a look at it ?

This is what IFTF says about it :

Two future forces, one mostly social, one mostly technological, are intersecting to transform how goods, services, and experiences—the “stuff” of our world—will be designed, manufactured, and distributed over the next decade. An emerging do-it-yourself culture of “makers” is boldly voiding warranties to tweak, hack, and customize the products they buy. And what they can’t purchase, they build from scratch. Meanwhile, flexible manufacturing technologies on the horizon will change fabrication from massive and centralized to lightweight and ad hoc. These trends sit atop a platform of grassroots economics—new market structures developing online that embody a shift from stores and sales to communities and connections.

Of course, this is a future for cowboys that need something only if they are able to craft it with their bare two hands. I have no problem with that as I was raised by an avid reader of the french edition of Popular Mechanics. But there lies a big problem for all the public sector that finds it’s relevance by « helping » innovation : if innovation spreads among communities, it helps itself AND manages everything form it’s supplies to it’s customers without a strong need for regulations. To go further, the more regulations, certifications and public involvment, the less innovative production.

During the last five years, I watched how small companies manage to tweak complex products such as car electronic networks, toys, foods or even public funding programs. They reach a profitable state by emerging with a size-adaptatie approach that allow them to scale-up and dows as their market goes. Just like hacker groups, they manage to improve on their existing productions by spending a lot of efforts on their credibility. What is very intersting here is that it is much more a case of raw integrity than it is of communication skills. They don’t have to be the « good guys » to perform : thet have to be the RIGHT guys. Integrity is usually considered as a virtue who’s price over revenue ratio cannot be profitable. It’s a mistake engineered by people that usually don’t measure things on a large time scale. Otherwise, they would see that the usual R&D budget is not a matter of experimentation but loose after-work talks in hotel bars.

The stock exchange want to see « industies » where there are almost just handymen and kit bashers. Innovation is fun-driven and that is a good news except for sad people.

Take this article from Wired: it shows how community practices – here P2P file sharing networks – can’t fit into regulatory schemes. Some may say that file sharing is mostly about piracy and therefore can not actually fit into public policies and methods.  It’s a false assumption because the problem here is not the value or ownership of what is moving in and out but the global use of a shared infrastructure. Hacking or tech tweaking is almost impossible to track and size out because it usually infringes on the edge of a common practice. How can I tell how many game consoles are « chipped » out there if even all the companies involved in this small business can’t tell how many of their products have been successfully installed ? Practices without metrics can harm established structures as well as they can tune them up.

Are metrics dead then ? Well, they are dying at a rate similar to broad social trends. Because a niche has no reason to care about it’s long-term performance, we are entering a period of tech policy deconnection. Will it affect the  public support of for R&D and broad range projects ? It may. Will it be a loss for our societies ? Not that sure.

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