3D Printed shoe

This is a 3D-printed shoe I recently found search Flickr for images on 3D printing. It is obvious that the quality of 3D printing is rapidly getting better and according to the discussions on the Internet most people seems fascinated of and apparently caught in the race towards higher and higher quality. The problem with this race is that it might draw us down into the technical details of 3D printing rather than into the important implications 3D printing might have in the future.

There are (at least) four aspects that is much more important that product quality to note when thinking about where 3D printing might take us in the future. 3D printing might:

  1. Potentially fill the basic but enormous global needs of relatively simple objects - From a global perspective the greatest need for things is not the need for advanced and complicated things like Stradivarius violins or electron microscopes but more small and mundane things like cogs, wrenches or gaskets that is needed for maintaining or developing the irrigation equipment that is needed for producing food. What 3d printers is on it's way of doing is potentially give the people of the planet the access to the spare parts and daily practical tools that is needed to help themselves and fight poverty.
  2. Redefine the distribution and personalization of products - Since the industrial revolution a product is typically mass produced in a factory and distributed over long distances through a complex web of transportation modes and storages. If 3D printing becomes more widespread production can instead be performed by a local and basically unmanned printer, which also with no extra effort can produce a personalized version in a way which is very complicated to do in a traditional mass production facilities. If this happens large parts of the distribution and production structures will then be bypassed for a long row of small products. A direct consequence for trade regulations is that they will most likely to be obsolete since the current ways of limiting import of products is by border controls wheree customs personal looks for physical objects.
  3. Blur the border between ideas and physical things - Since we have been living in a world of physical things, our thinking, habits and rules are constituted by physical objects. E g society have decided that certain objects are illegal or heavily regulated since they are potentially dangerous if spreading in an uncontrolled way. Guns and certain drug manufacturing equipment are examples of such regulated physical objects. What if everybody everywhere can download or draw and then print out those objects on their personal 3d printer? Should ideas and sketches of illegal physical objects also be illegal? When the border between the physical object and the idea of the physical object blurs, we will have unprecedented and conceptually really difficult challenges.
  4. Break down the current model of factories and value chains - What is becoming possible with 3D printing in the longer perspective is the transformation of one object into another without the need of a factory. That means that if you have an empty plastic bottle you could use a 3D printer to transform it into things like a required spare part, a wrench or a shoe. Or if you have a pair of childrens shoes which becomes too small, why not scan them in a 3D scanner, reuse the material of the old shoes (and maybe add some material from the empty plastic bottle) and print out a pair of identical shoes in a larger size. All without the need of a factory, distribution chain and a shoe store.
Every one of these changes has the potential of radically transform the industrial society into something very different. I think it is worth thinking about the consequences and track the development in this area closely. Especially since most of the 3D printing development currently seems to happen outside all the large corporations.

Through Slashdot I found this small opinion piece in LA Times which discussed the strange aspects of claiming that intellectual property have this enormous value when it comes to suing for infringement, but have no value when it comes to tax issues.

As intellectual property and copyrights become an even more significant part of our economy, and as copyright holders (not necessarily the creators) make claims of "stealing" as though it is real property, it should be taxed. Relative to copyrights' significance in our economy, the amount of revenue from this source should be in the hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

[From Copyright this - Los Angeles Times]

I don't think this is the best solution in a world where technology changes some of the fundamental aspects of ownership of ideas and information, but it is definitely worth thinking about for cooling down this counter productive war against file sharing of music and film.

4

It is enough... It is time I to stop thinking deeper on how and what to write on this blog and start writing something. It is just a blog for Gods sake! OK, let's go...

I will start softly by commenting on Jamais Cascio's post: An Insufficient Present where he argues that

the future belongs to those who find the present insufficient

in opposition to what Clay Shirky argued in the post: the future belongs to those who take the present for granted. Shirky seems to be argue along the lines of

...while some people still argue about whether Wikipedia is a good thing, folks at Metaweb are already building a next-generation collaborative knowledge base

and

[...] people who can accept the (technological) conditions of the present are better-able to see what's next than people who are still wrestling with whether those conditions of the present make sense

He also make a reference to Forrester Research results published in New York Times and Business Week, and asks the relevant critical question about how much of the answer that really delves in the measurement on how different generations answers question on how they relate to different media.

Cascio's argument is that it isn't enough to take the present for granted to be a catalyst for change.

Dissatisfaction with the present, not simply acceptance of it, drives change.

From my perspective I think both are right but you have to be a bit more nuanced to understand how. I would say that Shirky's argument is enough if you also argue that it is the use and diffusion of new technology and new ideas, which is the key component in change.

If you on the other hand gravitate towards that the key component in change is the innovation of a new technology or a new concept, then I would give Cascio right.

The problem as I see it is that it is really a complex relation between innovations and the process by which the innovation is diffused. So why not make a paraphrase from both statements:

Dissatisfaction with the present, not simply acceptance of it, drives the urge to innovate, the first necessary key to change. People who can accept the (technological) conditions of the present are better-able to see what's next and are more willing to adopt and use the new technology which is the second necessary key to change.

Or maybe I missed the point completely, but I at least wrote a post again!! I'm baaaack!

The other day I wrote a post about one possible obstacle to be innovative. Today I will follow up with a post discussing the difficulty of turning technical innovations into business.

Since the mid 90:s I have met many people trying to build businesses based on their technical innovations. In most cases they have been funded by venture capital and with a few notable exceptions, everyone have failed. One obvious reason for the high failure rate is probably that they are mainly engineers or scientists with no talent or gut feeling for entrepreneurship. Another reason is probably that venture capitalists are really crappy at judging the difficulty.

When I try to explain the difficulty of understanding the nature of a innovation driven venture I usually draw this diagram.

Entrepreneurial Challenges

The diagram should actually be drawn in three dimensions, but I have chosen to glue together market and business logic into one dimension. It is much easier to draw it that way, and I believe the point come across anyway.

The reason that I draw this was that after i while I realized that most of the ventures that I saw fail was in the upper right corner. It was like the concept, product or service was created in a cloud free sky with no strings attached. When slowly the involved people understood that the problem wasn't an engineering problem, it was usually too late. Most of these failed ventures blamed outside factors like the maturity of the market, but is that really a reason? Wasn't the reason for failure the initial (lack of) judgement of how difficult and time consuming the task really was?

It is not that it is impossible to start a business on something in the upper right corner, but it is probably exponentially more difficult, require much more creative business talent, and will require exponentially more time and money.

Is this a reason for why engineers are not as good entrepreneurs as economists or laymen? Engineers build their vision around a product or service and more often than not turn up in the top right corner, while an economist or a traditional entrepreneur build it around the business idea and consequently stays in the other quadrants.

Inside-Outside-1
Through the blog Tomorrow's Trends i came across Scott Berkun's blog and the interesting post Why research labs fail at innovation. It turns out that Scott have released a book on the subject "The Myths of Innovation" which I haven't read.
In the post he structures his findings this way:

  • [Generating ideas is] certainly hard work but it’s the easier part - it’s getting new ideas into products and out to customers that’s crazy hard
  • R&D groups and product teams have conflicts & resentment on philosophical, goal and ego grounds and until those issues are confronted little else matters: great ideas will go nowhere
  • The problem is that R&D ego would see this role as a concession to product team “superiority”, which is why to my knowledge its never been done
  • [The ...] VP-centric model encourage researchers to treat line level product managers and programmers as dead men walking, instead of as collaborators, prototype testers, or (gasp) peers in developing new ideas
  • Innovation is a social process that smart motivated people want to participate in - if you propagate the belief that only special people in special roles can do it, something is broken
  • In the end every failed R&D effort has a Product VP who was unwilling to take the risk, either for good reasons (the ideas were not worthy) or bad (they didn’t believe or didn’t have the the courage)

Interesting list but I have noticed something along a different line: the nature and level of knowledge around X apparently hinders a person or a group from being innovative around X.

One theory is that the more you know about an issue the more your concepts and associations are locked into place and the less innovative you are. Frans Johansson's book The Medici Effect suggests to an explanation to this by studying the cross sections where two or more knowledge areas meet i e where the participants have to question their carefully developed knowledge structures and rebuild them as a result of integrating two knowledge areas. Some people are better disposed to dismount and rebuild knowledge structures and probably therefore more inclined to innovate along the way.

I have noticed another issue concerning the nature of the knowledge. To me there seems to be a difference between having the "knowledge gravity" concerned with the "inner workings" and how and why something is used. The more knowledge people have about the internals of i e know how things really works, the less innovative they seems to be about new areas of application, commercial values, or customer values.

I think this has to do with the ontological border between the internal mechanisms and the surface as an interface to a complex outside world. When working with the internal mechanisms we are more likely than not to have a mental model embodying a converging mindset where the solution can be one and directly testable against another function or specification. On the other hand when we are working with overall design and are looking for new application areas or trying to understand how potential customers behave there are never single testable solutions. The answers are of a fundamentally different kind and you are forced to have a diverging mindset.

A converging mindset is characterized by looking into your existing toolbox of solutions, judging, sorting, testing and discarding in order to find a working solution to a problem.

A diverging mindset on the other hand is characterized by a very primitive and generic toolbox, an open mind and an urge to look into an issue to see if things works at all. There doesn't necessary have to exist a defined problem and a person with a diverging mindset is more likely to design new and different things.

I first came across the concept of converging and diverging problems in a short article of Charles Handy some time ago. Converging problems could be exemplified by "How long time does it take to drive to Bath?". The idea is that there is one well defined and verifiable answer to the question. Diverging problems, on the other hand, could be exemplified with "Why do anyone want to go to Bath?". This second question is of a fundamentally different kind and is more close to many of the questions concerning management, design and innovation. The problem, according to Handy, is that the educational system is built around strategies for solving converging problems.

A couple of years ago a two friends at Karlstad University wrote a paper about an experiment where a group of users was invited to participate in an innovation process for end user services for mobile phones. During two weeks a large number people divided in test groups were provided with new mobile phones and notebooks to write down ideas about possible new services for that phone that pop up in their daily life. An interesting result was that the test group without technical knowledge outscored the group with technical knowledge both from a qualitative and a quantitative perspective. An even more interesting result came from another group consisting of non-technical people, who half-way through the experiment received some education about technical possibilities. After they received their mid-experiment lecture, i e learned more about the inner workings, their innovation score dropped.

Is it possible that they were dragged over from an external and diverging mindset to an internal and converging mindset and thus became less innovative and more judging?

The article is not available on the Internet but here is the reference:
Managing User Involvement in Service Innovation: Experiments with Innovating End Users
Peter R. Magnusson, Jonas Matthing and Per Kristensson
DOI: 10.1177/1094670503257028 2003; 6; Journal of Service Research