The Picture of the Future in a Box - Update

Update: Ross Dawson writes about the importance of 3D printing in his post - How 3D printing will transform the retail industry: the opportunities.

This post is a continuation of the ideas presented in The End and The Beginning. In this one, I want to focus on three culture shifts that impact what leadership means in the 21st century.

A picture of the future in a box

Let me begin with this picture. 3dsystems-RapMan-Students-6

Here is a student using a three-dimensional printer. The blue object in the middle of the picture is being printed. This is a kit that individuals can buy for around $1,300.

All you need is a basic CAD program to begin to create prototypes of your ideas. 

I recently saw this model, RapMan 3.1, and the BFB-300 3D printer demonstrated at Hatchfest in Asheville. Rajeev Kulkarni, Vice President of Global Engineering for 3D Systems spoke on the uses of 3D printing.  His presentation described a extremely wide spectrum of application for this technology. The most impressive use of 3D printing is to create human organs from the cells of the recipient. See Antony Atala's TED2011 presentation to grasp the magnitude of this innovation in medicine.

This picture of innovative technology points to the social change that is occurring because of the advance of technology. Besides lowering the cost of prototyping and manufacturing new products, people can now take their ideas from conception to market in a shorter period of time.  Kulkarni spoke about what used to take months to produce that now can be done in a matter hours or days.

Three Shifts

As I listened to Rajeev Kulkarni's Hatch presentation, I realized that in these printers I saw three significant social shifts. When the cost of manufacturing and production time are reduced, and the technology becomes affordable for individual use, then we are moving through a transition period from one era to the next.   The shifts that I see taking place are:

1. From consumers to creators / producers

2. From mass market to mass customization

3. From a mass culture to a local culture

 Let me describe each.

1. From consumers to creators / producers

With the use of basic design software and the RapMan 3d printer, any individual can become a producer of products for sale. The materials that can be used in the printing process are extensive. So, no longer will people have to depend on the marketplace to provide the products that he or she needs. With some ingenuity and business sense, they can make a shift from being a consumer of products to being the creator and producer of them.

Of course, six billion people will not automatically shift from being consumers to creators / producers. And every producer needs consumers to buy her product. Yet, it does not take many people embracing this shift in culture to dramatically impact it. The picture above is of an school girl in England using the RapMan printer.

Imagine every school in your school district having a 3d printer to complete a learning process of idea creation to product completion. Imagine the change of mind that comes to the students in that school when they can create, and not just consume.  Imagine a generation of men and women who think of themselves as creators and producers, as leaders, rather than just consumers of other peoples' creative output. 

One of the first realizations I had about 21st century leadership was that it was about personal initiative, not about roles. Leadership begins with personal initiative. Tools like these 3D printers place into the hands of people the opportunity to initiate, to create, and to produce products and solutions that can make a difference. 

2. From mass market to mass customization

The nature of product development cycles used to be months, even years, necessary to bring a product to market. As a result, it required that product to have as wide an appeal and as long a shelf life as possible. With the advent of technologies, like 3D printers, this is changing. Now in a matter of a few hours, a specialize part can be designed and produced for a customer.

There are a couple implications for this shift.

First, it changes how a company relates to the marketplace. In a one-size fits all world, the marketplace is the lowest common denominator. In a mass customized world, the individual is the market. Marketing to individuals is different than to a mass culture. This is the insight that Chris Anderson wrote about in his book The Long Tail.

Second, it makes the relationship between manufacturer and consumer more important. I've learned this as a consultant. I cannot approach any project as if there is a formula that applies to every other organization in their industry. I have to build a relationship of interest, inquiry and adaptive response to meet not only their expectations, but their needs. I enter into their organizational setting with a set of tools, not unlike a 3D printer, though I don't have one, and use my tools to address the needs that they have.

In a mass customized world, relationships matter, and that is a key to managing the shifts that I'm identifying here.

3. From mass culture to local culture

Prior to the 20th century, life for most people from the beginning of time was experienced in small towns. I remember my grandfather telling me near the end of his long life that the most significant invention in his life time was the radio. When asked why, he said, "Because it showed us what life was like in other places."

The 20th century was a century lived on a global scale, with World Wars and multi-national corporations, and, with institutions that were designed for a mass culture. It was a perspective where one size fits all, and that all people are to be treated a like. Individuality was rebellious and conventionality was the norm.

Those days are slipping away as innovations, like 3D Systems printers, make it possible to create a business that serves customers globally from an office in a small town with an internet connection.  It is the twin developments of innovation for individual productivity and the failure of large organizations to function in a one-size fits all world.

As a result, the meaning of global and local is changing. It is less about a mass market culture of sameness, and more about a culture of relationship where I can serve you, regardless of where you or I live. We can be connected. We can communicate, collaborate and coordinate our projects from wherever we sit today.

It isn't just that we live in a time of the long tail, or that technological innovation provides a basis for mass customization or a better foundation for individual initiative. Each is true. At a deeper level, it means that any individual with a minimum investment can pursue their own sense of calling as a person, and do it in a social context of others who share their vision and commitment. This is an emerging reality that will seriously impact the nature of leadership and organizational design in the future.

One way of understanding this development is to see this as the ascendency of the local. I've written about it here, here and here.

The key to making a local orientation work is openness. For many people, local is just another word for provincial, or closed. However, if local is less physical place, and more a relational space, then we can begin to see that my local can include colleagues in Japan, Pakistan, England, Canada, and my neighbors nearby in Asheville.

In a local community, you share a concern for people, for families, for education systems, the business community and for those less fortunate. It is a concern for the whole person, not just for the transaction.

For example, I can share a concern that my friends in California have for the economic and social conditions of their small coastal town, and feel that as their community grows, that I contribute to their growth.

A local community orientation can function in any social or organizational structure. It is the heart of team work. It brings personal initiative, shared responsibility, and common goals and values together.

Leading Through These Shifts

The implications of these shifts for organizational leaders is fairly simple. It means that instead of being organizational process managers, we must become culture creators. The culture that forms from our leadership provides an open environment for individual initiative, relationship building, and shared responsibility.

The local in this sense is like the ancient Greek polis as described by Victor Davis Hanson in his fascinating book, The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization. He writes in the introduction,

The early Greek polis has often been called a nexus for exchange, consumption, or acquisition, but it is better to define it as an "agro-service center." Surplus food was brought in from the countryside to be consumed or traded in a forum that concurrently advanced the material, political, social, and cultural agenda of its agrarian members. The buildings and circult walls of a city-state were a testament to the accumulated bounty of generations, its democratic membership a formal acknowledgment of the unique triad of small landowner, infantry soldier, and voting citizen. The "other" Greeks, therefore, were not the dispossessed but the possessors of power and influence. Nor is their story a popular account of slaves, the poor, foreigners, and the numerous other "outsiders" of the ancient Greek city-state. The real Greeks are the farmers and infantrymen, the men and women outside the city, who were the insiders of Greek life and culture.

The rise of independent farmers who owned and worked without encumbrance their small plots at the end of the Greek Dark Ages was an entirely new phenomenon in history. This rougly homogeneous agrarian class was previously unseen in Greece, or anywhere else in Europe and the surrounding Mediterranean area. Their efforts to create a great community of agrarian equals resulted, I believe, in the system of independent but interconnected Greek city-states (poleis) which characterized Western cutlure.

The shifts indentified in this post, to me, point to a similar opportunity that the early Greek farmers had. Through their collaborative relationship of shared responsibility, together they created the Greek polis that remains as the model for what cities and communities are in the West.

The ascendency of the local will come as a result of these shifts. And with it a new conception of leadership as more personal, more collaborative, more focused on impact, will emerge to provide it descriptive power that inspires innovation.


See Becky Update below

Today marks a milestone in a story of a woman whom many of us have come to know TEDGlobal2009and love. Mid-morning in an auditorium in Oxford, England, Becky Blanton will cross the stage and address the TEDGlobal conference about how she has gone from being homeless journalist living in van three years ago to being an invited speaker at TED.

The door opened for Becky to speak because she won the Johnny Bunko contest last winter. It was through the Bunko contest that I came to meet Becky. I was one of the three finalists in the contest. Becky, as an expression of the magnanimous person that is, secured an invitation for me to join an online social network of leaders started by Seth Godin, called Triiibes. That is a story in itself which you can read about here, here, here and here. Becky with Tribes book

Becky's story is more than Johnny Bunko and more than being homeless and living in a van. Here's how she described it to some of us a couple weeks ago.

The important thing is not the whole homeless story - but the fact that our reality is based on our perceptions. Any of us can change our situations, find our hope, change our circumstances. Few of us will do so in such a dramatic fashion, but I was hard-headed and kept "trying to make things work," and failed. My commitment to my pets is what kept me in the van. I refused to give them up and accepted a choice (keeping my animals) of living in a van rather than giving them up and moving into an apartment. All choices have consequences - and gifts. This choice had both. (emphasis mine.)

I'm very happy for Becky. She deserves this moment in the public eye as much if not more than anyone I've ever known. I'm grateful for her friendship, and wish her all the best as she speaks today. An early recording of her six minute talk had me in tears.

After writing the above, Becky sent a report to her tribe of supporters. Here's some of what she has experienced, along with some pictures. It captures part of the person that Becky is.

From Becky at TEDGlobal2009/Oxford:

This is the view from my room at TED! I know. I couldn't believe it either - but it's what Oxford - Becky 1 I visualized for the last six months so I guess the law of attraction works! ...

Okay. Bear with me....this is the TED experience beginning with arrival....

Spent the day sightseeing on a tour bus and talking to the driver, Alan. He's invited me back to stay with his family if I come back. I handed out cards to everyone on the bus who was curious about TED. My cards say, "It is not our abilities that define us. It is our choices." Alan drops me off at the door to Keble College, not on his regular round of stops, but he's a NUMBER ONE customer service oriented guy!!

Nick is a physicist studying at Keble College. He wants to be a journalist. We talk journalism and vandwelling as he carries my bags to my room overlooking the quad and the building that is the TED Global centerpiece.

Shelia Bailey owns Daisies Flower Shop in Oxford. She's responsible for the flowers for the TED party tonight. She loves Oxford and pointed out the best seating and the place where there's most likely to be a breeze. She gives me her card as well and shows me the inside of her flower van....since I love all things vans...having lived in one.

Miles is the IT guy who ""fixed my mac" but it broke again. I figured out how to reset it this time. He camps and we talked camping and vandwelling. Now I know where to go to park on 3,000 year old trails in England!

I arrived early and saw the guys with the hawk demonstration and asked to take photos...and to let the hawk land on my hand!!! THEY SAID YES AND I GOT TO PLAY WITH THE HAWK!!!!!! My TED experience is complete. I also talked to the Tom's shoes folks - they said "HI Seth." They said you told them you really liked what they were about and the shoes when they saw you in California.

Albara Alohali is here from Saudia Arabi. He has a new Canon camera. We talked about settings and then got shoes. He didn't want to play with the hawk.....He's the guy setting up Saudi Arabia TED. Lots to do after line! Pays to be early!

Then it's off to the TED stage! Got pictures of "Griff" sleeping. He started work at 4 Oxford - Becky 2 a.m. this morning and is "beat." There have been 24 presentations - practice, since they set up. Several other folks hand me off to various people until I arrive at the AV (audio Visual) room where I am told I am DEEPLY loved. I have no audio visual stuff so they get a 30 minute break. They need it. There is no air-conditioning here and it is HOT HOT HOT!!! My room is gorgeous....just the oldest wing of the school.

And lastly the story of the hawk...

Right off the bat stuff has been cool! I got to play with a hawk!! Hawks, the handler Oxford - Becky 3 said, are "Tribal animals." When they get used to human beings and learn to trust them, the human becomes part of their Tribe. More on that in a separate blog post, but here's a cool photo! Yes! I got to wear the glove and "catch" the hawk about a dozen times!!! FUN FUN FUN!!!

And in a follow up email she wrote...

I told Bruno at dinner that my TED experience was already complete - I got to play with the hawk! He said, "Yeah, talking tomorrow pales in comparison I'm sure!" Glad he has a sense of humor! I don't have room for ALL the stuff I did, but basically the locals here are really friendly and told me where to go to drink beer in the bar where Bill Clinton smoked pot, where to get the best photos of the boats on the river, where the best fish & chips are - (they were right)...all the fun stuff they don't cover in the tour books. And the bus drivers know my name! Talk about great customer service - these bus tour guys are awesome!

Becky Update

My TED talk is done. Parts went great, parts I forgot. I hope they can piece it together. As much as I practiced and memorized - it all flew out of my head halfway through. Thank God for notes. Actually, now that it's over, I think I've forgotten the whole morning. Not unusual. What shocked me so much about the experience was the kindness of strangers. So many smiling faces - so many people wanting me to do well. I hope I did. It was the hardest thing I've ever done - even harder than living in the van for a year. Too much to blog about, but it was intense. (emphasis mine.)

Dan Pink rearranged his schedule to be there in the front row cheering me on. He is amazing. Simply amazing. I walked over and shook his hand at the end of my was too emotional....I don't have the words to describe it. But something inside me changed. For the good! Lunch is in an hour. Amazing people. Amazing speakers. I can't believe I can't form complete sentences or function, but it is that powerful, and those are just the TED University folks.

I think I just want to go somewhere and cry. It's intense. So intense to be here. If you get a chance to go to TED - do it. You'll never regret it. And this is just the first day. wow.

Later that day ... Oxford - Becky 4

I must have done better than I thought. People came up to me all day and night, crying and hugging me. I spent almost an hour in the bathroom because as I was washing my hands women kept coming in the door and stopping to tell me their story and their feelings after hearing my talk. I'm stunned at how intensely people WANT to connect with other's experiences. A female doctor took a year sabatical to live on a boat and told me she got the same response. People saw her differently and treated her with hostility. When she moved off of the boat after a year, people went back to treating her like a doctor. It made her so angry. (emphasis mine.)

A woman who had been kidnapped and tortured, held hostage and raped for months - also identified with it. Non-Americans were more moved than Americans and identified more deeply. I've never been hugged and cried so much in my life. Everyone wanted a longer speech and more details. It was a great way to get stories. I asked what they liked best about the talk and wow! The floodgates opened! It was like getting my own personal TED experience hearing people's stories....just incredible!! What I saw as "forgetting my place," the audience saw as emotional, it worked I guess. Humbling. Totally humbling experience.

I remember about three faces on the front row. People tell me that there was a standing ovation, people crying etc. but I didn't hear a thing. I remember walking over and leaning off of the stage to shake Dan Pink's hand (he was in the front row) and then the moderator/host saying, "And that's what we call a "TED" moment." Apparently there were a lot of tears, but I remember a hug from the host and Dan.