GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: "When a Revolution Isn't" by Cecily Sommers author of, "Think Like a Futurist: Know What Changes, What Doesn't, and What's Next ."
Here's a fun game to play at the office: for one week, keep count how many times the words "Disruptive," "Revolutionary," "Game-changing," and "Break-through" are used in meetings, blogs, sales pitches, emails and articles.
Add "Innovative" to that list, and your hype-o-meter is sure to tilt into the "Radioactive" zone.
As all the declarations of new paradigms and new economies indicate, much change is, indeed, afoot.
The proliferation of platforms for sharing, inventing, building, and disseminating new ideas—a mix of mobile technologies, social sharing sites, and cloud-based collaboration—are fundamental to an economy (and culture) that feeds on the continuous churn of new, novel, and next ideas coming to the fore. It seems that all the superlatives this hyperactivity attracts are tossed about in an effort to match the popcorn-like energy that keeps pushing more ideas into the mix.
To distinguish what's really disruptive, and what's not, you first have to don a pair of noise-canceling headphones and block out the hype. Then, you need to understand what disruptive innovation means. True disruption reorganizes economic activity, usually through a technology that shifts productivity by many orders of magnitude, such as the shift from the agricultural age to the industrial age represents. Even so, revolutions never come all at once. Rather, they attract attention through dramatic events—tipping points—that result from a slow and steady accumulation of evolutionary improvements made to existing technologies.
The last tipping point we experienced was with the advent of desktop publishing in the 1980s, (commercialized by Apple and Adobe ) and, in the following decade, the introduction of a consumer-friendly interface for the internet, called the WorldWideWeb (hats off to Tim Berners Lee). Combined, desktop publishing and the internet were truly revolutionary. They created an entirely new structure for the production and consumption of goods and services, disrupting old business models and introducing new ones (eBay, Amazon, and Kickstarter, for example). The devices, software, and services (oh, so many consultants!) that grew around the PC-internet phenomenon, and that continue to evolve—all the offerings that are called "disruptive" and "game-changers"—are simply part of that economic ecosystem.
Now, a second wave of disruption, with impact equal to that of the PC-internet wave, is about to hit.
Disruption, thy name is Desktop Fabrication.
What is Desktop Fabrication (DF)?
Desktop Fabrication is the production of 3D objects with a machine that is similar to an ink-jet printer. For this reason, DK is also known as 3D Printing, the technology that makes DF possible.
Inkjet printers and 3D printers are both additive processes. In the case of ink, it's a layering of ink drops that produces an image or text on paper, as directed by the software you have on your computer. In 3D printing, the jets don't drop ink, but plastic, metal, or ceramic powders. The application of successive layers of this material ultimately many layers of this material results in an object. Simple articles like jewelry, toys, mugs, and iPhone cases can all be made with this process.
What's so disruptive about DF?
3D printing has been used in manufacturing for some time to make prototypes of a toy or mug, say, before it is mass produced. The shift that's now underway is that people have been creating similar printers in research labs and basements, often hacking their old Hewlett-Packard inkjet and converting it into a 3D printer. The advances made in labs and garages and basements are ushering is completely redefining mass production. Mass now refers to manufacturing conducted by masses of people, not volume of objects produced in a factory; while production is done on an individual basis, and based on the unique needs and designs of each person—in the home.
Desktop Fabrication describes a new reality in which 3D printing technology will be as commonplace as personal computers and printers are today. With user-friendly software that is already widely available—Computer Aided Design (CAD)—3-dimentional objects can be designed and printed right in your own home.
Graduate students at MIT first started playing with this idea in the late 1980s. That dream has been tinkered with steadily over the last two decades until we've reached a tipping point: today, 3D printers for the home are available. MakerBot, one of several companies that is at the forefront of this "revolution" sells its entry-level DK for $2,199, out just in time for the holidays (and to produce everyone else's gifts). Just like any new technology, that price will drop significantly in the next five years as more and more Americans begin to bring manufacturing back home, literally.