This year’s TED conference in Edinburgh, Scotland was rich and bold like an espresso of ideas. We live in a world that is more open and richer than before in ideas, possibilities, resources and solutions, but with openness comes a loss of control. The “Radical Openness” theme was designed to explore this open landscape that is increasingly fluid, and uncertain, where the way forward may not always be in a straight line. The topics at this year’s conference explored what openness and collaboration mean, how to design for openness and how ideas are created and spread in our ultra-connected world.
The open democratization of invention and innovation is being rapidly accelerated through the Internet and open-source. There are Maker Markets that are representing new sources of commerce and new sources of innovation.
Here are examples of two dimensions of Maker Markets:
An active source of innovative commerce is the informal economy called System D, which is comprised of street vendors, umbrella stands, and gray marketers around the world. System D represents 1.8 million jobs and is a $1.5 trillion economy, making it the world’s second largest economy after the U.S. This marketplace will be a tremendous force in global development, and the high-frequency shopping habits in System D is one that traditional marketers need to pay attention to as they expand their products and brands into less developed markets. UAC Foods is a good example of a company leveraging this market in Africa. They chose to sell their sausages on the streets instead of in stores to match distribution with consumption. If you are actively involved in innovation for developing markets, the book, Stealth of Nations by Robert Neuwirth is a good resource.
The second example illustrates how the innovation world is opening up in new ways for the tinkerer and inventor, now that they have access to open- source microcontrollers to create objects that interact with the environment. Arduino is a company tapping this new market by making affordable microcontrollers for computer-based interactivity that allows do-it-yourself innovators, like designers, artists and hobbyists, to innovate across a wide range of products. One enterprising person built a clock, like in the Harry Potter books, to show the whereabouts of different family members. The clock uses a wireless connection to retrieve the twitter feeds of four family members and by movement of the hands, it points to different status words around the clock’s face such as school, work, travel etc.
Where the bright light of openness shines, there is also a dark shadow, where people are using open technology for evil, as was the case in the Mumbai bombing. In several talks during the conference the light and dark sides of openness were presented and examined.
Sometimes openness creates new ways to solve existing problems. In the face of uncertainty and terrorism, the U.S. Military is leveraging open-source techniques as a meaningful strategy in global security. NATO’S Allied Commander; US Navy Admiral James Starvridis, presented a compelling case for open-source security and their 21st century goals to build bridges by connecting through social networks. Cyber crime is a $2 trillion dollar problem (just under the GDP of Great Britain) and Admiral Stavridis believes digital networks and collaboration between public and private sectors is the key to the future of security.
Conversely, the response to openness can activate more strident control to close systems as in the case of total internet censorship by the Chinese government. There are 500 million Chinese on the internet and yet all internet activity is censored through the server in Beijing (which is why Google pulled out of China). China has copied the internet tools of the West and they have ren ren instead of Facebook, Baidu instead of Google, Weibo instead of Twitter and Youku instead of YouTube. There are 300 million micro-bloggers in China (almost the size of the U.S. population), which is a powerful source of communication energy around this new public sphere in the country. In response, the Chinese government continues to monitor the walls it has built against openness as the police mine email data, and the crackdowns for assembly and internet violations remain very serious.
For consumers, the world is also opening up and we are finding collaborative consumption in markets on a scale never seen before. People-powered markets are building trust between strangers through new market sites like Etsy, Spinlister and Buzzcar. Robin Chase the founder of Zipcar, recently launched Buzzcar in Paris, which is a community product that enables people to rent out their own car to neighbors to generate revenue. It is a peer-to-peer car rental service where Buzzcar serves as the aggregator and covers the invoicing and car insurance. Strangers are also meeting on airbnb, which is a site where people can make money by renting a spare bedroom or a whole home to travelers. Their properties also include unusual residences like tree houses and boathouses for the adventurous traveler. Technology is creating a market for things that have never had a market before and trust is being built between strangers. If you are wondering how significant this behavior is, consider that over 5 million nights have been booked thus far on airbnb.
Finally, for marketers and innovators, this new openness will require open thinking on our part to lead businesses. Otherwise, the fast pace of change underway in radical openness will shift us to trauma instead of growth. Gareth Kay offered his thoughts on whether big problems really require big solutions. Have we gotten caught up in the tyranny of big? Perhaps we should consider how small actions can have a big effect and that small experiments will help us to learn under these present conditions of fast-paced change. We are going to have to cultivate uncertainty and be open to new markets and possibilities if we are to adapt our cultures and businesses and successfully meet the demands of our customers.
In closing, I want to share just two of the short films presented at TEDGlobal that made us all laugh and smile together during our short stay in Edinburgh.
image credit: technabob, insanityveris & tedglobal
Donna Sturgess is the President and Co-founder of Buyology Inc and former Global Head of Innovation for GlaxoSmithKline. Her latest book is Eyeballs Out: How To Step Into Another World, Discover New Ideas, and Make Your Business Thrive.