The 21st Century technological culture gap

I’ve recently become a Wired magazine junkie.

It’s been on the newsstand for almost two decades, and I’ve read the occasional Wired article online. But for whatever reason, I’d never actually peeked inside a hard copy until just a few months ago, when one of my teenagers came home with one.

It’s amazing what you learn just by imitating your kids.

Lo and behold, last week Wired‘s chief editor Chris Anderson came to town, lecturing to promote his latest book Makers.

The promotion worked. I bought the book, and am now devouring it. (On my Kindle, where I could buy it for half the price of the hard copy being flogged at the promotion. So the promotion was only 50% efficient. Ha, take that!)

I expected the lecture to be about 3D printing. And it was, but only in part.

Chris Anderson told the story of building a robot at home with his kids. They found that they needed several copies of a particular actuator motor, which wasn’t particularly cheap, and had a long delivery time from the only US supplier.

So he did just what you’d expect the editor of  Wired to do. Someone place a mountain in your way? Go around, under, over it.

Out with the laptop. Tap, tap, tap. Well, look-y here! There are a few manufacturers of similar motors in China. Of course. Online chat time. With real-time English-Chinese translation. Darn. They don’t make a motor like that.

Wait a minute, says the Chinese firm, What are your specs?

Tap, tap, tap. Here they are.

Silence for a few minutes.

Bing. Incoming message. No problem, we can make that. How many do you need?

Two weeks later, a crate arrives at Chateau Anderson, with 30 motors at a few $US each.

With just a few keyboard taps and mouse clicks, Chris Anderson had prototyped a new product and taken delivery of more than enough copies for his kids’ robot. Two weeks’ turnaround.

The age of mass customization, or more precisely, rapid prototyping and mass customized production, is here.

Contrast that with the average aerospace engineer’s experience of trying to implement even the smallest change (never mind a new idea) at any well-known aerospace company.

What a Grand Canyon of a culture gap.

What a waste of time, money (shareholders’ money) and human talent.

How to fix?

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