Sunday, February 19, 2012

Our Fluid Society

In 2008, I saw this short presentation by Paola Antonelli "Design and the elastic mind".
It was quite of a wake-up call...

When I watch it again about four years later, I can't help thinking that many of the things that she touches on in this video, that all appeared to be pure wishful thinking at the time, turn out to look very much like very deep and powerful intuition into what's happening right now (including the "facebook timeline" if you take 2 seconds to listen to what she says exactly 13 minutes into this video... LOL).

Elasticity is the seed of our fluid society.

The post WWII era has seen the advent of the "big box" culture.  The local started to globalize and leading economies whose GDPs are heavily correlated to sales at "big box" points of sale grew in large part through massive manufacturing companies embracing the cost efficiencies of the six sigma culture in the far East.

Mass production led to very controlled, and very low, fixed and variable costs per unit to the greater competitive advantage of the "big box" players across many consumer goods industries.

Nonetheless, massive production comes in chunks.  If you look at the balance sheet of most of the traditional manufacturers who supply the "big box" retailers, you will notice that there is a massive chunk of value tied to investment in working capital since by definition of globalizing the supply chain, you increase your cash cycle which in turns considerably lowers your overall business value.

Innovative companies in their own time, such as Dell, have explored more adaptive, leaner models through build-to-order supply chains combined with direct-to-consumer marketing and sales.  This was one of the first attempts at building more elasticity, removing the "chunks" towards a more value added business model.

The singular growth of information permeating our daily lives is pushing our minds to become more elastic, more nimble, more adaptive.  The moving digital landscapes and emotions that surround us continuously challenge us to morph in real-time.  Antonella is actually very clearly touching on this in her short video.

So what happens when the fluidity of these digital flows springs through more and more aspects of our lives as consumers and as designers of the future?

Can the fluidity of the intangible things in our lives translate into more fluidity in the tangible ones?

We may want to ask the question to a fast growing start-up called "Shapeways".
Take a second to check out their site at

They recently raised over $10 Million to continue to make a dent into our increasingly fluid society, they empower consumers to print tangible goods from the web...

Another inspirational video on the riveting subject of 3D printing comes to life with Lisa Harouni at her TED presentation in January of 2012:

Will the globalized local start to globally localize again?

Will companies manage to self-organize to develop new internal capabilities to rise to the innovation challenge of embracing our fluid society?