TIME about "what's next"

The last issue of TIME is about the recurrent question "what's next". It's about the fact that innovation, which used to come from small groups of experts, now seem to be more bottom-up.

These people might have been engineers, or sitcom writers, or chefs. They were probably very nice and might have even been very, very smart. But however smart they were, they're almost certainly no match for a less élite but much, much larger group: All the People Outside the Room.

Historically, that latter group hasn't had much to do with innovation. These people buy and consume whatever gets invented inside the room, but that's it. The arrow points just the one way. Until now it's been kind of awkward getting them involved in the innovation process at all, because they're not getting paid; plus it's a pain to set up the conference call. But that's changing. The authorship of innovation is shifting from the Few to the Many. (...) Two things make this kind of innovation possible, one obvious and one not. The obvious one is--say it with me--the Internet. The other one, the surprising one, is a curious phenomenon you could call intellectual altruism. It turns out that given the opportunity, people will donate their time and brainpower to make the world better

Then the author gives canonical examples: open-source movement, podcasting which emerged from various tech (ipod, rss, mp3), ikea, youtube/google video

And then there is the conclusion:

You would think corporations would be falling all over themselves to make money off this new resource: a cheap R&D lab the approximate size of the earth's online population. (...) You could even imagine a future in which companies scrapped their R&D departments entirely and simply proposed questions for the global collective intelligence to mull. All that creative types like myself would have to do is sit back and harvest free, brilliant ideas from the brains of billions.

In the same issue, there is a very interesting podcast with some clever folks (Steven Johnson, Mark Cuban...). Someone points out says that R&D people would still exist (and be important) to harvest/gather ideas, sort them and transfer them.

Why do I blog this? Even though I like this pro/am revolution (bottom up has always proven to be the space where the best ideas come from), I tend to think that it's not so easy (end of corporate R&D leading to "let's observe people use of tech"). There is indeed an interesting soup generated by current people (call them consommacteurs, consumactors, amateurs or whatever) but there's a kind of false belief about the nature of R&D in this paper. I was just wondering whether the author of this column was not putting too much emphasis on the bottom up approach like there is no need to have people to "transfer" what's produce (by researchers or lead users/external networks). Like, hm yes an "ecology" of what could support the costs, size, manpower... that the particular idea emerged from the bottom-up approach needed.

Actually my critique lays more in the fact that there is not mention of the magical powers that may or may not turn end-users/future users/consumers ideas into a marvellous million $$ product. Of course I believe in bottom-up innovations, innovations are coming from the consumer, but there is a need of having some good folks working them out to come up with an end-product (R&D + transfer).