Some people in Tartu are starting to think that I am an oddball. And they have good reason. A while ago, I came to the conclusion that I need to get healthier. So I have embarked on a gaming regime based on walking. I won’t go into the game dynamic here, but will just say that it works for me (so far) and it incorporates giving imaginary speeches as I walk. So, yes, sometimes I can be caught mumbling as I stride around town.
As you read this post: keep in mind my opening idea of the value of my locally generated, non-generic solution.
I think that being seen as a bit odd is a small price to pay, because this routine of speechifying while I walk has really helped me. It distracts me from the boredom of just walking around and it solidifies ideas that I am working on. One of those ideas involves platforming. Here is the question: It is all well and good to say that peer to peer networks are about to replace more formal institutional structures. But how will that happen? What will make them more robust? More rewarding? These are tough questions.
The answer so far is that we don’t really know. And I think that the reason we get confused goes back to how we identify our goals of investment. In the 20th century, it worked this way: one took a generic activity, like transport. Then you designed a better transport vehicle (or system) that a huge number of people would buy into. In other words, the thinking goes from global (generic) to local (you buy the car). So your individual needs are subordinated to what the global system can provide.
This works great at the generic level. But it does not work great to help me become more creative. Nor does it do much to stimulate the local economy - except to make it dependent on global actors. Instead, the great and mighty global actors get fabulously rich and famous while the rest of us just do the best we can. And this way of thinking does not help us deal with non-generic problems. Stuff that we need to solve locally, whether what we do scales or not. We just muddle along, not really part of the great game of global innovation.
One of the fun things about the tech start up fad has been its effort to expand the idea of what is generic. So Steve Jobs persuaded us that we all needed a desktop computer. Larry and Sergey persuaded us that we need search and perhaps goofy looking glasses. Later Steve came back and persuaded us that we need better portable music and smarter mobile devices. These have been great innovations. But their introduction and take over has not changed the underlying paradigm. We are still thinking, investing and buying in the generic world - which is global to local. Working at the local level, I still just muddle along while Larry and Sergey fly around in their private 747’s and Steve’s widow thinks about how she can use Steve’s fortune to help humanity.
Here is the weird thing. Problems actually arise at the local level - not the global level. In other words, we all need to interact here and now with reality using our limited consciousness resources. And our individual energy levels and thinking structures define how we do this. We may use generic products to help us. But we do not want our challenges to remain generic. We want custom solutions. We want control over designing stuff that meet our individual and local issues. In other words, there is huge potential value added in moving beyond generic to custom solutions.
So we need to figure out how to reverse the paradigm. Instead of global to local, we need to figure out how to go from local (where our needs are) to global (where we can find expertise to help us). And the great global actors have no incentive to help us. Why? Because it is not the way they think.
Moreover, no one really thinks this way - yet. But we are starting to see some vocabulary move in this direction. For example, Michael Schrage for HBR posits that companies should start asking the question “what do we want our customers to become?” This is still global to local, but at least it posits that locality should evolve, not just that the masses should keep consuming generic products. One can begin to think that evolving locality might empower locality.
And there are attempts to build platforms where locals can ask for stuff that they need from global providers, like citymart. This is promising, though (in my view) a bit crude. To go farther, think of Kickstarter where users propose what they want someone to produce, rather than producers asking users to invest and buy. Or think of 3d printing, where we can design and manufacture what we want at home. At the core, is improved modularity between the vocabulary of needs and the vocabulary of expertise in design and manufacture.
Maybe I am wrong, but I think this is the future. We will begin to see that the value added from generic products is less than the potential value added by getting beyond the generic and serving locality. This is the type of platforming that I am mumbling about as I do my daily thing here in Tartu. Remember that locally generated non-generic solution that I mentioned above?
Let’s see if things move this way! And let’s see if I can “win” my health game!
Enjoy your Sunday!
FOLLOW UP -An example of how local can go viral was the fun story of the nice Korean lady who failed her driving test 960 times. I love this because of the extreme nature of the local need that finally got providers to pay attention and help her.
2d FOLLOW UP - Remember PieLab? It was a failed assistance project in the US. No one quite understood why it didn’t work. Perhaps the pie-labbers were trapped in a global to local paradigm?
3rd FOLLOW UP - When you ponder what I might even call a “crisis of locality” consider that the world is loaded with localities that are isolated from global wealth generation. And not just in poor countries. Consider Braddock, PA. Braddock thrived long ago as a steel town. Now it is a disaster. How does one revive these places? The global to local paradigm (I think) is not the answer. One must figure out ways to go local to global.