Fueling DYI Innovation

When I first heard of the Maker Faire, I dismissed it as one of those Renaissance gatherings where people trounce around in puffy sleeves and tights, spouting Shakespeare and downing mead. As reports flooded the blogosphere of hot new maker-created technology like 3D printers and microcontrollers, I decided ‘maker’ was code for tech geek. Turns out, makers are a little of both.

After visiting the website and other sources, I realized there was more to being a maker than a fair (with or without the extra “e”). Makers are a movement. From websites like Etsy promoting artisan-crafted goods to the popularity of home gardening and eating locally, the trend is toward anything driven by self-sufficiency, doing it yourself, a return to simpler times.

This DIY mentality isn’t limited to locavores and artists. The term “maker movement” was coined by the 2005 launch of MAKE Magazine, an online technology resource. According to their website, the movement has created a tech-driven maker market ecosystem, driving innovation manufacturing, engineering, industrial design, hardware technology and education.

Crowd Companies Chief Catalyst Jeremiah Owyang has been blogging about the maker movement and what it means to traditional business models. According to Owyang, the movement is shifting product creation from over-sees producers to local creators, fueled by philosophical beliefs like sustainability rather than profit margin. The makers movement “empowers people to build their own products, and share with each other –rather than buying from brands.”  Owyang suggests that corporations and their brands need to join the movement rather than fight it.

He may have a point. In 2013, Maker Faire attracted 280,000 participants to its two flagship fairs and 86 global mini-fairs. The continuing momentum of the maker movement is shifting the economy of make/sell/buy from a linear model to a circular one. Not only are makers creating, using, and selling their own products to each other, they often use recycled or repurposed materials, reducing the purchase of new products from traditional brands. This creates an economic ripple effect that companies cannot afford to ignore.

Some brands are already getting on the maker bandwagon. Patagonia partnered with eBay to encourage customers to resell and reuse its used products. Radio Shack has remained relevant against big box stores like Best Buy in part by embracing the DYI tech crowd. They promote maker products like the Arduino microcontroller, and provide free soldering training at makers fairs. Google, Yahoo and other tech companies have also sponsored fair booths.

According to TechCrunch, over 1 million teens participated in the Second Annual Maker Camp, sponsored by Google and MAKE Magazine, which offered online lessons on how to ”build, hack, and explore” technology. These are our future inventors, designers, and engineers. The maker movement is already changing the way we think about products and services. Forward-thinking brands will join the movement and redesign their business models to tap into what Maker Faire calls the “wellspring of innovation.”

This post was first published on the blog of rethink conf 

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