Published on November 18th, 2012 | by Lewis Parker

Chris Anderson on the ‘maker subculture’

In hard times, big business plays safe. Which is why this is exactly the right time to launch a start-up, says former Wired editor Chris Anderson.

In his new book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Anderson says that in an economic crisis, larger companies don’t want to risk working with new ideas. It means innovation is more likely to come from a lone maverick in a shed or a bedroom rather than a bigwig in a boardroom.

“It’s about being both hi-tech and low-cost,” he says, “and using the global marketplace to sell unique products. ‘Hacking’ other people’s ideas, tweaking them and selling the improved version.”

Maker subculture

For Anderson, this is all part of the ‘maker subculture’, which runs through sites like Boing Boing and MAKE magazine. For Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow, it’s an extension of hackerspaces (not to be confused with computer hacking). In his 2011 novel about the subculture, Doctorow said it consists of, “People who hack hardware, business-models, and living arrangements to discover ways of staying alive and happy even when the economy is falling down the toilet.”

Taking a broader historical view, Anderson views the maker subculture as the third wave of the industrial revolution. “The real revolution here is not in the creation of the technology, but the democratisation of the technology,” he told TechCrunch.

“It’s when you basically give it to a huge expanded group of people who come up with new applications, and you harness the ideas and the creativity and the energy of everybody. That’s what really makes a revolution.

“What we’re seeing here with the third industrial revolution is the combination of the two [technology and manufacturing]. It’s the computer meets manufacturing, and it’s at everybody’s desktop.”

 Innovation in action

To illustrate his point in Makers, the visionary author goes back to the shed where his grandfather invented an innovative garden sprinkler and creates a version 2.0. Making the most of streamlined supply chains, Anderson was able to get his version on the market quickly and cheaply – just $5,000, which is less than his grandfather spent on legal fees. From there, he was able to sell his modified sprinkler to customers all over the world for less than the existing commercial alternatives.

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson is published by Crown Business, RRP £20.

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