4. “looking for piraters”
5000 is way
5000 is way
let’s beg the
23. Technology Horizons Program
INSTITUTE FOR THE FUTURE
November 7–8, 2012
creative chaos with Chinese
manufacturing as a global
Lyn Jeffery | Research Director
Any fashionistas in the crowd recognize these shoes? They are sneakers from French designer Isabel Marant’s fall 2011 collection and they cost $600-700 online, $800 in China. Way more than the average fashion conscious young Chinese woman could ever afford. But that’s no problem.
If you live in China, and you’re an especially entrepreneurial sort of person, you might put out a call on one of the popular online fashion forums like Hers.com, like this person named Summer19543 did early this year. She loves the Isabel Marant sneakers, but
http://bbs.hers.com.cn/forum.php?mod=viewthread&tid=5779070&extra=&highlight=%E6%B1%82%E5%B1%B1%E4%B8%BB&page=15000 RMB is way too much, she writes, for white collar workers like us to handle. Once again, let’s beg the great piraters. Let’s pirate, pirate, pirate! Summer 19543 was looking for others to go in with her to form a buying block, a kind of fashion do-ocracy, as well as for a manufacturer who will make the shoe for them for a better price. She chose the color of the shoe and maybe even hacked the original design, changing it a tiny bit here and there. China has a robust online payment system and internet users are accustomed to organizing themselves for all kinds of purchases. These are not traditional knock-offs which are more about copying a brand logo and not necessarily a specific design, and where you have to buy whatever the manufacturers feel like making. These are high-value items that are very current, at the height of fashion and are often not even available yet in the Chinese market, and they can even be produced in new colors or fabrics, spearheaded by a single passionate individual. Today, leading edge young Chinese women are doing this with designer shoes, bags, and clothing. But think forward five years: what if other products could be sourced, modified, and produced for the tastes of a small group of people? What if you could order up
A 64 GB 7.9 by 5.3 inch touchscreen tablet, with LTE connectivity
and a bright turquoise brushed-aluminum body, as long as you found enough people and a manufacturer who was willing to deal with small batch manufacturing? The Isabel Marant example is about modifying an already existing design—I’m curious to know what you think: is this a kind of creativity? Are other kinds of hacks a kind of creativity?This is a signal of the bigger story that I want to share with you today, which is this:
http://cache.wists.com/thumbnails/1/54/154db370a169ef6d1627e168391a9881-origthink of the most mechanistic, imitative, counterfeit-ridden sector in the world—Chinese manufacturing—and now reframe it as a force that is realigning innovation and creativity, linking entrepreneurs, designers and makers to a whole set of capacities that support the growth of new businesses, products, and services. That’s the forecast that we’re making with this report.
I started this project because I noticed that a lot of people are kind of obsessed with creativity at the moment. We’re at an anxious moment when it comes to conversations about the innovative capacities of different countries and organizational forms. Both the US and Chinese governments have identified innovation as the main tool for getting us out of our respective slumps and providing us with prosperity in the future. And both have identified creativity as a main driver of innovation.
Business leaders agree. The GE Global Innovation Barometer was commissioned by GE this year with nearly 3,000 senior business executives in 22 countries, were surveyed on their companies’ innovation strategy and decision making. They reported that the most important driver of innovation was more creative people, not technical experts, and not universities and labs.http://www.ge.com/innovationbarometer/key_findings.html
They also say that creativity is even more important for innovation than scientific research.http://www.ge.com/innovationbarometer/key_findings.html
Now, traditional views on creativity have held that Americans are especially individualistic and creative, and Chinese people are especially collectivist, and that this holds back the creative potential in China and justifies a world in which creative ideas come from the west and get executed in China. This isn’t just kind of a western story of looking down on China, but this a view that many in the Chinese government hold about their own country as well. It was about 6 years ago that China’s premier WenJiabaonoted that:“China has not fully developed one university capable of following a model that can produce creative and innovative talents; none has its own unique innovations, and thus has not produced distinguished individuals.” In typical command and control fashion, the Chinese government has, in the last 6 years, developed a comprehensive set of national policies to invest in creative and cultural industries. 100s of millions of dollars have been spent, some of it wasted perhaps, building new innovation parks, building up design curricula, and putting on public extravaganza like the
Beijng Design Week, which was held for the second time just a few weeks ago. It was a topdown effort full of government officials, sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Culture, municipal Gov’t of Beijing. Very successful by any standards: total visitors exceeding 5 million and a transaction volume that reached 5.6 billion yuan ($890 million), and drew designers, architects, and artists from around the world. Note the two themes of the event: craft thinking, which links traditional handmade Chinese crafts with design, and good design is good business, because the Chinese government always places creativity firmly in the sphere of future prosperity and economic development. What’s most surprising, however, is that over the next 5 to 10 years it will not be these topdown efforts that we should be paying the most attention to. The funny thing is that the heart of what we might think of as Chinese non-creativity—the schlocky, factory-based outputs and processes, literally the nuts and bolts of Chinese manufacturing—may turn out to be the real driver of the future of creativity, not only for China but for creative entrepreneurs in the US and Europe as well.
Chinese manufacturing capacities are the basis for the birth of a new ecosystem, still small, but worth paying attention to, that is all about creative making and new paths to products and services. We’ll go into this in a lot more detail in the final report, but for now let me share a few of the signals we’re excited about.
Makers will likely be some of the earliest adopters We have been doing research on the Maker movement for the last 5 years. Makers are people who are passionate about learning how to make things themselves, everything from computers to robots to jams. A combination of crafters and hackers and garage mechanics in the digital age. In contrast to the government and corporate anxiety about the future of creativity and innovation, makers are generally a hopeful group who do things for the fun of it, for the joy of using their hands and sharing knowledge and learning in a community. Because there still is no place in the world where you can get a piece of electronics or fabric designed, prototyped, and produced more easily, cheaply, and quickly than in China, we’re seeing two interesting things start to happen. One is we’re starting to see American and European makers who would normally be hanging out in hackerspaces or in their garages, going to China to take advantage of China’s unparalleled manufacturing and distribution capacities. For the first time we’re seeing small-scale Western entrepreneurs—sometimes just one passionate person with an idea—showing up in Shenzhen and Hong Kong, linking up with the pool of productive capacity that has formerly really only been available to large corporations or traditional manufacturing firms with years of experience. http://www.gov.cn/jrzg/2012-04/09/content_2109285.htm
At the same time, we are seeing the growth of grassroots creativity and making culture spreading across Chinese youth. This is a photo from the first Maker faire in China, which was held in Shenzhen this April, and this guy is from the Shenzhen DIY robotics club. He made what he calls a Facebook phone, where it has the photo of the person you’re trying to call, which he made for his grandmother. Now of course unlike most parts of the world, it’s easy in Shenzhen to find all the parts you need for this kind of thing. http://szdiy.org/2013/11/facephone/
Businesses like Seeed Studio are popping up to help you find those parts if you don’t speak Chinese, and you can do it all online. We knew something exciting was happening when we saw Seeed show up—the first mainland Chinese participant—at the Maker Faire in San Mateo last year. If you have an idea about a piece of hardware that you want to create, no matter where you are in the world, Seeed Studio will help you design it and also act as a kind of human search engine or human task routing for the hardware you need, literally going out into the huge electronics markets and finding the right components. They call themselves an open hardware facilitator, and they are working closely with many of the DIY robotics folks around the the world. Eric opened one of the few makerspaces in China, and was the organizer behind the Shenzhen Maker Faire.
We’re also seeing the growth of new accelerators and incubators such as HAXLR8R, a joint US-China venture fund, now in its second year, and what it does is select 6 or 7 teams from around the world and bring them to Shenzhen, gives them 25K and mentors, and helps them develop prototype, test product, create biz plan, then come back to SF and pitch it to investors here. So there’s a very interesting fluid interaction taking place between creators, venture capital in the US and manufacturing capacity in China. For those of us who are interested in creative making through the use of 3d printers, it’s very exciting that Zach Smith, one of the co-founders of the first affordable hobbyist 3d printer the Makerbot, is now living in Shenzhen working with HAXLR8R.
Nomiku is a great example of this. They were in the first cohort of teams chosen by HAXLR8R. They are an American husband and wife team, Lisa and Abe, who love cooking and were watching a lot of Iron Chef, where chefs were using industrial sous vide machines to cook ingredients sealed within a plastic pouch at a precise,constant, low temperature for hours or days. So they decided to invent their own version, for amateur at-home cooks, which would be more affordable. Lisa was a journalist, and Abe a plasma physicist, by the way, so neither had any experience in manufacturing consumer hardware. Lisa and Abe got chosen to do the HAXLR8R program last year and spent 4 months in SEZ refining both their prototype and their vision for the business. They parlayed all of that into a 500 successful fundraising on Kickstarter and they’re now back in HK, learning how to build a device that can be mass-produced. I spoke with Lisa last week and she was telling me about their very strict verification processes for the factories they want to work with, where she checks for the lighting, ventilation, and working hours, but also the expressions on the workers’ faces and perhaps most importantly, whether workers are learning skills that can help them advance in their careers. . So these new kinds of creative linkages will hopefully extend new opportunities to the manufacturing labor force themselves.
The third signal I want to share is the growth of an ecosystem to support Chinese creativity and design in China. For the first time, we’re starting to see Chinese designers and makers be able to sustain themselves financially using new web platforms. Nuandao is like US start-up Fab.com, which sells desginer products at a steep discount.Nuandao, run by two california Chinese american women who live in Beijing, promotes Chinese products that have a focus on unique quality design at flash sale prices on a weekly basis. It does this by curating well designed products from mainly independent Chinese designers and showcasing it to the Chinese design-lover community.Wowsai has been compared to a Chinese Etsy. Demohour is a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter. Right now these are not easily open to purchasing from outside of china, and they are only in the Chinese language. But imagine 5 years from now, when they are likely to be open to all of us.
“With Chinese characteristics” is a favorite phrase in China used to describe pretty much anything that is done somewhere else, but works differently in China, such as capitalism with Chinese characteristics or law with Chinese characteristics. Now that we see Chinese manufacturing acting as a kind of global creativity accelerator, there is bound to be a lot of creativity and a lot of chaos in the next decade.
imagine a world a decade from now in which you see something you like and you can hack the design and get someone to make for you, all at a price you can afford. Or you can make it yourself and possibly even start your own business. In a decade, maybe you’ll even be able to here-source it. What kind of new designs, products, and services might we find ourselves surrounded with?
What we’re seeing here is the realignment of innovation and creativity, linking entrepreneurs, designers and makers to their counterparts in China, and to a whole set of manufacturing capacities that will drive the growth of new businesses, products, and services.AnandKulkarni of MobileWorks asked us, what would you do with a 1000-person team at your disposal? We might also want to ask: what would you do with a 100-person skilled manufacturing team at your disposal?