Thursday, May 30, 2013

Charles Leadbeater: The era of open innovation

In this deceptively casual talk, Charles Leadbeater weaves a tight argument that innovation isn't just for professionals anymore. Passionate amateurs, using new tools, are creating products and paradigms that companies can't.
This is an interesting talk, still valid after eight years. I just want to focus on the first part -- the invention of the mountain bike.

You had to be fearless and athletic to ride this!
The bicycle plays an important role in the development of a theory of the social construction of technology. (See  The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology edited by Wiebe E. Bijker et al.) The bicycle was first conceived as a sporting instrument for athletic young men. When it was reconceptualized as a more general purpose machine, its design was radically changed.

We now have many conceptions of different bicycles (and indeed of cycles that have more wheels than two. There are racing bikes used in the great road races, low cost bikes for adult transportation in developing countries in Asia, and bikes with training wheels for little kids. The mountain bikes considered by Leadbeater are just construed for different purposes, and thus built on a different design specific to those purposes. It is perhaps not surprising that the design of the the mountain bike arose from people who were inventing a new sport of off road bicycling, rather than from a corporation seeking to create a new market niche.

It may be worth pointing out that the technological system of the bicycle has benefited from many innovators, some of whom are very high tech indeed. Think of the advanced materials that go into the bikes used in the Tour de France which combine great strength with very little weight, resulting in bikes that cost thousands of dollars.

Think about the science and technology behind the light emitting diodes and mini-generator that illuminate this bike!

No comments: