Maker, fixer, tinkerer, techie, hacker, inventor, whiz

Recognise yourself in the title? You are legion…

In a fascinating first survey of its type, researchers at MIT have shown that UK consumers spend more on product development than the whole of UK industry does.

In this survey, UK citizens were interviewed about the sort of things they adapt or invent and how much time they spent doing it.

We’re talking about everything from re-programming the washing machine so that it’s got a spin-only cycle, to inventing a device to help trim the tops of trees, to adapting the dog’s food-bowl to stop it slipping around the kitchen floor.

The survey found that 6.2% of UK consumers (more than 1 in 20 of you) have been busy innovating with consumer products in the past 2 years – that’s nearly 3 million people across the country.

The researchers then wanted to put a value on this activity, so they added up the total time being spent on it and costed it using the UK average wage. On that basis, all you innovators are spending a mind-blowing £2.3Billion per year on inventing your own products. That’s 2.3 times higher than the amount spent on consumer product R&D by all firms in the UK added together.

This gets more interesting when we think about the rise of community facilities like the Fab Lab and MadLab, giving would-be techies and hackers even more capacity to design and tinker and invent.

And it gets even more fascinating when we throw in online connectivity, open sharing of information, and the changes that many global companies are going through as they realise they need to re-define their role: not just a supplier, but a collaborator that co-creates with their customers.

In the 1990s Lego launched “Lego Mindstorms”, familiar Lego bricks with a new twist – sensors that allowed consumers to create robots and moveable structures. Within 3 weeks, more than 1000 advanced users were coordinating an online campaign, hacking into the software and creating any number of new designs that Lego hadn’t even thought of. Once Lego had got over the initial shock and fear, they realised they were onto a whole new market – adult geeks who like to design their own bespoke components. The company is now more collaborative with its users and it hasn’t looked back since.

Going back to the survey, it doesn’t assess the quality of what everyone produces, and amongst all the clear successes there will also be some duds. But I’m more interested in the spirit behind all this activity – we’re still a nation of inventors, and long may that flourish.

Image by Matt Jones

If you want to find out more about the survey, you can find it here. The research was led by Professor Eric von Hippel, who is generally thought of as the godfather of research into user innovation – the inventing and adapting and hacking that citizens do to create their own products.

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10 Responses to Maker, fixer, tinkerer, techie, hacker, inventor, whiz

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