FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Amateur Hour

Fast Company has an interesting article by Charles Leadbeater speaking to the phenomenon of "amateur innovation." Whereas the 20th Century was an age of achievement by professionals and corporations, Leadbeater asserts, the 21st is an era of advancement by committed amateurs and enthusiasts... many of whom work for little or no compensation. Yet these quality these people deliver in their work is as good or better than the professional class. The article calls these folks "Pro-Ams."

As examples of Pro-Am work, Leadbeater cites the Linux and open-source phenomenon, which has caused Bill Gates and crew more than a few sleepless nights. He also notes the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which provides banking services to workers earning less than a dollar a day.

Pro-Ams are succeeding, Leadbeater says, because of disruptive innovations -- high quality yet inexpensive tools that are relatively easy to use. Personal computers, mobile phones, the Internet and may other innovations allow for development and collaboration on a scale never seen before.

Pro-Am is a profound concept, though not one that's new to those who have been following the progress of open source software. It has the potential to change all kinds of fields, from scientific to financial to political... hopefully for the better. But it also raises a lot of questions. If people aren't being paid for their work, how will they earn a living? Will existing entities such as corporations adopt Pro-Am values, or will they fight back? Will this force us to adopt a totally new economic model? If Pro-Am really does continue its forward momentum, it may prove to be the ultimate disruptive innovation.

Source: Responsible Nanotechnology