I listened to an interview today with Chris Anderson, the former editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine. Chris is now the CEO of 3D Robotics, a company that designs, builds, and sells unmanned air vehicles, or drones, to various military and civilian clients for a fraction of the cost that large aerospace companies charge. They manage this by taking advantage of the way that digital technologies (open-source CAD software, 3D printers, and iPhone processors and accelerometers, for instance) are revolutionizing the manufacturing industry.
At one point in the interview the interviewer asked Mr. Anderson if he was worried that what they were doing was so easy that someone listening to the podcast could get the same tools, order from the same suppliers, and compete with him. Chris’ answer was interesting.
He said that he wasn’t worried about that at all.
In fact, he actually recently published a book about how he and his team do what they do, encouraging people to join the DIY drone community.
The manufacturing world used to be hard to learn, and even harder to master. The digital revolution has made it easy for anyone to learn, but the mastery part is still tricky. Chris and his team aren’t worried about the democratization of the tools, because access to the tools isn’t what makes what they do valuable.
Think about painting. Anyone can go to their local art supply store and pick up high-quality paint supplies for a fairly low price. We can get books about painting from the library, and take a class on it at the Y. The cost of entry is very low. The tools of painting are available to everyone. And it’s been that way for a long time.
But the fact that everyone has access to the trappings of a master painter, doesn’t make the ability to paint a masterpiece any less valuable. Having access to the tools is different than the ability to produce something of value with those tools.
It’s easier than ever to get your hands on the tools of graphic design and presenting. For a few bucks a month you can lease Adobe’s Creative Suite. Every business person in the world has PowerPoint installed on their computer. But having the tools is different from being able to produce quality slides or give a compelling presentation.
It’s that ability to wield the tools that is so valuable. And that ability still takes time and commitment to develop.
In the modern digital world, everyone can be a manufacturer, painter, master presenter. But not everyone will.