Bread and Circuses

Good is a product of the ethical and spiritual artistry of individuals; it cannot be mass-produced.
– Aldous Huxley

The above statement sums up my feelings toward mass-production. What once was an improvement in the democratization of innovation has become a serious obstacle to it.

The advantages of mass production have long been praised:
– Reduction of nonproductive effort
– Reduction of probability for human error, and
– Scalability

These advantages, however, mostly benefit manufacturers, with the customers and employees left to pay the final price.

T. Adorno, a German sociologist, identified popular culture as a reason why people become passive. Adorno claimed that cheap thrills made available through popular culture made people docile and content. While this theory was developed more than half a century ago, it still seems relevant today. Are we truly satisfied with the all-in-one cell phones and half lemons or just persuaded we are?

Artists do not expect everyone to like their work; in fact, they hope for and even encourage critique. What they loathe is indifference. A true artist makes a statement that is genuine, and if people connect to that statement he or she is considered a success. In the end, the true artist has a set of values and principles that will never change; these are the values his followers expect.

Most marketing principles were derived from these basic ideas but have been twisted with time. True artistry has somewhat lost its place in today’s short-run focused corporate world. With the widespread adoption of the internet we have witnessed the power of crowdsourcing.

According to Prof. Eric Von Hippel, this phenomenon is not confined to the Internet. He believes users should play an important role in the product development process of any company. Apparently, while artistry has lost its place in the corporate world it has been flourishing in the users’ own homes. A well-known open source scholar, Karim Lakhani, posted examples on his blog.

Instead of perceiving customers and their needs as a nuisance, companies may use them as a resource for innovation. To know your users you have to become one of them or let them become one of you.