Essays & Articles


My Dream: The Rise of the Small

I dream of the power of individuals, whether alone or in small groups, to unleash their creative spirits, their imagination, and their talents to develop a wide range of innovation.

Steelcase celebrated its 100th anniversary by asking 100 people to write essays about their dreams for the next 100 years. It is an impressive list of people and i am honored to be one of them. My dream is the essay “The Rise of the Small.”

John Hockenberry, who provides several overviews of the site and the essays says:”Do I believe what I’m hearing from Don Norman, Larry Keeley and even Jamie Dimon? The corporate and civic models for collectivized action are not competing, they are not battling each other, they are not negating each other, they are actually merging into a new identity altogether.”

The Rise of the Small

I dream of the power of individuals, whether alone or in small groups, to unleash their creative spirits, their imagination, and their talents to develop a wide range of innovation. New technologies promise to make this possible. Now, for the first time in history, individuals can share their ideas, their thoughts and dreams. They can produce their own products, their own services and make these available to anyone in the world. Everyone can be their own master, exercising whatever special talents and interests they may have.

What drives this dream? The rise of small, efficient tools that empower individuals. The list is large and growing continuously. Consider the rise of musical explorations through conventional, electronic, and virtual instruments. Consider the rise of self-publishing, by-passing conventional publishers, printing and distributions and replacing these with inexpensive electronic editions available to anyone in the world to download to e-book readers.

Witness the rise of billions of small videos, available to all. Some are simply self-serving, some are incredibly educational, and some are humorous, some serious. They cover everything from how to make Korean pancakes, how to understand mathematics, or simply how to dance or play a musical instrument. Some films are simply for entertainment. Universities are getting into the act, sharing whole curricula including videos of lectures. College students post their class assignments as videos and text, allowing the whole world to benefit from their efforts. Consider the same phenomenon in writing, reporting events, and the creation of music and art.

Add to these capabilities the ready availability of inexpensive motors, sensors, computation, and communication. Now consider the potential when 3D printers increase in performance while decreasing in price, allowing individuals to manufacture custom items whenever they are required. Designers all over the world will publish their ideas and plans, enabling entire new industries of custom mass production. Small quantities can be made as inexpensively as large, and individuals might design their own items or rely on an ever-increasing number of freelance designers who will publish plans that can then be customized and printed at local 3D print shops or within their own homes.

Consider the rise of specialists to help plan meals and cook them, modify designs to fit needs and circumstances, to tutor on a wide variety of topics. Experts share their knowledge on blogs and on Wikipedia, all out of altruism, being rewarded by the thanks of their readers.

I dream of a renaissance of talent, where people are empowered to create, to use their skills and talents. Some may wish for the safety and security of working for organizations. Some may wish to start new enterprises. Some may do this as hobbies. Some may band together into small groups and cooperatives, the better to assemble the variety of skills required by modern technology, to help share their knowledge, to teach one another, and to assemble the critical mass that will always be needed, even for small projects. Some may hire themselves out to provide the necessary skills required of large projects, but still keeping their own freedom and authority.

The traditional view of “the firm” is that multiple people all had to work together in the same organization in order to maximize communication and cooperation. But our modern tools for communication and cooperation have eliminated this need. Today a firm can consist of distributed individuals or small groups who come together when needed, but otherwise are free to pursue their own enterprises.

I see a peaceful, powerful transformation of how we work and play, educate and amuse. Empowerment of the individual. The sharing of dreams and beliefs, knowledge and creations. My dream.