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The Next Big Thing Is Waiting In Somebody's Garage

A deeply-held tenet of innovation theory is that companies innovate and consumers buy. New research from M.I.T.'s Sloan School of Management suggests that this traditional division of labor may be breaking down.

Financed by the British government, the survey found that "...the amount of money individual consumers spent making and improving products was more than twice as large as the amount spent by all British firms combined on product research and development over a three-year period."

User innovation is a major force in areas as diverse as open-source software, sporting equipment, the Internet and social networking (e.g. Twitter's List and Retweet features), even medicine and technology.  The study estimates that users produce 77 percent of the innovation in scientific instruments.

In my work on business incubation, I've run across an idea I call a "tinkerer's paradise."  Take one of the many vacant factories here in SW Michigan and stuff it full of donated machine tools, metal working equipment, industrial lathes, cutting and milling machines, molding equipment, anything a tinkerer might need to take an idea from the back of a napkin to a working prototype. 

Offer the space free of charge to anybody with such an idea.  An engineering student.  An unemployed auto engineer.  A retired physician.  Maybe you, maybe me.  I can probably get a factory donated to the cause.   Anybody want to help me raise funds for equipment?  Let me know.

The Next Big Thing may be waiting in somebody's garage.

What would happen, do you think, if users were asked to tinker with hospital design and processes?  I'll bet they'd do no worse than the "professionals" and probably a lot better.

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