Friction ignites innovation.
The examples are all around us. Take banking. I tried to send money abroad this week. Urgh. A thoroughly 20th century experience, replete with long acronyms, complex codes and lots of cost — 25% of the amount I was trying to send.
It’s no surprise that finance, banking and payments are hot spaces for innovation, from crowd funding and peer funding, to merchant systems, to whole new currencies. Organisations like PayPal, iZettle and bitcoin are tackling a staid old system that has failed to move truly into the internet age.
That age is characterised not just by technology but by culture: openness and sharing, of hardware and software, interfaces and protocols. A culture of speed and action.
Increasingly that culture is moving out of the digital world and into the physical. The new hardware categories — wearables, smart home, 3D printing — are much more open than their predecessors. If the hardware itself is not an open design, based on off-the-shelf components, then the software usually offers an API. Having had my Nest smart thermostat installed, I can’t wait to start playing with its API, integrating it into my own home automation system.
That system, Project Santander, has itself been built on these internet principles: rapidly prototyped using off-the-shelf hardware and shared software components. The most challenging part of its construction? The core software.
Imagine what you can do with greater skills. Imagine the problems you can tackle. For me what is exciting about the ‘Internet of Things’ is the application of all those internet principles and skills to physical world problems. Skills of design and code that used to be confined to tackling problems in the virtual realm can now be applied to the physical. Energy, safety, health, fitness, food, education, and much more; the possibilities are endless.
This theme has a particular relevance and resonance in Greater Manchester, a place where great leaps forward in the science and technology of the physical world and the virtual have been made. Officially there are 45,000 people in the digital and creative sectors in Greater Manchester.
Imagine what we can do with the world if our digital skills are increasingly applied to physical problems.