Business

Wired editor: We’re now in a whole new age of outsourcing

chrisanderson1Wired editor Chris Anderson’s presentation at Supernova 2009 afternoon was described in the agenda as, “How can organizations innovate and thrive in a networked world?” That’s about as VentureBeat as you can get without actually being VentureBeat, so I took notes.

The short version: Do it yourself, but outsource everything. Yes, that’s contradictory, but the point is that the tools and resources for both self-production and total outsourcing have changed astonishingly since the last time you blinked. Time to relearn them both.

The past decade, Anderson’s latest theory goes, was about figuring out “the new weave of our culture” online without many of the usual organizational or physical boundaries. But the next 10 years will be about learning how to bring those lessons and tools back into the real world. We are now “democratizing the tools of production,” he said. For example, he has a $750 three-dimensional plastic prototype printer in his basement.

andersonpredator“Chinese factories will work with you, whoever you are” was another tagline. “You have access to the same factories Sony does. You can do what they do.” Anderson orders parts for his hobby remote-control model airplane business (pictured) from Chinese factories that FedEx the small batch of parts to his door. Inventors need no longer build their own factories to enter the market.

The result is that small-scale entrepreneurs can design, manufacture, and sell their own products by outsourcing nearly all of the work. One example he showed: A boutique toy maker who manufactures toy machine guns and other heavy weaponry for Lego fans — parts that Lego proudly refuses to make, but for which there’s a hungry market of 10-year-old boys.

It used to be said that “companies exist to minimize transaction costs.” What’s changed, Anderson says, is that the world is coming to realize Sun co-founder Bill Joy’s axiom: “Whoever you are, the smartest people don’t work for you.” And who those smartest people are can be shocking: After earnestly seeking a business partner for a robotics startup, Anderson was shocked to find that the best guy for the job, the guy who got tons of references and survived the screening process, turned out to be a 19-year-old high school dropout in Tijuana who had “given himself a Google Ph.D.”


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