The British are frequently called a nation of eccentrics and tinkerers. For such a small nation, Britain has had a very large impact on the development of society and technology around the world. As a people we are creative and industrious and no-where is this more obvious than a quick look through our history, many of our great inventions were created by people on the fringes of a field. The reason for this is that people on the fringes are more bold and creative with their ideas and solutions, bringing new ideas to an old field.
The reason I mention creativity is because I have recently attended an open day for London Hackspace. It is a not-for-profit community-run workshop in Bethnal Green, where people with a wide variety of interests come together to learn from each other, discuss ideas and plans, get to grips with machinery and software and create projects and installations. There are a few Hackspaces across the UK offering a range of facilities and opportunities.
The Hackspace recently moved to new premises which has a dedicated 6500-square-foot space over 2 floors near Bethnal Green Station. It is open to it's members 24 hours a day for a pay what you feel monthly membership fee, ranging from a minimal donation of £5 up to £25. The space has a well-equipped workshop for metal and woodworking, a robot arm, a 3D printer, a laser cutter, electronics equipment and components, desk space, sewing machines, a lathe and much more. The Hackspace receives much 'obsolete' equipment from Universities, facilities and organisations which can be used and 'hacked' for projects. For a comprehensive list of projects currently underway check out the Hackspace website linked at the bottom of the page.
I will be joining Hackspace because I like the idea of meeting a wide variety of people from all walks of life and working on projects. Knowing I will be supported by my peers who have a wide variety of knowledge and expertise, this is similar to the idea of crowdsourcing. Users are motivated to contribute to crowdsourced tasks by both intrinsic motivations, such as social contact, intellectual stimulation, and passing time, and by extrinsic motivations, such as financial gain.
Crowdsourcing problems has come to the fore with the advent of the internet. By placing problems in the public domain and appealing to the masses you create 'horizontal interactions,' this encourages different people from different spheres to work together to solve problems. Many organisations have R&D (Research and Development) departments but sometimes you need fresh ideas from a new perspective. InnoCentive is the global leader on crowdsourcing innovation problems, it found that 40% of the problems posted online were solved within 6 months. These aren't small companies either, Proctor and Gamble, Reuters and NASA are some of its clients and many others are in the Fortune 500!
3M, Google, Valve and Pixar use 'horizontal interactions' and all these companies have been at the forefront of their fields, leading in innovation. 3M was one of the first companies to do this and it is one of the most innovative companies in the world, patenting over 300 products each year (not bad for a company which is over 75 years old!) 3M gives its workers 15% of their working time as 'Bootlegging hour,' a time to try speculative new ideas. Google do this and call it 'Ínnovation Time Off'' and much has been made of Valve's no hierarchy organisational features.
T.S. Elliot said,
"The great ages did not perhaps produce much more talent than ours, rather much less talent was wasted."
Valve's Gabe Newell identifies with this, often hiring people with no C.V. or formal experience, stating that creativity is a skill that never goes out of style;
"You need people who are adaptable because the thing that makes you the best in the world in one generation of games is going to be totally useless in the next."
One only needs to think back to how many software houses went down in the transition from 16 bit to 32 bit consoles. Valve brings in outsiders and lets them do their thing- this freeform has led to great results (including 65 million Steam users in the PC games industry thought to be on its last legs in 2007).
Valve is an excellent example of a company that embraces change, encourages crowdsourcing content and avoids hierarchical bottlenecks. I feel that Hackspace offers a similarly vibrant and innovative space, where sharing is encouraged.
Apologies for the waffling but I am very excited at the prospects of the projects I want to create and be a part of. I will link here anything specific to Computing but am hoping to create a complete arcade cabinet... wish me luck!