Creative activity surrounds us: hordes of teenagers have morphed from TV-addicted couch potatoes into YouTube movie makers. They have produced a stupendous amount of footage, ranging from silly cat videos to Lego movie remakes, from tutorials to video blogs. YouTube has become the global expression channel for everything silly, sordid, painful, hilarious and useful in our world. This is the paradigm shifting from Consume to Create.
We are all creators
If you wanted to know where Kalat is, would you check Wikipedia or flip through the Encyclopedia Britannica? This is a rhetorical question- the online encyclopedia, entirely written by volunteer contributors, has challenged the latter for accuracy and replaced it as the first place to search, becoming as ubiquitous as Google. The big difference is that anyone can propose edits and add to the stock of knowledge: the content is constantly evolving. The user is now the co-creator.
The shift from passive consumer to active creator occurs in many different fields, with surprising results. You don’t have to look farther than your mobile phone: more than 1 billion users run on Android, owned by Google. Android itself is based on Linux, an operating system entirely created by a self-organized network of volunteer programmers. Amateur hobbyists present drones at Maker Faires that rival those made by the army at a fraction of the cost.
The paradigm shift from consume to create
Where does this creative activity come from, and how is it transforming the landscape? For products and activities that define one’s identity, the consumer is refusing the passive role, preferring to take part in the creation process. The consumer is becoming a prosumer: a producer and consumer at the same time, a word coined by futurist Alvin Toffler in 1980.
On Internet platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, the consumer is the producer. The platform is only the format in which activity happens. Users provide all of the content, while abiding to its established rules. People are interested in consuming each other’s content, turning consumption into communication. The publishing sensation Fifty Shades of Grey started off as fan-fiction of the booming Twilight vampire series, turning fan-fiction into a force to be reckoned with. Co-creation is also a form of emotional involvement with the product.
Another force of prosumption is co-design. People want to have a say in what they use and wear, leaving behind the old model of buying from mass factory-designs. Users want to give input – they want to tweak it, pimp it, and change it. Dutch Designer Marcel Wanders points out that his clients ask for this explicitly, and will often give what he calls an “0.5 presentation”: half-finished concepts that leave room for customer input.
The elements of consume to create
The first paradigm shift is from passive to active. Analyze the role of the user in your business model between active and passive roles. The term passive can apply to everything from physical behavior – such as watching television or listening to a lecture – to the degree of involvement, whether as patient, reader or citizen. If you discover a passive role, ask yourself what it would take to shift this to an active role – such as working, physical exercise, speaking up, learning, or taking care of things or others.
The second shift is from a one-way to a reciprocal relationship. One-way communication from producer to consumer is shifting to true interaction. Most companies are not ready for this. They see their customer service operations as a cost center that handles complaints. They fear the cost of complexity of dealing with customers one at a time, all with their own wishes, ideas, and complaints. Note that this does not have to be full reciprocity. The author that inspired a fan-fiction book will retain a special position, as will the head designer or architect.
This reciprocity is important: we are no longer just users of the software, but its co-authors. The sense of reciprocity lies in this quality of co-authoring, co-designing, co-creating and co-producing. When you look at your organization or your business model, how much reciprocity is involved? How much are you doing together with your customer? How involved are they emotionally? Is your customer an active creative partner? How do you deal with the consumer who has now become a co-author, and as a result have new expectations regarding shared intellectual property, influence rights, and awards?
The third shift is from authoritative to empowering. The consumer has been silent, hidden or irrelevant while the creator, by contrast, has had a say, and been clearly visible and involved. The modern prosumer does not just provide feedback or suggest changes, but feels empowered to act as a co-designer and co-creator. When you look at the way your organization or business treats its clients or customer, is this a disempowering relationship characterized by acceptance and silence, or do you encourage speaking up and getting involved?
It’s your move
The examples given above, from co-created software to fan fiction, might give us the impression that this shift is already happening everywhere. However, there are many instances where this shift has not happened. Take education, for example. For the most part – despite some outstanding exceptions – education is based on a unidirectional, authoritative and disempowering structure, in which the student is often totally passive. Students are usually not involved in structuring their education, in co-authoring educational textbooks, or in co-designing a curriculum. The same can be said of politics; the voter is passive and disempowered, relegated to choosing from what is being offered every four years. We find a similar situation in healthcare, although signs of the shift can be detected there. If you apply the paradigm shift from Consume to Create to your field, what innovation will this lead to?
[Images: 1 A drone fighter retrieves his victorious quadcopter in a cage match at the NYC World Maker Faire. (Photo: Jack Smith IV) / 2 Design your own Reeboks campaign.]
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