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What If We Were All Manufacturers?

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How would you describe your occupation? How many words does it take? Now, how would you describe your satisfaction with that occupation? What if there were no limit to the number of occupations you held? What if there were only one word to describe your level of satisfaction with whatever it was you did to provide yourself with income? What if that word was, awesome?

What if the secret to this revolution in the way we work could be found in The German Ideology, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels? And what if you didn't even have to become a communist to be a part of the revolution? The revolution is already taking place. Marx and Engels write:

" soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic."

What if, the lifestyle Marx and Engel were seeking could be attained today without the constraints and pitfalls of communism? What if it were up to us, as individuals, to seek out and develop our species-being rather than the responsibility of society to provide it for us? In a Fortune article, Tech Is Destroying the Line Between Manufacturing and Services, Saul Kaplan, Founder and Chief Catalyst for The Business Innovation Factory, points out: "the industrial era and the 7.1 million manufacturing jobs lost in the U.S. from 1979 to 2012 aren't coming back. We must create new 21st century manufacturing jobs that leverage what America is great at, creativity and innovation."

Kaplan goes on to offer a new perspective on manufacturing: "...we need to recognize that manufacturing isn't an industry sector, it's a capability with plenty of opportunity for innovation," and "once we realize that manufacturing is a capability we can get on with democratizing it. We can all be manufacturers."

What if, all of the thoughts you scribbled down on napkins, or shared with friends over drinks could amount to more than just chuckles and shrugs? What if they could also buy your lunch and pay your rent? Why not? The problem has been that missing bridge between thought and action. Those with the thoughts are often missing the ability (resources, knowledge, validation, etc.) to push them into action. But this doesn't mean they are without validity or potential. Likewise, those capable of action (i.e. flush with resources and connections) are too often absent of thought, curiosity, and transformative ideas. But what if we could bridge this gap? What if we could leverage technology to do more than communicate two-way, transactional communication into multi-directional communication so, one's "what if...?" question doesn't have to be directed to someone in particular, but could just as easily be picked up by anyone specifically? Not only will our growing community be exploring and celebrating this thought at the second annual What If...? Conference March 1 and 2 on the Westminster College campus, events like Maker Faire, the proliferation of 3D printers and companies like, are creating new avenues for all of us to become innovators almost as quickly as old manufacturing jobs are disappearing.

What if, as Kaplan suggests, our current technology has already brought us to the cusps of a society in which: "...if instead of looking for top down solutions in a small number of manufacturing hubs we encouraged the bottom up maker momentum emerging in every community. Less push, more pull. We can all be manufacturers." What if democratizing manufacturing, could lead to educating and encouraging all of us to become manufacturers? What if being allowed to manufacture your own goods and services also allowed you to become a hunter, fisherman, shepherd, critic, or simply satisfied with however you spent your day?