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Users: The New Innovators

In many sectors of industry and culture, innovation is now the domain of users, not companies. Digital technologies and platforms that encourage networking, autonomy, and collaboration—blogs, file sharing, open-source software, or accessible/affordable digital media—have delivered one of the most radical changes in capitalism: the individual’s shift from passive consumer to engaged and empowered creator or collaborator. By becoming empowered participants in the process of innovation, individuals are now raising the bar for corporations, making it critical that they align themselves with the conceptual possibilities presented by technology and user behavior.

This challenges industries in one of their traditional core competencies: innovation. It is not a passing trend. With the proliferation of accessible technical tools that allow users to truly participate in the shaping of content—from news to playlists to customized facial creams—desirability demands what capability and possibility must create.

Take remix culture as an example of the emerging creative and cultural awareness. Remix is, and always will be, a constant pattern weaving itself throughout society as a means to recontextualize content and culture. Moving beyond the boundaries of the music industry to encompass every form of media and content, remix is both an independent action and a critical response to the environment. Remix culture currently represents a fundamental shift in human behavior, signaling an undeniable transition from old to new models of content consumption, creation, production, and distribution. This inspiring transition has for the most part been enabled by the digital information era, where culture is empowered, free, fast flowing, and mutable. Perhaps most important, remix is aware of itself as a movement that is transforming how people approach and participate in culture as a whole.

The new cocreators accept that an exchange must occur for their behaviors and desires to develop, but they do not want to pay for the behaviors and status normally associated with a device or product. They will pay instead for the possibilities a device affords: “What else can this be? And what else can I be?” For a corporation to create and prosper within such an experiential and empowered environment, it will need the kind of gutsy imagination that that has no moral fear, and lots of nerve.

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