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The Next Industrial Revolution

Scott Case Main Street Genome
April 17, 2014
We are on the threshold of a major American industrial resurgence over the next decade. New technologies, design methodologies, and demand are leading the way, and the U.S. economy is well-positioned to take advantage of them.
I recently participated on a panel in Washington, D.C. hosted by “Garages, Powered by GE,” about The Future of Work. Justin Fishkin of Local Motors, Hardi Meybaum of GrabCAD and Sree Ramaswamy of McKinsey Global Institute, and I had a great discussion moderated by Neil King of the Wall Street Journal.

From my perspective, three major themes were particularly resonant:

1. Manufacturing Renaissance
Design-to-prototype cycles are much shorter, and startups are pushing the envelope on a global stage. In fact, product development itself is starting move at a pace similar to software continuous integration. The second product can be an incremental improvement on the first. The 100th increasingly better than the 99 before it.

The more you digitize all those pieces means the hardware can be improved at the rate you can innovate, which in turn, will push solutions out quicker. This will have a major impact on the way products are produced and improved, not just in the developed world, but in the developing world, as well.

A participant in a Garages, Powered by GE workshop on building a weather clock inspects his handiwork.

2. 20th Century Manufacturing Jobs are dead
Are there going to be more jobs? Absolutely. But it’s unlikely that there will be a repeat of the resurgence of manufacturing jobs that we witnessed in the 20th century. The good news is that a whole new class of jobs will emerge, but will require new skills.

Industrial design, engineering of all types, and materials science will be the driving jobs behind this next wave. We are not where we need to be at this point but we can get there if we change the way we think about skills development and training.

3. #1 Skill: problem solving
When we hire people at our startup, we’re less interested in your hard skills than your ability to tackle problems and learn new skills.

Investing in teaching problem-solving skills and providing opportunities for students—at all levels—to practice those skills in real-world teams helps bridge a critical gap. That raw material will provide us with the pipeline of resources needed to keep up with a rapidly changing environment.

It’s going to happen.
The key question: Will the U.S. play the leadership role in the world or will it play catch up? The Maker Movement and thousands of startups around the country are investing to make a run at it.

Scott Case is Co-founder and CEO of Main Street Genome.

The Next Industrial Revolution was originally published on Ideas Lab

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