BOSTON -- Mike Walsh loves mind grenades. They are handy weapons to force people to think creatively, just what Walsh wants to do as a self-proclaimed futurist and chief executive of a consulting company called Tomorrow.
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He threw out four of them, aiming at engineers who attended his keynote at DESIGN East here. The grenades took the form of questions, the equivalent of Zen master koans for the embedded community. Here are a few to ponder:
- If you had to show your current project to Steve Jobs, what is one thing you would change?
- When devices are made by anyone, what’s the most important export asset?
- In a world where ecosystems are more important than products what will the next big engineering problem?
- If you kids joined your company today what would they think about your technology?
The questions stem from a handful of Walsh’s observations. He contends the customer, the workplace, the product and the supply chain are all going through a process of radical change.
For instance, all but 11 percent of people aged 15-24 will be in developing markets in Asia and Africa in the next decade. “This will have impact on where people buy your products,” he told several hundred engineers here.
Google is harnessing the smartphone generation, hiring known video game experts. “They figured out someone who is a guild leader in ‘World of Warcraft’ has similar characteristics of a good software group leader managing a global team, Walsh said.
China’s white goods maker Haier is an example of the new, smart OEM, said Walsh. Responding to support calls from remote villages who used its washing machines to clean potatoes, it created new modes for its products—like butter churning.
Walsh also held up shanzai, China’s cottage industry of no-name cellphone cloners for their growing innovation and competence. Some now make $100 smartphones that include TV tuners and can take two SIM cards.
“Their aggressive approach will be a juggernaut that any traditional R&D company will find it difficult to keep up with,” he said.
Walsh challenged the conventional notion products are made in developing countries and sold in developed ones. For example, he noted Turkey is the fifth largest market for Facebook and tends to be a consumer of the most expensive smartphones.
At the same time, 3-D printing holds the potential to disrupt supply chains, calling it an industrial re-revolution or additive manufacturing. “3-D printing will change the way we think about manufacturing--the means of production are now in the hands of everyday people,” he said.Related stories:DESIGN East: Software seen as critical for MCUsDIY Goes Back to Future with Nixies at DESIGN East