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Freelance consultant, learning facilitator, and writer, founder of extreme-inventing.com, ooleee.net (with artist Gary King), knowledgecafe0151. Teach technology entrepreneurship at School of Engineering at University of Liverpool, UK. I have a longstanding and avid interest in Technology as a unique human phenomenon. I'm actively engaged in research on how enterprising individuals shape material culture through inventing and innovating, with palaeoanthropologists at the Dept. of Archaeology, Egyptology and Classics, also at University of Liverpool.

Extreme Regeneration

No. This is not a Dr Who story, but instead one of economic and community development.

Extreme Inventing was devised as a myth buster. The myth? To invent, or be creative, one needs to be an extra ordinary individual. The truth is, we are all inventive, to invent is natural. In fact to be enterprising is also natural. This message is coming through at last in ideas such as everyday creativity, in approaches to innovation like jugaad, frugal innovation, reverse innovation, and in America’s Maker (DIY) Movement.

The implications of accepting this apparently radical position for policy makers, and others who encourage and even demand citizens or employees to be inventive, is clear. If everyone is inventive, what should be done to harness that inventiveness?  Perhaps change should begin in schools. The most prolific Extreme Inventors are children, usually when playing with others, but this natural inventiveness is schooled out of them, so when they grow up, they need to learn to invent over again. Extreme Inventing is predicated on the assumption that the natural inventiveness of individuals is suppressed, even discouraged. Rather than an enterprising culture, we have the opposite. Efforts to create enterprise cultures, are doomed unless the myth of the rare and creative individual is overturned. Extreme Inventing, jugaad, the maker movement, and lean start-up, are all part of an extreme approach to doing just this.

Invention and economic development

What we now call Innovation policy emerged from the field of innovation economics famously pioneered by the economist Joseph Schumpeter back in 1947. His model of economic development highlighted the relationship between entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic cycles.  Thus, innovative individuals, who have the potential of founding their own small businesses, have become the focus of efforts to regenerate local, regional and national economies. The implicit assumption of this approach is that such individuals are rare and exceptional, a scarce economic resource. However, there are recent developments, which, very significantly, have not emanated from any government office, and have begun to challenge this central assumption, this pillar of economic development policy. These could be described as social or organisational innovations, as distinct from the material/physical/artefactual kind. It’s difficult to say when each of the following developments began to gain purchase, but it’s now possible to see a cluster of ideas converging into a self-organising, bottom-up or grassroots approach to innovating and local economic regeneration. The challenge is for local and central governments to respond, without destroying the spontaneity of this phenomenon.

The converging developments are:

i) The Lean Start-up movement

ii) A user/innovator approach to inventing represented by Jugaad, an approach to innovating emanating from India, and associated ideas such as Frugal Innovation, DIY (USA), Systeme D (France), and reverse innovation (USA). Extreme Inventing I see as a possible addition, but unlike these others is grounded in a new theoretical perspective on inventing and innovating.

iii) The maker movement, which is supported, encouraged and enabled by Maker Magazine.

iv) Crowd sourcing of investment for micro/small businesses —crowd funding. Eg., Kickstarter.com

Each of these will be covered in brief in the accompanying article which was accepted for presentation at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship conference in Dublin 2012. Each of the above is covered before focussing on the second of these, putting Extreme Inventing into the context of user innovation and highlighting both its practical application and theoretical underpinning. From this I will develop an argument for developing a new approach to local regional economic development policy.

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