The edge takes many forms. One form of edge arises as we move from legal to illegal activity. Another form of edge occurs as we strive to push our bodies to new experiences and performance levels as I have discussed here and here. Like all other edges, these become areas of intense innovation and the patterns emerging on all edges play themselves out in interesting ways.
One of the common patterns I have discussed here and here involves the movement toward distributed creation and production – “do it yourself” approaches reign supreme as participants push the boundaries of current capabilities and seek to tailor products for their own needs.
Peter Schwartz, the founder of Global Business Networks, has an interesting piece in the current issue of Foreign Policy on The War on Drugs suggesting that this pattern may also be playing out in the production and use of illicit drugs:
The model drug of the future is already here in the form of crystal methamphetamine, a drug that is sweeping the United States and making inroads abroad. It’s cheap and easy to make – little more than Sudafed doctored up with plant fertilizer. One hundred percent of the profit goes to the manufacturer; no intermediary or army of couriers required. Made of locally acquired materials in the garage or the basement, the drug’s production is nearly impossible to stop. Only the stupid and the incompetent get caught.
Thirty five years from now, the illicit professionals who remain in the business will be the custom drug designers catering to the wealthy. Their concoctions will be fine-tuned to one’s own body and neural chemistry. . . .
The boundary between legal performance enhancement (Viagra) and the illegal drugs of pleasure and creativity will blur. The political and social pressure against drug use will remain, but it will increasingly resemble the campaigns against performance-enhancing drugs for athletes. Widespread use will spark debates about fairness and authenticity: Is a drug-using musician better than one who composes and performs naturally? Is it fair for only the wealthy to have the richest sexual and culinary experiences?
Just as the legal system is struggling with new realities of intellectual property in a digital age, it will struggle to control innovation in the chemistry of pleasure.
As in other domains, this move towards distributed creation and production is being driven by more affordable and accessible tools of production. At a more fundamental level, it is being driven by a continuing desire to shape one’s own experiences and to push established boundaries. In the case of drugs, the drug of choice may be different, but the backwoods meth producer is a direct descendant of the backwoods hootch producer during the Prohibition. We may not like what they are producing, but history has shown they will be quite creative in finding ways to produce it themselves. The MIT fab lab participant, the remix DJ at the local hip nightclub, the extreme sports enthusiast and the backwoods meth producer all share a common passion – producing goods and experiences on their own terms.
In the process, they will spark a fundamental restructuring of industries and enterprises. Executives had better start figuring out how they can provide their customers with better tools to make their own products and services. This won’t happen everywhere, and it certainly won’t happen all at the same time, but it will be a significant edge where a lot of economic value will be created by those who understand what is happening.