Great Books Part II: Designing Reality

Both, the social and the technical systems need to co-evolve: A visionary guide to digital fabrication and the enabling ecosystems by Neil Gershenfeld, Alan Gershenfeld, and Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld

Great Books Part II: Designing Reality by Neil Gershenfeld, Alan Gershenfeld, and Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld about the future of digital fabrication and fab ecosystems


In their visionary book „Designing Reality“, Neil Gershenfeld (Director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms) along with his two brothers guide us towards „a future where anyone can turn data into things and things into data“. In the era of the Third Digital Revolution „the bits will enable people to directly change the atoms“.


While the authors outline a future, where manufacturing (as we know it today) has been replaced by the ability of individuals „to make what one consumes at a personal or community level“, I want to highlight a second question the authors raise in their book. It appears to be equally important:


"How can social systems effectively co-evolve with the accelerating technology?"

Here are some of my favorite quotes that provide answers to this question–not only relevant for digital fabrication but for other emerging technologies as well.


On the importance of a collaboration-based culture:

  • A key element of an enabling ecosystem for digital fabrication is the ability for anyone, anywhere, to collaborate and share knowledge, advice, failures, and successes with anyone, anywhere.“ (p. 68)


On the importance of leadership in ecosystem environments:

  • We need to build the human capability to go with the new labs and we need sustainable leadership of the labs that have been launched. When people launch a new lab, the equipment will often be up and running in a matter of weeks or, at most, a few months. But getting the needed social system up and running is another story“ (p. 72)


  • „As the demand for community fabrication grows a threshold challenge in the ecosystem will be the parallel need for growth in leadership capacity.“ (p. 72)


On the raise of networks and communicative interactions:

  • „In biology, an ecosystem consists of interacting organisms and their environment. Co-evolution is a product of the interactions. When it comes to technology and society, the ecosystem is a product of the interactions between individuals, organizations, and institutions with technology and the natural environment“ (p. 147)



My conclusion:

Technological change needs to go hand in hand with the change of the relating social system. For technology companies this means, that they need to take care of a social balance to their technological vision. With the rise of new technologies and the growing focus on new technical knowledge and new skills it is essential for companies to provide experienced ecosystem mentorship and guidance and to promote a growth in leadership capacity.


Gershenfeld, N.; Gershenfeld, A.; Cutcher-Gershenfeld, J. (2018): Designing Reality. How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution. Basic Books. New York.


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Ecosystem Leadership