Trend: The Micro-Everything Revolution

Andrew Zolli defines it:

“An interconnected series of innovations in low-cost manufacturing, information technology, design, and distribution are making it possible to deliver goods and services that were scarcely imaginable a few years ago, at price points that were similarly inconceivable, to consumers who were previously excluded from accessing them.

This micro-everything revolution is transforming global healthcare delivery, delivering new forms of financial services and education, unlocking new forms of entrepreneurialism, and creating entirely new industries. It promises to lift millions of people from poverty, amplify community resilience in the face of unforeseen shocks and disruptions, and create new markets and new wealth.”

Paul Polak gives an example:

“D-Rev, for instance, has created a $400 phototherapy device for neonatal jaundice. The existing Western technology that does the same thing starts at $3,000 and the $400 device outperforms the more expensive device. D-Rev has also put together an artificial knee that sells for $80.

Another team [Embrace] has designed an incubator for premature infants that costs $25. A $25 incubator that keeps a premature infant warm is not only divisible because it’s smaller, but it is also not held back by some of the constraints that restrict existing incubators. The existing incubators require electricity but if instead you create what is, in effect, a micro sleeping bag with a package of heat exchange material in it, you don’t need electricity. All of a sudden you can use incubators in village clinics with no electricity.”

In an interview by Andrew Zolli of PopTech, he adds, on the Divisibility of Technology:

“PopTech: One way to think about the micro-everything revolution is by framing it around the ‘divisibility of technology,’ as you refer to it in your book, and the need to pay attention to how goods and services are broken down so that people can take advantage of them at different scales. For example, you mention that you can’t cut a full-sized tractor into small pieces to farm on a small plot of land.

Paul Polak: The problem with the green revolution, particularly with agriculture, was that you could design and create miracle seeds that would increase yields, but in order to make those actually contribute to improved crop production, you also needed fertilizer and water and agricultural implements. You could divide the seeds into tiny packets and make them available to farmers but many of the seeds required irrigation and irrigation couldn’t be divided into affordable pieces so the farmers couldn’t use the miracle seeds.

That problem has been repeated in application after application and only in the past few years have people focused on making tools divisible and smaller and cheaper. The transformative revolutions in business have been based on two things – a revolution in miniaturization and affordability.”