“Recent studies show consumers now spend more money tweaking and inventing stuff than consumer product firms spend on research and development. It’s more than $3.75 billion a year in Britain, and U.S. studies under way now show similiar patterns. Makers are even morphing into entrepreneurs, with some of the best projects, including Kleinman’s, raising money for commercial development of self-funding Web sites such as Kickstarter, where anyone with a credit card can chip in to back cool ideas.
Major companies such as Ford are, after years of resisting inventor gadflies, inviting makers to submit product tweaks. “This is the democratization of technology,” said K. Venkatesh Prasad, a senior engineering executive at Ford.
“Policymakers and economists always assumed that consumers just consumed and that they don’t innovate,” said Eric von Hippel, who studies technological innovation and makers at MIT’s business school. “What’s clearly happening now is that all of a sudden it’s easier for us to make exactly what we want.””