A digital revolution: An alternative pathway to innovation

Patrick Christie

The pathway to innovation today cannot only be driven by faster/sharper/thinner/lighter/less. We have to let go of the dominant narrative leftover from the Industrial Revolution and look more widely at what factors impact people, the environment, culture, and the economy. As we know, the Industrial Revolution was very mechanistic – components laid in sequence to each other to perform a repetitive task. A thing was broken down into its different parts, and new methods were invented in order to make things at a higher rate and volume. Well, we got really good at that, and we are maxed out. The dial is turned well past 11, Old Growth forests have been decimated, and we are stuck in a mode of production from 100 plus years ago.  

So how do we get out of this? Well, the post-pandemic world might start to shine a light on what’s possible. Within 100 years, there has been such an explosion of new technologies that have created new product categories altogether and vastly improved the capabilities of the machines birthed in the Industrial Revolution. Many of these technologies are completely invisible to the human eye and only experienced through touch screen technology and operated via a distributed computing network. Before the pandemic, only a portion of interactions took place via Zoom; now, it’s part of human nature. Because we were forced to do things differently, we have an industry that can connect with more competence using today’s technology. We have heard numerous stories from our community on how this has positively impacted their way of doing business. At TWIG, we agree, as we now can meet monthly with folks from across BC and beyond, and people can prioritize family needs and still pop in for a couple of hours from the comfort of their homes. 

In March 2019, the organizing team got together and asked ourselves how we might keep going, given that our primary function of OTB was to meet in person, eat food, have drinks, and listen to someone tell their story about wood. At this point, we had already started to try new things like the lead organizers Barbara and Ian moved on, and Jason and I stepped in to lead. We had one season of events in collaboration with the Emily Carr Material Matters lab, highlighting people working at the intersection of digital technologies and traditional materials – or New-Craft. We decided to reconfigure OTB by first rebranding as TWIG and to move everything online, including a purpose-built website, establishing groups on LinkedIn, and creating monthly events through Zoom. 

This pandemic has shown that we can do things differently, and when we all got together to talk about the future of TWIG, our conversation was more about a longer-term vision and not just until the pandemic was over. With this transition to an online format, we have been able to keep connected and have increased the connections in the industry. As the Industrial Revolution invented new ways to convert raw materials into goods, the Digital Revolution brought new ways to connect over distances and through networks, platforms, and interfaces. 

The pathway forward is more about how we work with what we have and the efficiencies that come from an overall utilization of resources within a network or a cluster of people working together. Innovation, in this case, is not something you drive towards but a result of the right conditions. Ones that foster relationship building, new connections, learning, and skill-building and that support people with budding ideas to produce new growth in the industry. 

This article is the second in a five-part series exploring how TWIG offers an alternative pathway to innovation that values humans, resources, and the economy.

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