Everyone Is Empowered to Create and Share

John Maeda, Design Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

We live in an age of universal creation and co-creation – one where technology is both an afterthought and ever-present. We optimists can’t help but be excited by the possibilities for anyone to lend his or her voice to the global dialog, to make contact with others across the world, and to develop unique content, products, and experiences. Compared with only five years ago, we have accepted the small computers in our pockets as undeniable extensions of ourselves – always present, always connecting us, always answering our questions. No longer do we apologize for our reliance on them, or bat an eye when an entire queued line, coffee shop, or train car is filled with people staring at their own personal screens. Of course we can’t help but wish for “the way things were,” but every historian will tell you that’s just the human condition.

In 2010 I wrote an essay for a series Forbes was doing called “Your Life in 2020,” musing about what consequences this ubiquity would bring. Future-predicting can be a hit-or-miss proposition, so I’m pleased to see that some of the trends I pointed to have begun to play out in earnest. We have seen the rise of the individual author model in software development, now a craft industry. With barriers to entry extremely low, we have seen more success stories involving a couple of people building an app that took off like wildfire, changed the behavior of millions, and occasionally propelled its designers and developers to absurd levels of success.

It’s also become commonplace for individuals to deliberately cultivate their own brands, and for those brands to stand out in comparison to corporate entities that haven’t evolved to participate in a two-way conversation (much like people would). On the flip side, these successful brands-of-one now have to think twice before sending a thought out via social media, as the stakes to lose can sometimes outpace the stakes to win (much like they do for a corporation).

Both of these shifts have been enormously empowering for people. But my most persistent belief is that the more our world becomes “always-on,” the more we crave experiences that reconnect us with our humanity, whether those experiences are digital or not. And the more we take technology for granted, the more the way a product makes us feel becomes how we decide. We used to choose based on the best technology, and now we choose based on the best design.

In this new era, artistic and designerly approaches to making are taking center stage, and artists and designers are finding themselves at the head of the table – as founders of companies – more than ever before. Creative people have traditionally been seen as the flaky ones, bordering on irrelevant, and the ones that proudly carry the torch against “the man” — only to awkwardly realize that now, they themselves are “the man.” By 2020, I can only imagine that their creative approaches to leadership will seem less foreign – both to the rest of the world, and to themselves.