Manufacturing is the use of tools and labor to make things for use or for sale.  When I think of manufacturing, I see images of machines spinning out high precision components into colored inventory buckets that are transported to clean areas to be precisely combined with other precious components creating some magnificent device such as an aircraft, computer, or medical CAT scan machine.  Each device is a product of countless human interactions.

Each little piece is designed, discussed, and depicted with great care and precision so that it fits perfectly with the next piece.  Everything about each part is planned long in advance; the composition of the material, the tolerances of all dimensions, and the strength/weight/wear characteristics.  However, each piece alone has little value without the other pieces.  Yet, if one piece fails the whole machine can fail.  When the machine has completed its service life – those beautiful, intricate, and worthy creations of human interactions are simply discarded.

Since the invention of the cotton gin, the economic growth resulting from the human interaction involved in precision component making (literally and figuratively) is undeniable.  Until the era of Social Networking, however, few could envision that human interactions are themselves components of an invisible inventory. Each element of human interaction is precisely honed from some invisible raw material by social machinery and deposited into colorful garments and transported to clean areas where they combine with other precious components creating some magnificent device such as an airplane, computer, or medical CAT scan machine.  When the machine is scrapped, the product of those human interactions lives on…but where and how?

The greatest constraint to the emergence of an innovation economy is the invisibility of knowledge assets; social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital.  We have an inventory of every nut, rivet, and panel on an airplane, but not the knowledge asset that created things.  It is like society is keeping a big secret from itself.  This is the great opportunity for Social Media.

People are still asking “where is the money in all of this social media stuff?” The answer is “everywhere – the door is unlocked, but the lights are off”.  The irony regarding the visibility of knowledge assets is that they lay right in front of us but we refuse to see the obvious.  All we need to do is switch on the lights. Until we can inventory knowledge assets outside the construct of a corporation, social networks cannot themselves become the corporations of the future.

Can innovation be manufactured?  Of course, with the right tools, innovation can do whatever it wants.