Humans design systems that suit our purposes, that create wealth, and that make life better. We seek and test ideas; then adopt the ones that best fit our needs. When resources seemed limitless, the best ideas often involved extracting resources to feed the new technologies. That's how our modern economies evolved. But those circumstances are changing. Growing uncertainty about availability and access to key resources is forcing us to design new systems and business models to meet our needs. The most important challenge we face today is decoupling the relationship between producing wealth and material goods. In the emerging economy, innovation trends – like light-weighting, miniaturization, modularity, open source information distribution, sharing, and ephemeralization – are found in a patchwork of privately developed technologies that drive value while utilizing fewer net resources.

Another important feature of this emerging economy is people. As participants in the economy, our role is changing from simple consumers of the market’s offerings to makers with control over our environment. As individuals, we can now exert greater control over the resources used to deliver product benefits while creating customized lifestyles. You can order up a friendly ride with the swipe of a finger, listen to the quiet buzz of a drone delivering a package to your remote outpost in upper Siberia or print an entire wardrobe out of designs purchased on the Internet.

The new "lightweight," customized, and decentralized economy is primarily based on advances in design software, computing, and information technology. Our next post will touch on key considerations for navigating and understanding the decentralization of infrastructure, and how they are changing business operations and revealing new opportunities.