What is the new game in town? Out of competing theories and views, there tends to emerge a certain winner, a dominant argument that shapes the entire new paradigm. In a world of diversity and disparate values and social systems, its not always easy to know what this emerging paradigm is. A lot of the times our views on who the winner might be are shaped by our own context and where we live.

What world do you live in? The world has probably always been as varied and multifarious as we find it now. Its population always separated by distance, context and perspective. There always were, and perhaps always will be, technologically advanced and not so advanced societies that co-exist. The crisis of our time though is somewhat different. It almost seems as if post-modernity has only just arrived in its truest sense. Choices about careers, investments, politics and social systems are all a lot more difficult.

As the world transitions towards multi-polarity, the shortcomings of all systems come sharply into focus. As the speed of technological innovation accelerates, skills, careers and products of today will become very rapidly obsolete tomorrow. As capital is attracted to a large spread of commercial centers across the world, and as start-ups and innovations drive economic growth, the world is growing much more competitive. This is probably an era of a million renaissances. As the worldwide web forged a global market, increasing numbers of people began selling their arts, skills, crafts, cultures and products to individuals all over the world, breathing life into many otherwise marginalized or unknown communities.

Despite the incredible variety in the lifestyles of the 7 billion people living on earth, there are at times some seminal events or discoveries that seem to reach across these vast differences and affect the lives of nearly all of us. It isn’t, however, always easy to spot such events in their early stages or to predict what their subsequent effects may be. As an increasing number of people gains access to information and research across the world, several different interpretations are brought to bear on these events. Post-modernity, perhaps by definition, implies a certain ambiguity and plurality of perspective embedded in context specific interpretations of the world, rather than a single monolithic understanding of it.

There are still, however, writers, thinkers and theorists whose views seem to envelop a large swathe of human understanding. Clay Shirky’s views, for instance, on collective human action through enabling technologies better known as ‘crowd sourcing’ is one area that is now seeing incredible growth and activity. Kick Starter – the start-up platform that ‘crowd funds’ creative projects and innovations of aspiring entrepreneurs and originated in the US in 2009 – has already funded US $350 Million in projects as of October 2012, and just launched in the UK last month. ‘Unbound’, a UK-based publishing house, aims to crowd source book publishing by taking away the middleman. Several such projects and start-ups are beginning to render the intermediary actors in entire sectors redundant.

The words and actions of such leading thinkers point to a very significant and rapid change in the way society functions. Yet in the midst of revolutionary ideas and innovations from people such as Paul Graham and Steven Pinker, you still, however, observe the old world views centered in geographic identities and ‘war of civilizations’ type mentalities fighting for survival in the writings of the likes of Niall Ferguson. Nonetheless, the inevitability of change is bound to creep into all our lives and it behooves us to listen and adapt to these changes as individuals, communities and as a society at large.

Happily enough, the developments we are observing are for the better, pointing to a more exciting and promising time ahead. With the corruption and inefficiencies in banking and other leading industries of the 20th century spilling out, the new breed of open-source and crowd sourced businesses is taking over, increasing transparency and leveling the playing field. The online shift of the world economy has opened avenues for growth to those who adapted fastest. However, the next generation of change is already upon us, and a new set of technologies are again on the anvil. We have already transitioned web-based business to mobile platforms resulting in incredible innovations in telephony. But there is a different class of innovations now taking shape.

The inventor Marcin Jacobowski built a tractor in just six days, and made the designs available to everyone. He is now creating a ‘starter kit for civilization,’ which includes simple designs for 50 machines he considers important for modern life. All of these are being made available open-source to unleash the potential for others. He is not alone, however, with this open source philosophy and idea sharing spreading far and wide. Marcin is also not alone in focusing on manufacturing. Time magazine’s best inventions list for 2012 featured, alongside his tractor, a motion-activated screwdriver, solar water distiller, a ‘liquislide’ compound material for aiding fluid flow that can be used in anything ranging from ketchup bottles to airplane wings, self inflating tires, a new space suit design, and James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger Submarine. In sum, the list includes a host of objects that represent innovations in design of physical space. There is an unmistakable trend towards manufacturing and hardware after a burst of software and web-enabled innovations. These developments are transformative and will realign industries and economic power.

According to Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief at Wired and best-selling author, the next significant development will be linked to the democratization of the tools of creation and distribution. At his talk in London for Intelligence Squared, Anderson singled out 3D printing as the next major revolutionary step, which will impact and drive manufacturing over the coming decades. According to Anderson, ten years ago businessmen from developed western countries had to travel half way across the globe to China, network with local officials and obtain permits to have their products manufactured in cheap local factories. Now the same transaction takes a couple of clicks on the Internet through online payment and data sharing services.

The methods of production and the mechanics of doing business internationally have changed dramatically. The global supply chain or ‘factory in the cloud,’ has not only made it easier for Chinese factories to secure overseas contracts, but has also empowered inventors in the West to become entrepreneurs by helping them convert their designs into products, reducing barriers to entry. But that too is now fast becoming par for the course. According to Anderson the game is already set to change once again with the advent of 3D printing, which essentially enables users to print ‘things’ instead of documents at home from their computer. That is, providing the means for individuals to design their own product and ‘manufacture’ it in on their own 3D printer.

While still nascent, the potential impact of this technology on how we consume products, design our physical space and personalize our world is significant. For instance, 3D printing could be a challenge to Chinese dominance of production processes. If spread widely enough, people might design and tailor their products to their own taste and build them at home rather than buying mass-produced goods off a factory floor. In this vein, Anderson wrote in his earlier books Long Tail and Free about the revival of barter and exchange of value over the net, resulting in new rules for finance and economics in the information age. All these developments rupture existing structures, creating space for new ideas and systems.

How far economies go in internalizing these concepts and developments into their social fabric and their culture is pivotal in marking out the main beneficiaries of such developments. While this notion of adapting to the latest technology is not new, the extraordinary rate of progress now is itself a major game changer. Slow moving, entrenched and rigid structures, large corporations and monopolies will find themselves less and less competitive in a world of crowd-sourced solutions, networked start-ups and rapid technological advances. The shifts in global politics, the shifting of economic power, rapid and irresistible technological changes and evolving social and cultural paradigms mean that nimble-footed and adaptive institutions and individuals will lead the way and benefit most from coming changes.

Smaller start-ups and flexible networks rather than large companies, and adaptive individuals rather than commoditized, unresponsive workers are destined to survive better. Flexibility, the ability to start afresh and continuously innovate is the new normal. Given this new set of rules, creating industries that are adaptive and systems that are responsive is the order of the day. It is perhaps not a war of civilizations anymore, but a competition between networks: the wider, broader and nimbler the network, the better the chances of surviving to the next hurdle. Societies that are able to look beyond political and religious identities towards more collaborative and result-oriented associations across the globe will lead the way. That, really, is the new game in town.