The (R)evolution of carpet (part 4 of 4).

This final part of an essay on the rise of the Georgia carpet industry originated as part of an email reply to a former colleague. This friend asked about the relevance of Tricycle to the larger message of sustainability. The gains of the carpet manufacturers didn't happen in a vacuum, they benefitted from and contributed to the broader technology, business and social environment. Understanding context allows a person, a company or a society to hold a mirror to itself and see its place in a big world. This understanding can provide a platform for a longer view.


Like the carpet revolution, the computer/ internet revolution waited for the right technology, and then never waited again. In ten years it changed its industry so thoroughly that Big Blue is now a consulting company and no one under thirty even remembers when they built computers. Punch cards and tape reels are either antique store curiosities or the punch line to a nerd’s party joke. Collaboration and flexibility were the key advantages that allowed all manner of people to work together in creative ways. Computer users working together quickly adopted new technology and then changed that technology when it didn’t do what they wanted it to do. Because there were no established models for “The Right Way to Go About This”, they were unafraid to try new ways of production, distribution and of completely re-imagining the concept of the supplier and the customer. In fact, the very idea of "product" changed as processes dematerialized and data replaced physical objects.

It’s surprising that the Northern Mills, like IBM later, couldn't see this coming. There were examples of this going all the way back to the dinosaurs-- who, even though they were the top of the food chain, lost out to smaller, more adaptable animals. History is full of famous examples of light, fast and flexible armies defeating larger ones. But somehow, the revolution always seems to come as a surprise to the establishment.

There’s a new revolution, and though it won’t look like what’s come before, the catalysts will be the same: flexibility and collaboration. And it’s still a matter of scale. Each revolution happens faster and affects a larger group. The carpet revolution was a specific industry, while the computer and internet revolution crossed boundaries of business and industry. The next revolution will be a collaboration of business and society. We’re already seeing the signs; voices are telling us the World is Flat, teenagers in the Netherlands post video opinions for consumption three minutes later in Oklahoma City. A part-time political junkie writes a blog that ends the campaign of a presidential candidate. A housewife in Knoxville orders a computer from a call center in India and parts are shipped from Singapore to be assembled in Nashville and three days after she hangs up the phone a package service is at her front door with her custom-built computer. And a billion-dollar carpet company announces the adoption, at all levels of its organization, practices that benefit the environment. The revolution is going to be a world where responsibility and profitability are no longer at odds. Society will stop being the customer and business will stop being the supplier. When both sides collaborate and benefit that’s a partnership and like the carpet industry before it, the relationship leads to even greater innovation.

Tricycle is part of what’s coming. Tryk is a product that generates revenue, but it’s only a tool, and like any tool its value lies in the concept of what it can enable. Someone buys a hammer because they imagine a house, not because they just want a hammer. Tricycle creates and distributes the tools for collaboration and flexibility. By freeing carpet manufacturers and designers from physical samples you create flexibility, now a designer can work anywhere there’s a computer, without a case full of samples. And collaboration can only happen when both participants are speaking the same language. Tryks become that language by replacing words with pictures. And when landfills aren’t groaning under the weight of more carpet and when natural resources go untapped because demand isn’t there then society and business share the benefits of partnership.

It’s a small part of the revolution to be sure and this company’s contribution could be forgotten when that last piece of technology falls into place and the revolution stops waiting, starts picking up speed and moves the world. But how much would it be worth to claim even a small part as your own contribution?

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