G. Pascal Zachary of The New York Times has an article discussing top down innovation.
“For all the hoopla over the power and promise of user-generated content, consumer-directed design and other hallmarks of our new golden era of democratized innovation, one of the iconic products of our times – the iPod – can’t be customized (no, I’m not counting putting on different-colored protective jackets). There is an unbroken line between Henry Ford (with his Model T) and Steve Jobs. The new iPhone similarly reflects the elite, corporate innovator’s drive to find one size that fits many.”
That is true about the iPod and Steve Jobs. However, I wouldn’t discount the power of networks of people enabled by low cost digital tools of communication, production and distribution. Wikipedia is one great example. And as we go forward, a generation accustomed to online collaboration will take innovation and product development in a direction different than business leaders coming out of a non-networked generation.