The Power of Tinkering

Tinkering is a minor risk taking activity without any great consequence; it is not goal directed nor are there defined outcomes. There are no key performance indicators for tinkering. Thus, tinkering is suspended from the pressures of defined goals and time limits. It’s about a question mark, not a product or a saleable process. Tinkering involves a flow state, an intense focus on a small closed world. Tinkering and play are closely interlinked; a certain sense of wonder propels the curiosity at the heart of every compulsive tinkerer. Tinkering allows failure, which is essential for any process of evolution. - Mark Thompson – Institute of Backyard Studies

little delicate workFast Company ran an interesting piece by Kevin Lee recently titled “How Creative Hobbies Make Us Better at Basically Everything.”  Most people will agree that it’s nice to have hobbies, but making us better “at basically everything”?

Lee cites Google’s “20% rule” that famously allows employees 20% of their work time to pursue their own interests (and may or may not have been redesigned a bit) in the interest of boosting overall corporate creativity and employee satisfaction. More compelling is the UK study Lee references, that examined the relationships between non-work creative activity and work performance.

Results showed “that those who had a creative hobby were more likely to feel a sense of relaxation outside work and to feel greater control and a sense of mastery. At work, meanwhile, those with a creative hobby were more likely to help others and to be more creative in the performance of their job.”

This isn’t rocket science of course, although it certainly could be.  Anything that exercises creativity and artistic expression limbers up the heart and soul, as well as the mind. Whether it’s tinkering for something like Red Bull Creation, or cobbling things together for Instructables projects, to solve real problems or create works of art or just fiddling for fun, that state of “flow” that brings life and being into clear, contented focus.

the joy of flow

In the TED Talk, Flow, the secret to happiness, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of  psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University, observes that “regardless of the culture, regardless of education or whatever, there are these seven conditions that seem to be there when a person is in flow. There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback. You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.”

Imagine a nation of people in “flow” supported in creative endeavors at all levels of life, at work and at home, a capable nation of tinkerers,  imbued with that “certain sense of wonder” that propels the curiosity driven, capable and meaningful life.

Not a bad world to imagine!


The Gift of Unhurried Time

This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Flower GirlI came across an article recently, that referenced a thoughtful piece that ran last summer in the Huffington Post.  I don’t remember anything about the article that referenced it now, but the HP article called The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’ is worth revisiting.  In the article, author Rachel Macy Stafford tells the story of her gloriously “laid-back, carefree, stop-and-smell-the roses type of child”.

Her daughter, Macy Stafford, observed, was a Noticer, “and  I quickly learned that The Noticers of the world are rare and beautiful gifts. That’s when I finally realized she was a gift to my frenzied soul.”

In reading Macy Stafford’s descriptions of her perennially dawdling daughter, I  was instantly transported back, 20 years, to our own little blessing of a sprite, the eldest of our three children, an enchantingly distracted little creature for whom the word “hurry” had no meaning.  I remember watching her one day, when she was about four or five years old, at a community center gymnastics class.  The other children were tumbling with athletic fervor, cheered on by an energetic and encouraging teacher.  One after the other, the children somersaulted down the mat, like little windblown dandelion seeds.  And then it was my little girl’s turn.

My dreamy little kid took one graceless flopping somersault and lay there on her back, beaming up at the lights

Two Girls in a Gender- Neutral Box

overhead, clearly enchanted by something she saw there.  The teacher urged her on. The other parents around me chuckled indulgently.  My sweetheart clambered up, and gamely tumbled over again, and this time, a sliver of thread from the exercise mat caught her eye, and she lay there happily playing with it until the teacher nudged her on.  Then she saw something else that looked like some kind of animal and happily described to anyone who would listen, still not halfway down the mat.

It was funny and sweet and heartwarming enough that I recorded the experience in my journal at the time. Also among those pages are reflections of watching her little sister systematically explore a banana over a period of about 20 minutes.  I remember how my children could play for hours with sticks , sticks that were alternately swords, horses, tent frames, and magical wands.  They’d work for hours on drawings, stories, plays, and a box was a week’s worth of entertainment.

walking on the beachIt’s a good thing Macy Stafford realized the gift she had with her sweet Noticer in time for both of them to benefit.  Her Noticer, and my little Dreamer came preset with a knack for making the most of here and now, and we do well to heed their counsel. As we head into summer, it’s easy to want to structure every minute of a child’s life, and our own, with activities, programs, classes, and sports.   It might be worth considering this summer, the priceless gift of unhurried time.

To give the gift of time, of course, we have to take some things away — a sport, an extra class, a meeting, a shopping trip — because there are only so many hours in a day. To gain time, we have to eliminate something which uses it up. To some people, the thought of staying home and “doing nothing” can be scary. We have filled our days with so many things that we’ve lost the vital skill of doing nothing, of being a Noticer, of being patient and confident enough to fill the quiet hours with thoughts and day dreams.

Unhurried, unstructured time is important. So is day dreaming.  Isaac Newton came to conclusions about gravity while sitting still. Albert Einstein realized relativity during quiet moments of imaginative figuring. When Henry David Thoreau forced himself into solitude and inactivity, he made the enduring observation that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

With every moment of every day fully structured for us, both we and our children lose the ability to create order and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAstructure of our own making. It’s not natural that children become “bored” as soon as school lets out, or think “there’s nothing to do” (and consequently may turn to inappropriate activities with other equally unimaginative and bored peers).

Children and adults with time on their hands and who have to make do with it — within supervised and safe environments well stocked with books, creative resources, outdoor spaces and peace and quiet — are generally more self-reliant, creative and self-satisfied than those whose time is always structured for them. Certainly our now grown children bear out that theory, grown into creative, thoughtful, curious, self-reliant and compassionate young adults.

In an interesting article for Jewish Family and Life, “Kids — Like Adults — Need Summer Downtime,” by Ann Moline,  Moline cites education consultant Ruth Heitin’s remarks that, “The search for something interesting to do will help kids exercise a part of their brains that may not be getting enough activity in today’s overspecialized, over programmed world.”

“I’m so afraid,” Heitin said, “that we will become a society of followers, who can’t find jobs on their own that please them, because things have always been programmed or directed for them.”

Labor Day walk in the woodsIn short, without unstructured, unhurried time to reflect, create and recharge our inner batteries, neither we nor our children can achieve our full potential.

So maybe this Independence Day, truly declare your independence, for you and your children, from the over busy, super structured ties that bind your soul and steal your time. Respectfully decline that umpteenth party invitation, don’t sign the kids up for that 3rd sports camp.

Stay home. Play cards or a board game. Read a book. Draw. Listen to the music. Sit outside, or take a walk,  and enjoy the nice weather and think. If your small children – or your big ones – come to you and complain that there’s nothing to do, tell them you’re sure they’ll think of something. They will! (Just keep sharp things out of reach, hide the car keys and lose the remote.)  And if they invite you to stroll along in their world - go!

I’ll finish with Macy Stafford’s words, which could, and probably should,  be a mantra in our hurried world.

“I will not say, “We don’t have time for this.” Because that is basically saying, “We don’t have time to live.”

“Pausing to delight in the simple joys of everyday life is the only way to truly live.”

Enjoy the gift of unhurried time this summer, and make this time, the very best time.


Gulf Coast MakerCon and the Power of Making

Many thanks to Wayne Rasanen, inventor of the In10Did keyboard, and president of the Tampa Bay Inventors Council, one of our fantastic Gulf Coast MakerCon partners, for this nice look back at our 2014 event.  I enjoyed the interview and the opportunity to share why I believe Making is important and worth celebrating.   Thank you, Wayne, and the Tampa Bay Inventors Council for helping others find their creative way to entrepreneurship and invention.

- Terri Willingham

Jim Carrey and the Life Authentic

AristotleMindHeartWhen you are authentic, transparent, you will stand out as you are truly seen. When you are transparent, others can “see through” you into you as your heart and true essence shines. You are clear, direct and kind. You are not an enigma; you don’t leave people scratching their heads wondering what you just said and did. You do not hide. You are honest to the bone. You are courage enfleshed… Authenticity happens in the guts and bowels of your life. Being authentic is the grunt-work of the soul, of any deeply human, spiritual path.

Being half here, half there, half-hearted, faking it to look good, strategizing to make things easier for your self — that’s the common way of the unconscious clotted middle, driven by our egoic, addicted culture. It’s a way that lacks wholeheartedness. Lacks real courage to let the heart break. Shatter. Broken whole and holy open to finally know compassion for self, others, earth. To live and love — on-fire, fully alive, juiced and ready to serve. © 2014 Melissa La Flamme,  Excerpted from the article: Authenticity: The Juicy Mess of Our Human-ness


Passion-based learning, and its hoped for result, passion-based living, are relatively new terms in the education passion based learning info graphiclexicon,  but a natural component of the sharing economy – things like peer-to-peer networking, Zipcar , and Airbnb - that are growing all around us.  It may seem easy to  dismiss it all as some Millennial feel-good fad, that fails to take into consideration the harsh realities of the lives most of us lead, lives that require 9-5 (or more) in jobs we may not like, doing work we’d prefer not to do, for the very basic purposes of buying food and paying for rent.

But let’s posit there’s something bigger going on here, a slow dawning of consciousness among small  but increasingly connected groups.  Paul Ray wrote “The Cultural Creatives: How 50 million People Are Changing the World,” in 2000, and in 2002 Richard Florida brought a socioeconomic look to bear on the idea with his landmark book, “Rise of the Creative Class.”  The inexorable march of the maker movement, culminating with the recent White House Maker Faire, would seem to bear out these now decade old contentions that there just might be something to the idea of a passion based life of creative engagement.

Actor and comedian Jim Carrey’s commencement address, this past May, to the 2014 graduating class of  Maharishi University of Management (MUM) adds yet another compelling layer, not the least of which is the facility at which he spoke – a business school in Iowa that specializes in “Consciousness-Based education,” combining traditional post-secondary school subjects with things like Transcendental Meditation and Vedic Science.

“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.” Carrey told students.  “What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it.”

Carrey’s message to students is, essentially, a call to authenticity, to that wholehearted life of transparency Melissa LaFlame talks about, that way of being that is “on-fire, fully alive, juiced and ready to serve,” a way of being as true for a plumber or a taxi driver as it is for an artist or an engineer.  Can we always be or do what we want to be or do? Maybe not. But can we try? Can we live openly, honestly, with curiosity and interest in the world around us? Carrey suggests it’s the only way to peace of mind and light of soul.

“You can join the game, fight the wars, play with form all you want, but to find real peace, you have to let the armor fall. Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory.”

This call to the life authentic, to passion based living, is nothing less than a call for a civil society, to a world in which we are honest, compassionate, and creative, where we share our resources, our skills and our knowledge, where  there is less posturing and more productivity.

Ultimately,” Carrey says. “We’re not the avatars we create. We’re not the pictures on the film stock. We are the light that shines through it. All else is just smoke and mirrors.

Life doesn’t happen to you, Carrey contends, it happens for you. Make it Real.


The Creative Power of Play

Children are born scientists. They are always turning over rocks and plucking petals off flowers. They are always doing stuff that, by and large, is destructive. That’s what exploration really is when you think about it. An adult scientist is a kid who never grew up. Neil DeGrasse Tyson

That inner kid, driven by the powerful engine of unabashed wonder – the curiosity that drives children to turn over those rocks or examine bugs or

Leaves of joyconstruct blanket forts – is a selfless motivator for art ,invention and innovation, as well as science.  Children aren’t thinking anything beyond “What’s this for?” or “I wonder what will happen if I do this?” or “This looks like fun!” or “What if….” when they do what they do best as children: experiment.

Challenges like Red Bull Creation are invitations to that creative playground of the mind, opportunities to do something just for the fun of it (and maybe for a trip to Detroit to make more stuff for the fun of it)  They’re like those funky icebreakers and team building exercises for business meetings, only better, because there’s no business meeting – just the exercise of being creative.

Every single time we’ve participated in a Red Bull Creation event, we’ve learned something new- often many new and interesting things.  Not because we were looking to learn something, but because in order to make what we wanted to make, we had to figure out how to master some new concepts, and usually they were concepts or ideas or skills we probably wouldn’t have learned in the ordinary course of our grown up lives.

In a recent column in the New York Times (The Art of Focus), David Brooks begins by admitting he’s “losing the attention war,” giving in to the multiple distractions the make up the fabric of our modern work days.

“Many of us lead lives of distraction, ” he says, “unable to focus on what we know we should focus on.”

But upon reading an interview with child psychologist Adam Phillips, Brooks says maybe we’re looking at that “attention war” all wrong.

boys-with-bubbleThe lesson from childhood, then, is that if you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say “no” to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say “yes” to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”

We’ve spoken here before about the importance of play in a productive society (A Players Uprising – A Manifesto for Play), because play, and more to our purposes as a creative, self-reliant and personally and economically fulfilled society,- its integral components of wonder, curiosity and joie de vivreis -  is a vital aspect of innovation.

Edutopia recently visited the story of the Robohand Club in Innovative Education: Make Room for “What Ifs”.  Educator Rich Lehrer , an 8th grade science teacher,  created an opportunity for his students to have “the kind of learning for which there are no textbooks or tests.”

What if we invite students to solve real problems? ” Lehrer asked. “What if the classroom doesn’t have walls? What if learning activities don’t always end with letter grades?

So he asked his students if they could help build a mechanical prosthetic hand for his 4 year old son, Max, who was born with a hand deformity.  They did, and learning happened – without structured classes, without assessments, without grades, his students were just able to “take an idea and soar!

Now Lehrer’s students weren’t “playing” in the playground sense of the word with this project. They were applying themselves at a high level of engagement to solve a complex problem – but in a creative group learning fashion often seen in play, and which David Brooks says we need to return to at the adult level as well.


Discussing ideas at the recent Hillsborough Hackathon

Forget those brainstorming sessions, Brooks says, and those conferences with projector screens. Instead, find some like minded associates with “overlapping obsessions.”

Brooks urges us to look at the way children learn in groups.  “They make discoveries alone, but bring their treasures to the group. Then the group crowds around and hashes it out. In conversation, conflict, confusion and uncertainty can be metabolized and digested through somebody else. If the group sets a specific problem for itself, and then sets a tight deadline to come up with answers, the free digression of conversation will provide occasions in which people are surprised by their own minds.”

“The only way to stay fully alive,” says Brooks, ” is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep.”

Eureka! That’s how our Red Bull Creation team works; that’s what happens in small informal learning groups, in FIRST teams , in our friends’ ASCII Warriors team, and in makerspaces all over the world, all providing playful opportunities to be surprised by our own minds.  This isn’t just project based learning, it’s project based living.

We need to find more engaging and productive ways to freedive into the depths of our creative being for our own good and for the good of our communities.



The Patience to Succeed: Playing the Long Game

Today, we want success in seventeen levels, or seventeen minutes, seventeen seconds — and when the promise of something new and better is just a click away, who wants to wait seventeen years? But that’s the thing that connects all of these great people — they played the long game.”  Adam Westbrook, in the Long Game

andrea12For most of the centuries of human existence, we have known the truth of the sentiment, “good things come to those who wait,” or it’s 21st century manifestation, the 10,000 Hour Rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell.  Or at least we’ve understood its implications: that success, expertise, skill, knowledge, mastery and understanding take time to fully develop, to be realized, to blossom, and come to fruition.

In an interesting look at the work of Leonardo DaVinci, in the second installment of Adam Westbrook’s video series, The Long Game, Westbrook focuses not on DaVinci’s successes, but on the time between those successes – at one point a 16 year long dry spell, which wasn’t really dry so much as it was a spell of patient, persistent exploration. And everyone’s familiar with Thomas Edison’s endless light bulb trials and his sentiment that he hadn’t failed a thousand times, but rather knew one thousand ways not to make a lightbulb.

In his book, Mastery, author Robert Greene calls these down times between personal successes  “a self-directed IMG_3595apprenticeship” that can often last ten years or more but receives no historical or social attention because it often seems to lack stories of any significant discovery or achievement. The fact is, great people and their great discoveries, inventions, ideas, art and innovation don’t happen overnight.

“All of us have the brain, ” Westbrook notes. “and the talent, and the creativity to join them. But now, right when it matters, do any of us have the patience?”

frustrated-writerThat’s a good question, and an important one, because to do or create anything of enduring value requires time and patience.

In the aptly named blog post, Change takes Time,  Code for America Fellow  Molly McLeod talks about efforts to improve services and resources for the homeless in Long Beach, CA, where resources exist but it’s hard to connect people with them.

“…to be successful, ” she says, “interventions often have to be very hands-on, personal, and sustained over time,” often requiring dozens of conversations over months or even years to connect people with services.

In our high speed culture, it’s easy to forget that it actually takes time to do things, time to achieve things, time, ironically, to change things - especially in a world that seems to change so quickly.

But we’re only seeing the high tech legacy of efforts, not the history that led to their conclusions. Sure, Moore’s Law says technology advances exponentially, but it requires a lot of exponential developments to create truly valuable outcomes. Most of the stuff in between is bread and circuses, trinkets to amuse us. Most of the gadgets in cars are just gadgets. But there’s been a couple hundred years between the development of the car, and the development of the *driverless* car.

Similarly, cultural change takes time. There’s a great TEDx talk by Derek Sivers on “How to Start a Movement.” A dancingguymovement doesn’t happen when someone has an idea, he says, in this charming talk, but when the second person follows that first person with the idea, inspiring others to join in.

Real change requires community buy in, which usually starts with a small group of like-minded individuals and builds outward over time.  And even Gladwell’s 10,000 Hours rule has been tempered by the observation that it’s not necessarily the the amount of time invested in learning or creating something, but the quality of that time.

Efforts to fast track the success of products, opportunities, or ideas working from the top down are more often than not a flash in the pan, if  they spark at all, because they fail to take the quality time needed to nurture the relationships – personal, community, commercial and corporate –  that lead to real and enduring success.

It takes patience to really succeed, but the time spent playing the long game can be well rewarded.

In Celebration of Questions & Red Bull Creation

RBCIt’s that time of year again, when we get together with a motley collection of friends for the annual running of the Red Bull Creation challenge!  This is the third year we’ve participated in the competition, a quirky contest of ingenuity, endurance and good humor.

The first year we participated, we made it IMG_5570into the semi-finals with our Red Bull Alarm Clock entry.  We were cheered on as the Little Red Bull Team that Could, competing against a dozen bigger, better equipped and more experienced teams, largely housed in big makerspaces across the country.  Our goal, beyond having a really good time (which we did!), was to raise awareness of the maker IMG_1359-ccommunity and the value of spaces to build and create together.  (Now they’re blossoming all over the place!)  Last year, we were just happy we didn’t flood the Land O’Lakes Library with our Spectrapiano entry , a wonderfully elaborate and fate defying concoction of electronics and water.

This year,  the qualifying challenge is more cerebral in nature:  Identify a specific need in your community, or something you think could be improved, and propose a solution. It could be an idea that makes the world a better place, or if nothing else, a more fun and interesting place.

What? one of our team members asked.  Nothing to build?!   Just brain cells.

The fun – and power – of contests like Red Bull Creation is the game based knowledge-making the competition inspires, and opportunities to think not just creatively, but critically, especially with the qualifier this year.

In a recent opinion piece for the New York Times (Young Minds in Critical Condition),  Michael Roth, President of Weslyan College, observed, “Liberal education in America has long been characterized by the intertwining of two traditions: of critical inquiry in pursuit of truth and exuberant performance in pursuit of excellence. In the last half-century, though, emphasis on inquiry has become dominant, and it has often been reduced to the ability to expose error and undermine belief. The inquirer has taken the guise of the sophisticated (often ironic) spectator, rather than the messy participant in continuing experiments or even the reverent beholder of great cultural achievements.”

A good education he says, should “foster openness, participation and opportunity. It should be designed to take us beyond the campus to a life of ongoing, pragmatic learning that finds inspiration in unexpected sources, and increases our capacity to understand and contribute to the world — and reshape it, and ourselves, in the process.”

Not to over invest pure old Red Bull fun with the burden of existential purpose and meaning, but creative exercises like RBC require exactly that vital “messy participation” that finds inspiration in unexpected places.

In this particular qualifier, teams are being asked to basically do a thought experiment, starting with a really broad topic:

Identify a specific need in your community

and then asking for the team to propose a solution and describe or illustrate that solution in a three minute video.

To have any chance of being successful, teams are going to have to take that challenge from the vague to the specific, Susan-Engel-320x240and that in itself is a creative exercise.  In Tackle any Problems with these Three Questions, Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question,  says the best way to solve problems is to ask good questions, to exercise thoughtful inquiry.

He suggests asking Why, What if, and How, in that order.

““Why” questions are ideal for coming to grips with an existing challenge or problem–helping us understand why the problem exists, why it hasn’t been solved already, and why it might be worth tackling. “What if” questions can be used to explore fresh ideas for possible improvements or solutions to the problem, from a hypothetical standpoint. When it’s time to act on those ideas, the most effective types of questions are practical, action-oriented ones that focus on “how”: how to give form to ideas, how to test and refine them with the goal of transforming possibility into reality.

We accept a lot without challenge – the things we hear on television, read in popular media, see on the Internet – and when we just accept without questioning, we become complacent or, as Michael Roth said, simply cynical commentators with uninformed opinions.  Both outcomes can lead to a life on auto-pilot, says Berger, where we feel un-empowered, at the mercy of life instead of in control of our lives.

Getting in the habit of asking questions – and knowing what questions to ask when, says Berger, “is good for us. It can help to open up new possibilities in our lives. It’s a first step in solving problems. It makes us more successful as leaders. People who ask a lot of questions tend to be more engaged in their lives, more fulfilled, and happier.”

So now our Eureka! Factory Team has before us the wide open question of “What is a specific need in our community?” The possibilities are endless!


Look Up: A Thoughtful Study in Irony

Three AmigosGive people your love, don’t give them your ‘like’ – Gary Turk

An article ran in the Atlantic a couple of weeks ago titled, “My Students Don’t Know How to Have a Conversation.”   In the article, educator Paul Barnwell described his students’ struggle to master a session in his English class on the art of conversation.

“…students’ reliance on screens for communication is detracting—and distracting—from their engagement in real-time talk,” he observed. “It might sound like a funny question, but we need to ask ourselves: Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain confident, coherent conversation? “

Students need to be able hold conversations for everything from applying for colleges and jobs, to negotiating pay, discussing projects, building meaningful relationships and sustaining those relationships.

“If the majority of their conversations are based on fragments pin-balled back and forth through a screen, how will they develop the ability to truly communicate in person?” Barnwell asks.

British writer and director Gary Turk recently tackled the problem head on in a spoken word film called Look Up, that has gone viral (over 22 million views since being uploaded to groupYouTube April 25th) and is alternately lauded for being beautiful and thought-provoking and criticized for being hypocritical, self-serving (it’s a monetized video) and “overdramatised” (by a UK critic apparently).

The irony of Turk’s supplication to “look up from your phone, shut down the display/ Take in your surroundings, make the most of today,” going viral is not lost on anyone.   But the piece is thoughtful and well considered.  It was challenging to find the written text to his poem, but a blogger named Mon Amour gave it a shot, and some helpful readers tweaked her transcription a bit.

While there’s definitely a healthy dose of schmaltziness to the simple rhyme scheme:

(Be there for) The time you hold your wife’s hand, sit down beside her bed
You tell her that you love her and lay a kiss upon her head
She then whispers to you quietly as her heart gives a final beat
That she’s lucky she got stopped by that lost boy in the street

There’s also a healthy and powerful element of truth:

We’re surrounded by children, who since they were born
Have watched us living like robots, who now think it’s the norm
It’s not very likely you’ll make worlds greatest dad
If you can’t entertain a child without using an iPad

Helen and NatalieThis isn’t a new observation. There’s no shortage of reflection here (Heads Up) and elsewhere on the topic of social disengagement as a result of over-reliance on technology. But Gary Turk speaks as one Millennial to another, and his message is a meaningful one, even replete with the irony of its viral nature.

So don’t give into a life where you follow the hype
Give people your love, don’t give them your ‘like’
Disconnect from the need to be heard and defined
Go out into the world, leave distractions behind.

Look up from your phone
Shut down that display
Stop watching this video
Live life the real way

Smart phones and computers are tools, not ends in themselves.  Used intelligently, and as intended, they provide ways to connect us when we’re far apart, to broaden communications with others, to become better informed about our world,  and to gain new skills and knowledge.  Used incorrectly, they become debilitating social brain drains, disconnecting us from the real time relationships and real world experiences that make life worth living.

So sure, watch the sweet melodramatic video - and then do what Turk says:  go out with some friends, have some real conversations, be where you are, together with the people you love and value,  and leave the phone at home so you can really have a life worth sharing with others.

The Maker Effect

Alumni Awesome-c

FIRST Robotics Alumni – Engineers, filmmakers, roboticists, tinkerers all

The Maker Effect is the sum of the personal growth, professional success, community development, and continuous innovation that results when makers learn, educate, share, and create together. ”  The Maker Effect

The Maker Effect Foundation,a Florida nonprofit headed up by some veteran Florida makers and community leaders,  in collaboration with the Leadership Development Institute at Eckerd College, has undertaken a research study “to understand the personality characteristics, motivations, and behavioral skills used by makers when working alone and in teams. We hope to answer questions such as: “What are the common behavioral and personality characteristics of makers?”, “Why do maker communities work?”, “Why should I hire makers?”, etc..”

These are all good questions, because there’s a lot going on here, both within and without the maker community.

“Today’s makers,” say Maker Effect organizers, ” are providing the knowledge, skills, and tools to anyone willing to take ownership of their own future – democratizing innovation in the way that the invention of the printing press, the rise of personal computing, and the proliferation of the internet did in previous innovation cycles.”

The phrase “democratizing innovation” is an important one.  As with 21st century blended learning  that began democratizing education through online content and virtual classrooms a couple of decades ago, the Maker movement provides a wealth of opportunity in every sense of the word.   The “Maker-Entrepreneur” is the empowered  everyman and everywoman who can become an instant small business person on the strength of his or her own elbow grease and ingenuity. It’s the new Personal Industrial Age,  3D printed in the garage.

But there’s another “Maker Effect”, a sort of shadow presence that hangs around the periphery of the maker community.  As with the advent of MOOCs and virtual schools that  made every space potentially classroom space, and conceivably freed us of the “experts” who previously controlled knowledge,  come new “experts” trying to capitalize onthe glass blower our new found Maker freedom, as they did with open education.   Becoming your own expert can be threatening to some people, especially those whose livelihoods are dependent on some form of expertise that others can now access or develop for themselves.

These new “experts” trail in the wake of the grassroots maker movement, selling their wares and their services to people who originally distinguished themselves through their ability to fill their own needs.

  • Makerspaces literally started in people’s garages and empty building spaces. But now there’s TechShop franchises providing a makerspace in a box for the well heeled.
  • The Instructables were freely sharing how-tos for years.  But you can also pay for glossy how-tos with a Make Magazine subscription.
  • Early makers scrounged parts in junkyards and scavenged dumpsters.  Although many still do, today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of suppliers for every possible tool, part and electronic and mechanical need.
  • Makers have always been able to sell things through Ebay and Etsy and Kickstarter. But now there’s a fleet of experts promising to make every Maker a Maker Entrepeneur and a successful start-up.

KThese aren’t bad things, of course. TechShop does cool stuff with DARPA. MAKE Magazine has a great community and provides terrific and very instructive hangouts and contests.   It’s nice to be able to shop at Adafruit.  And it’s helpful to have entrepreneurial support if you want it.

But here’s the thing:  Not every maker wants or needs to be an entrepreneur.

Many, if not most, makers simply want to – make stuff.  They’re  hobbyists and tinkerers, artists and explorers. They want to  build a widget, fix a motor, sculpt or paint, make a video, create a game, craft a costume, command a robot uprising.  Many makers already have jobs.  They’re engineers and fry cooks and writers and taxi drivers and parents and store managers and cashiers and mechanics and programmers and designers and students and any number of other things.

The exercise of making something  provides  intellectual enrichment, personal fulfillment and creative entertainment and relaxation.  Making things in a safe, accessible and collaborative environment like a makerspace provides community development and capacity building,  empowering ordinary citizens to be self-reliant, capable individuals who can take control of their own lives.  Sometimes that means selling their own products.  Oftentimes that just means being able to fix their own car or paint their own walls or play with their drone.

The real Maker Effect should make experts of us all, in a million different fields, empowering us to collaboratively improve our communities and to care for each other through the exercise of our shared skills and knowledge, as entrepreneurs, and as capable individuals.

Sometimes, Making is just the end in itself, and that’s a perfectly fine Effect.