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MakerCon Report Part II – Philosophy of Life

This article is the second part of my report on MakerCon, the two-days on the future of making in society organized by Maker Media.

The event was full both of practical advice and ideas on what making means to society. Kevin Kelly, who co-edited pioneer DIY magazine in the 1960s Whole Earth Review, reference technology magazine Wired, coined the Quantified Self term and gathered its community, gave a keynote that did a great job at replacing the current maker trend into its historical context. He reminded us how DIY came as an alternative solution to consumer society, how computer technologies inherited from this love of building and putting things together (first Apple computer kits build by Wozniak) and how the quest for expanding consciousness is what actually drives most innovators (LSD, anyone?).

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The hardware startup renaissance stands on the shoulders of the maker movement. They use open hardware prototyping tools, rely on people to get funded, many are focused on empowering users (educational kits, quantified self). The two guys behind the Coke-Mentos viral video came on stage to share their story and tell us about their creative process. Both quit their jobs after the success of their video and now make a living by giving talks on creativity and putting up crazy projects using everyday objects, such as this post-it project. To create something truly awesome, you need to spend time iterating. Don’t stop once you have one idea, keep going to really push your project off the beaten track. And once you’re there, go a little further. That’s when what first seemed impossible becomes actually possible.

What strikes me with the maker movement, and the talk from the eepybird duo is a great example of it, is how the maker movement is a lot about doing things for fun. Many makers can spend a tremendous amount of time building something that is not directly useful or actually usable. It’s not all about products, it’s about the creative process… and bringing “magic” to the world.

As a result, “magic” is also a key component of the open hardware companies. Makers are building things of wonder, using science to build pieces that impact our feelings. Maker Faire is a faerical world made of unexpected machines, just-for-fun projects and out of the box robots. To me, the maker movement says something about how we spend our lives.

Maker pro business is not about building billion dollars companies, managing hundreds of employees and building sneaky marketing strategies with data mining. It’s about building sustainable business that provides enough revenues to keep making magic while empowering others to live responsible, meaningful life.

MakeyMakey creator Jay Silver from JoyLabz, gave the final keynote. He talked about what school should really teach us: understanding social norms and being able to see what’s going on and have an impact on it. It was like a Steve Jobs commencement speech with a banana twist. Once you understand that the world is made up by humans, you can start living your life without following the restrictive rules of the “norm”. It actually brought tears to my eyes as it felt so great to feel supported in my quest for a life of freedom.

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Eric Klein from Lemnos Labs at MakerCon. Picture: MakingSociety

Lemnos Labs‘ partner Eric Klein gave a vibrant call for makers telling us to stop sending application for getting VC funded. He explained how many makers are trying the follow the “fairy tale” of startups, with a perfect plan going from arduino prototypes to crowdfunding to private funding to massive product launch ala Apple. But in many cases, these makers would simply be sad and depressed of living the life of a big hardware company CEO. This is not the life that many makers want, and despite this, everyone is trying to follow this path seen as the “successful” one. He invited the audience to redefine what success is for each of us, and it’s not necessarily building huge companies, but maybe building small, targeted and bootstrapped hardware companies.

MakerCon was a vibrant patchwork of ideas about how to see hardware business differently. Makers enter a time where they actually have a chance to make a living doing what they love and are good at. That’s actually where I stand with MakingSociety, helping makers create companies that don’t necessarily follow the guide.

Happy week to all of you,

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