Making Makers Make – Arisia 2015

In consulting, or in other pursuits, there is always the issue of getting over the first hurdles, and proving that something works, before spending all sorts of time, effort, and money on things that don’t.

I moderated a few panels at Arisia this year, and one of them was ‘Making Makers Make.’ It was an hour and fifteen minute discussion (standing room only!) with a lot of good input. The official description of the panel was:

Making Makers Make — Art & Maker, Panel — 1hr 15min — Independence (3E)

As anyone who’s ever tried to create something knows, the biggest hurdle is starting in the first place. How do you go from talking about what you want to make (armchair making) to actually building things? Andrew Anselmo (m), Lori Del Genis (Weegoddess), Scott Lefton, Suzanne Palmer, James Turner

This discussion was aimed at creating anything, and so many of the elements discussed can be applied to projects for clients as well as personal projects or goals. Due to the nature of the ‘making’ part, we concentrated on making physical things. Here is a list of the major points we discussed. Some of them are contradictory, but most of them point to some solid ways of getting things done.

  • Excitement – You should be excited about the project, and what you doing. Without that key component, it is difficult to get anything done. Personally, I’m glad that my work is always fascinating. If you aren’t excited by a project, ask why.
  • Bite-sized pieces – Don’t start by trying to solve the entire problem perfectly at once – take apart the problem, and work on smaller parts. The best is the enemy of the good!
  • Pick an easy victory – this is a bit of a corollary of the above; after breaking things down, work on something and get a result. People who do brain science note that this can be a self-reinforcing feedback loop for productivity.   I will note that one very sharp engineer (Eric Smith of Keystone Tower Systems) I know suggested that in complex technical endeavors, it is sometimes good to tackle the hardest key part of the problem first, so that you know that in “theory”, your solution can work.
  • Use Agile – In this vein, some folks suggested using the Agile system used for software projects – get things done quickly, and be more people centered.
  • Deadlines – Having a deadline is a great way to focus the mind, and to make sure things get done.
  • Lists – Making a list is a good way to see the big picture, and make a formal statement of what needs to be done to solve your problem. Of course, I’m a big of checklists – lists that already exist, that ask a set of common questions.
  • Community – This was a big one; everyone realized the value of having like minded folks around, either virtual (cyberspace) or in the real world.
  • Social events – Sometimes, non-work/non-project times, can be good ways to informally talk about projects, ideas, possible collaborators, and other details surrounding your project.
  • Don’t be social – Of course, some participants voiced the opinion that sometimes too much community (and the social time that that community needs) can be distracting.
  • “Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid!” – As I’ve seen in many other projects, especially in larger ones, asking can go a long way to getting things to move forward. Amanda Palmer recently wrote a book on this entire process, and way of getting things done.
  • Don’t be afraid of failing – Try things. Break things. Break things fast! This is sometimes inappropriate, but generally, a good idea.
  • Build no cost – low cost prototypes – For some ideas, all you need a bit of cardboard, duct tape, and an sharp knife to show the basic concepts to another person, or to get a sense of scale and usability.
  • Know your limits – One panel member brought up the point that sometimes, you really do have to know when to stop. Some folks don’t like working with 110 or 220 VAC. Some folks don’t like working with propane. Find someone who doesn’t have aversions to those things, and work with them!
  • The Internet is your friend – Of course, while the Internet is still running, it is a great resource for ideas, materials, and communities.
  • No Internet – As many can attest to, sometimes the Internet (and all of its cat videos, and other distractions) can be a huge time sink. One panel member mentioned that moving to a town with no high speed Internet was a great boon for productivity.
  • Places for stuff -There were lots of suggestions here, for places to get appropriate, good and/or cheap hardware. This list could be arbitrarily long, but McMaster Carr, The Dollar Store, Harbor Freight, Tractor Supply, You-Do-It Electronics, Amazon Supply, Micromark, Digikey, Mouser, Small Parts Catalog, Grainger, the Brimfield Antique Show, Dharma Trading (for textiles) and the MIT Flea were all mentioned. Opinions are strong in this area, and all have good stories about them.
  • Places For Makers – Lots of spaces were discussed; everything from maker spaces (a full list is here), universities, art schools; not only for learning about things, but where you could get free and near-free resources and materials.
  • On Tools – There were a few schools of thought here. One was, “Hold off, then buy a good one/good ones,” and the other was “Don’t buy until you need it.” Both have their place. Maker spaces, such as Artisan’s Asylum are great places to try out good tools, and talk to regular practitioners about them.

One of the last items I added (and it is how this small article came to be) was mini-list that I’ve always used whenever in a meeting.

Key elements of a good and productive meetings:

  • Figure out the logistics – Make sure everyone knows the date, time, place, length of meeting, and who is attending.
  • Have an agenda – Figure out what the meeting is about, and send this out before the meeting starts.
  • Take notes – Have them sent out after the meeting, as soon as possible. Ideally, a meeting has a moderator/lead, and a separate note taker.
  • Action items – At the end of any meeting, a list of action items is made up (and most importantly, when they are due!)


Feel free to add comments. Not all ideas were embraced by everyone, but again – this is a good starting point.

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