What is the highest virtue for a maker?

A question that gets asked time and again in my coaching practice. Approximately a decade and half ago, the same question kept me sleepless for weeks together.

It was August 2007. Time for our quarterly product demo for senior executives of Hewlett Packard printing division. After an entire walkthrough, our SVP commented, "we are not thinking big enough. There is nothing radical in what we are doing".

I nodded and said yes πŸ˜“

I added, "our platforms do not support radical thinking. We may have to redo the entire platform and that may cost us close to 20 million and hence I did not share those ideas."

The general manager of the hardware division rolled his eyes and asked, "what do you mean?"

I said, "I don't have pretty presentation but if i can show what we are working on in my laptop, would that be ok for this presentation and I exactly need 7 mins to present the concepts."

Every executive was curious. I pulled up an illustrator file to show the thinking in progress. It was a printer that looked nothing like a printer.

It just had a 12-inch touch screen (thanks to iphone launch) docked on a thin cylindrical platform that is connected to wifi. All things to be printed can be stored temporarily and printed from the screen. Till then (even now) you can print from the printer, you always needed something to be connected.

It was a radical concept that removed the bulky platform, firmware processing mechanisms in the printer, all done in cloud, user can check before printing (even edit), manage security via biometrics and more. It was a concept even before Tesla's 17 inch screens and large iPads that came into life. It is 14 years now and I don't think we still have a printer that radical in our industry yet.

The SVP called me out and asked, "why did i not share it in the first place? Why did I not push our platforms to be robust enough?"

I simply told him, "I was afraid to be shot down in the board room".

Several days post that the demo was restless and sleepless. It made me think deeper and harder. I was wondering why did I not present upfront? How could I have presented it in such a way I am not shot down? etc the questions continued.

The search started as a 29 year old senior designer trying to make stuff happen in me and around me. I wanted to know what is that one thing I didn't have it in me. In other words what is that one thing that could have made a difference to the (printing) world then and now?

One thing is always hard.

It is easy to give a listicle as an answer but it is always hard to say with clarity and certainty, that one thing every maker must have.

I believe I found the answer over a period of time. For you to appreciate a simple answer it is important to understand the life of a maker a little more.

A maker is someone who makes stuff.

Duh! how lame?

Isn't that how you are feeling πŸ€” I don't blame you.

Making stuff is the simplest (lame sounding) definition I could come up.

  • Making, building, creating are used interchangeably in the context.
  • Stuff is something we find value in. Either a functional or social or emotional value to our lives.

Making stuff could result in a dish or table or podcast or website or app or anything that adds value. Making something that adds value is all a maker does day in and day out.

If you look closely, making is all about translating an imagination into reality. If we extend this idea then imagination is nothing but a thought that went to a gym and sculpted itself. So in simple ways, a thought that is made into reality that adds value is what a maker does.

So where do makers fail? They may fail in imagination or in reality or both. The answer lies somewhere in those three words. Let's dig in further.

Absence or presence of imagination is something we can't detect but certainly presence of reality is known. You can use it, touch it, feel it and get value. The absence of reality can also be felt as pain or inconvenience or a crib or some unpleasantness. We can feel deep inside the absence of a pain killer or a gain creator. So somewhere the makers fail in the area of reality.

We are getting closer.

As a part of building Xperian, I work with a number of makers across the domains and geographies.

One typical answer I hear when I ask what are they struggling with is,

"I have the imagination, I have made the reality to some extent but I am not sure if this is enough so i am afraid to publish it in this state. It may be useless."

That ability to publish the work beyond the fears is what is missing. If I can take it one step forward, the key ingredient to publish work is the virtue a maker must have. In my view that is courage.

What I missed in that product demo meet was courage. I didn't have the guts to say, these are optimal and sub-optimal concepts tailored to our current status quo but here is a blue sky we must aim at.

May be if i pushed it hard enough, we would have better printers today πŸ€¦β€β™€οΈ

Courage is not the absence of fear but your ability to do things in the presence of fear. That is the highest virtue of a maker. Make your reality happen by pushing it a little past fear.

πŸ₯‚ to courage!

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