The Art and Science of Making Things by Seth Godin

This is one of my all-time favorite messages from Seth Godin. This talk is from the World Maker Faire in 2012. If you haven’t been to a Maker Faire, I’d encourage you to figure out a way to attend the Bay Area Maker Faire this year from May 20-22 in San Mateo, CA. Being at a Maker Faire is like time traveling into the future. I will be there, I’d be happy to show you around. Tweet me if you want to go!


Here is the video of the talk and my notes of all his talking points:

The Culture of Doing Things Right

Kits have nothing to do with being a maker. Slavishly following instructions step by step is practice for factory work. The opposite is learning by doing things wrong.

Why do we even need to have a Maker Faire? Something happened to our culture (on purpose).

The company LEGO was built on a set of core principles; one of them was that every piece has to be used in multiple ways. You can use your imagination to build anything you want. Yet, in 2004 LEGO was about to go bankrupt…until LEGO invented “LEGO kits” and then there was only 1 thing you could build as you followed instructions.

We built a culture about “doing things right”

We have cars where we don’t need to change the oil, we don’t want to change the oil, we are unable to change the oil. “No user serviceable parts inside” is something we all live with now.

Where did this notion come from? That we have to follow instructions, make kits.

The School of Industrialism

The industrial system improves productivity and makes sure things work – faster, smoother and more efficient. Over time industrialists have gained power and authority and they have taken it they have built it deep into what we believe and how we run our lives.

They have built it into school.

Public school is an industrial system. It was only invested in the 1860-70’s in Massachusetts to get kids ready to work in a factory because it’s not natural to spend 10-12 hours in a row doing what your told doing what your told over and over again. Does that sound like school? Well, that’s what school is.

We process school in batches and if you’re defective we put you back a year and process you again. We give you a number 2 pencil and have you fill in the circles just right. We don’t challenge you to challenge the system; we challenge you to understand what’s going to be on the test. We create this culture where people take good notes so they can say it back to us—where we memorize stuff and it’s very important to go to a famous college even though there’s no data whatsoever that famous colleges perform tasks better than unfamous colleges.

If you sit in a science lab in a high school class you will not see any students doing science. What you will see is students following the instructions to demonstrate that they know to go through the steps of doing science that someone else did 40 to 400 years ago. If they try to innovate, if they try to be a maker, if they try to understand and see what doesn’t work, they get marked down. If they get marked down enough they have to be re-processed and do it again.

Being Creative

If we think about what we ask people to do when we pretend that we are challenging them to be creative – we’re not challenging them to be creative at all – we’re challenging them to look like the person that came before them.

What we define art as is something fundamentally different. Art, the kind of art that we admire, that we remember, has never been done before. It’s new.

Why Wrong is Worth Doing

Real makers understand that if it might not work, then you’re doing some making. If it might not work then you are doing something important because it is risky. It is risky because when you’re finished you need to turn to someone and say, “Here, I made this.” And the other person can say, “I don’t like it,” or they can say, “It doesn’t work right,” or “I don’t want it.” That is hard. The reason we are afraid of public speaking is not because it is dangerous but because if you stand up and say what you want to say someone can turn to you and say, “No, you are wrong.” And that is why it is worth doing.

The person who invented the ship also invented the shipwreck.

We need to think really hard about what we are teaching our kids and saying to ourselves about the work we are doing.

Innovation is Failing Until it Works

If you say to yourself, “Innovation is great but this is so important, failure is not an option,” then what you’ve also said is, “neither is success.” Because all innovation is, all hacking is, all creating is, all science is…is doing things over and over again…failing and failing and failing…until it works. So

If you’re not willing to fail then you cannot possibly innovate.

We have been brainwashed since childhood to want something that works because that’s what we’re supposed to do.

So when a kid comes along and starts hacking an Arduino box and we ask, “What are you making?” and says, “I don’t know yet.” We feel uncomfortable about that – that’s not junior industrial behavior! That’s an insurgent at work. You might break something.

Breaking Things

The idea of breaking things is where we are now. There’s a fork in the road.

The road on the left is a race to the bottom. And the problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win. It’s a race to be faster, and cheaper, and more compliant. This is the safe industrialist path. The path that makes you blameless.

The road on the right has nothing to do with the other path. It says, “We’ve built this foundation that gave us phones in our hand that are better than any computer ever available in 1970. It’s the revolution that allowed us to travel around the world without worrying about the plane crashing. It’s the revolution that made it so typical diseases that kill most people on the planet 200 years ago are all gone.”

Okay, we did that now what are we going to do? What did we build it for?

Did we build this system so we can figure out how to make everything 1% cheaper? Today we have the Internet, which allows us to connect with anyone who wants to be connected. What we have now is the opportunity to connect.

The Connection Economy

…is the biggest thing to happen since the Industrial Revolution. We don’t need to figure out how to be better industrialists. We need to figure out how to be better at being connected. The only people we want to connect with are people who are doing something new, interesting, and frightening.

The problem we have is…how do we become more human? And how do we turn that humanity into something that is actually worth doing?

We need to invent a new way of being in the world.

The Lizard Brain

The Ellsberg paradox points to the key, underlying, prehistoric thing going on in our brain. Wild animals are wild because their brains make them wild. Their brains are hardwired for revenge, safety, reproduction and safety. So if you’re not wired that way you’re not going to make it very far as a wild animal.

Human being have this same brain, it’s called the amygdala or lizard bain. It’s next to the brain stem. That’s the part of the brain that is hardwired to step in during moments when self-preservation is in effect. The lizard brain isn’t helping us lately. It’s not helping us because it’s the reflex of worrying. This lizard brain persuades parents to send their kids to a famous college just in case. It’s the one that tells us to play it safe and listen to the industrialists.

The lizard brain is the voice in the back of your head that says, “Don’t do this, it might now work. Don’t do this, it’s never been down before. Don’t do this, it isn’t proven.” When you heard this voice it is a lesson to you that you are on the right path.

It’s a compass and radar signaling when you’re about to do something important.

Almost every single big innovation to come out of Silicon Valley was something that venture capitalists didn’t like. In the book industry, almost every best-seller is a “surprise” best-seller because the obvious ones don’t usually work.

If it’s risky, it’s worth making.

Why We Connect

In the connection economy, all the value is being created by people who are connected to other people for a reason. We’re not connecting to the boring people, we’re not connecting to the safe people, and we’re not connecting to the cheap people. We’re connecting to people we care about who are doing work that matters.

Ask yourself:

  1. What is school for? How can we possibly fix school if we can’t agree on what it’s for?
  2. If you think you’re a Maker, what have you made recently that was a complete and epic failure? And if you’re a Maker and you make something and it’s interesting, how dare you not share it? How dare you hide from us what you made? That hiding is the work of the lizard brain. It’s putting what you make into the world that enables you to connect. It’s the connecting that enables you to get better at it.

There has never ever been, in the history of mankind, a better moment to be someone who has something to say. The Internet gives you a platform for a real sort of making, the making of connections, making things that matter and making a difference.

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