Self-identifying as a maker with Cathy Brothers

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Are you going to make me wear cardboard jewelry again?” asked my friend Cathy Brothers, CEO of Capacity Canada when I met with her on Wednesday for coffee at The Accelerator Centre. Now to even partially understand that question I would have to take you back to a 2011 post I did on Cathy as part of a tongue-in-cheek promo of Cathy Farwell’s BOX Art Show. No, no cardboard earrings this time, but always some sort of makerly bent with me. More on that in a moment, but first:

APPLY RIGHT NOW to be an exhibiting maker for our upcoming Maker Expo event. You have only 17 days left to apply, even though the event itself at Kitchener City Hall is Saturday, September 19. Early applicants qualify for a limited number of early-acceptance spots. The single most rewarding way to experience Maker Expo is to be a contributing part of it. Git ‘er done. Ok, now back to Cathy.

DW, what does Capacity Canada do?” , you may ask me. I can’t think of a more concise description than the one-liner on Cathy’s LinkedIn profile: “Bring together the people, ideas and resources that fuel social innovation”  There’s an overlap of mission with Maker Expo. While Capacity Canada is a charity, it sure seems like a lot more than that in terms of mentoring, learning opportunities, and connecting people. Hard social problems like homelessness and child literacy require some pretty creative thinking and collaborative effort to tackle. I especially appreciate their understanding of the need for authentic storytelling. That’s my gig, and that’s one reason I was so keen to connect with Cathy having bumped into her at two events in two weeks.

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In addition to sanity-checking my approach to my business makebright, I also wanted to see if we were on the right track for Maker Expo. Hearing the diversity model we cooked up to be reasonably inclusive, Cathy noted that our dimensions of affluence, age, gender, ethnicity, locale, and makerly domain had a lot in common with the new metrics for the Trillium Foundation. Seems good.

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In the course of most of my conversations lately, I’ll say “Of course *you* are a maker, so tell me what you make.” I said the same to Cathy, and I think she didn’t initially self-identify as a maker. She’s certainly a meta-maker given her decades of community service, and especially in her Capacity Canada role of helping other organizations help their constituents. Although she didn’t lead off with telling me what she makes, we were only a couple questions in when she started describing how she “went wild for scrapbooking.” That’s making and storytelling in one. She described the joy of making scrapbook albums for her kids and the anticipation of scrapbooking for her grandbaby. Universally, makers light up when they talk about what they make and why they love it.

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So what do *you* make? Let’s figure this out and get your application in to exhibit at Maker Expo. To say you are are a maker just means you love making something. It doesn’t imply you’re an expert, but only that you’re curious and willing to try.

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Being a maker doesn’t mean you have a perfect end-to-end project ready to showcase. It means your are vigorously pursuing a project and learning along the way. In the past two weeks I have heard all of the self-doubts and insecurities that sort of undermine our confidence as very capable curious makers. “I’m only a software developer.”  Great, show/teach people how to write a few lines of Python to print out their name, beep out a song, or project some graphics from a laptop. “I’m not very good at woodworking.”  Anyone with a saw, hammer, nails, and wood is on their way to building a Little Library to share books.

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If you don’t self-identify as a maker, it’s not your fault. In the course of my lifetime there has been a shift from fix-and-build to buy-and-replace. That’s very lucrative for people who want to sell you stuff and then more stuff. So there are a lot of forces in the world making fix/build harder. “Tamper-resistant” screws on my coffee maker. “Digital Rights Management” on my inkjet printer cartridges. Proprietary firmware running my car. There are also forces at work making buy/replace easier. One-click shopping. Free shipping. “Extended warranty”. The good news is that together we can flex our collective courage and know-how to reclaim fix/build. When you start feeling like a maker, you feel capable of tackling unfamiliar domains. You feel resourceful and resilient. And confident.

The best place to start is by applying as an exhibiting maker for Maker Expo and meeting lots of other people just like you and me who flipped their internal switch, realizing: We are all makers.


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