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Make things (caterina.net)
243 points by razin on Sept 3, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments

Very interesting, but somewhat misleading, imho.

People who go their own way may well become leaders, simply because to go your own way you have to be decisive, and most people are indecisive, and in times of uncertainty they will look to people who are decisive to take the lead.

But that doesn't mean that the qualities listed are leadership qualities. I'd say that the ability to understand and empathise with people, to figure out what they want, the ability to motivate others to do their best, the ability to communicate convincingly, and the ability to make decisions under pressure - all those are way more important than the ones listed in the quote.

Of the list of leadership qualities:

> courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, determination, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head even when things are going badly

I'd argue that only the last one is really a requirement for leadership. All the others make for a better leader, but they are not requirements.

Yay, you and she have different definitions of “leader”.† So what?

† You’re talking about people in charge of organizations, whereas she is talking about people who come up with new ideas, new inventions. These are very different sorts of leadership. Lorenzo de’ Medici vs. Machiavelli, or some university department chair vs. Darwin, or Steve Ballmer vs. Don Knuth, &c. Sometimes these qualities overlap, as in Caesar, say, or Steve Jobs.

Also, decisiveness is not the primary factor: there are plenty of decisive people who never possess anything like the “leadership” she’s talking about.

So, you're saying leadership is not about leading people?

Aye. There's a sense in which being an inventor or an intellectual that pushes a culture forward is "leadership", but we have other words for that, we call those people visionaries or influential thinkers or a force in society and lots of other things too. Trying to appropriate the word "leadership" when there are so many other positive ways to describe the qualities of an independent thinker or maker is a bit silly.

You could even call it "thought leadership" without impinging on the wider sense of "leadership".

Some folks have the idea that that leaders boss people around and tell them what to do. That's actually micro-managing or dictatorship depending on whether it's corporate or government level.

Leaders are people that inspire others who follow them in some way. It's not about being an authoritarian or having power.

Leadership definitely means leading people, and there are different ways to lead. I think of livestock. One can stand in front of the livestock and call them, pull on a rope attached to them, get behind them and push them, or get behind them and scare or whip them. Those are all different ways to 'lead' the livestock and can all technically be effective if done with the right skill sets. The author is talking about the "Stand in front and call" type of leadership.

I found that leadership quote orthogonal to the essence of the post. Making things at an individual level has nothing to do with leadership, so I don't know why she brought it up in an otherwise powerful post. Being a businessman requires leadership skills, being a hacker doesn't. Jobs vs Woz, etc.

It is very difficult to motivate others to do their best. In fact I would argue that the only effective way to motivate others is to lead by example, to practice fairness, and to control the things that could potentially de-motivate them.

I especially connected with the bit about "fear of missing out", and with her earlier post (linked in the article) on that subject.

When I started playing with computers in elementary and middle school, it helped me put aside some of the trivial things that were important to my peer group at the time, like wearing the right brands or being seen with the right people. Technology was about making a better world, sharpening useful skills, and attacking hard problems that used to be impossible to solve.

The connection between people that technology has brought over the last couple decades is awesome for a great many reasons. I doubt I need to defend that point.

The biggest downside though, for me, is the invasion of the messiness of the social world into the idealism of the tech world. It bothers me when I go to an event that is ostensibly a "hackathon" or some similarly maker-oriented affair, and the mood is not unlike high school, or hollywood, or a nightclub. Many of the people there are paying acute attention to signals of status from others, and working on sending the right signals of status themselves.

It is my impression that motivations like elevating one's social status, and fear of missing out, are the primary things bringing most people into the world of technology today.

Improving the world, solving hard problems, and making things seem to be lower on the list. I'm sure communities focusing on these things are still thriving, but they seem to be getting harder to find, because the status seekers can be pretty good at adopting the lingo of the idealists.

I absolutely disagree with that quote about leadership.

If you aren't leading people, you aren't a leader. It's right in the name. If you're going your own direction, alone, you're a pioneer. But not a leader.

Yes, but how do you gain the respect of people who follow you? It's by doing something that piques their interest and inspires them. You don't wake up one day and have people searching you out to hear what you have to say because you are a "leader." It's because you have done something that has inspired them, and I think that's more what this is about.

You'd think that, but actually, that's exactly what film directors do, and I think we can all agree that they are de-facto "leaders".

Film directors become directors because they go around and tell people "I'm a director putting a movie together, do you want to work with me/invest in me/help me?" not because they work hard at unrelated task X and somehow become promoted to the rank of directors.

Leadership at its best...

Film directors become directors because they go around and tell people 'I'm a director putting a movie together, do you want to work with me/invest in me/help me?'

Isn't that usually the job of the executive producer?

I would say Jobs, Zuckerberg and Page fit that quote's profile nearly de facto.

Edit: However, I agree with your second statement. Though there's a wide gap between "leader" and whatever you would call the individuals I mentioned (yes, I'm trying to avoid terms such as "visionary").

The reason in my mind leadership is so valued is that there are problems worth solving that are too big for any one person to solve- anything from building companies to conquering vast swathes of land (which was considered a good thing a long time ago) - so being able to lead people in a cohesive fashion to solve these problems is a de facto requirement of leadership!

Having said that certain cases of "Thought leadership" which is one kind of leadership probably agrees with her blog.For example all leading scientists who make fundamental contributions to our understanding don't really need people following them but they do set the direction of future research so people do indirectly follow their leadsership

It does not mean that you aren't leading people, if you aren't trying to lead people. There are many great leaders who never intended to lead anything. And aren't pioneers leaders? They were the first and the others followed. If people are following that promotes the unbeknownst pilgrim to leader.

I agree that if you aren't leading people that you aren't a leader, but I don't think that is what the author implied. There are many many great leaders who are never seen as or talked about as "leaders."

Invigorating. I am one that got lost in all of the noise. Now 27 an just about to find my footing and get on track to be what I am suppose to be and that is "The One Which is Me". Since I was young I longed for the recognition that come to so many these days yet I have been chasing it in the wrong way. As you say her I really need to focus on making thing and get back to what really makes me happy which is studying what make enterprise business so successful and bringing back to the mom and pop that can barley turn on their own computer. I do this not to have the superiority complex, but to help those whom are lost in the riff of today and cannot find the way to the next stage and or the right person to actually want to help them and not just cash their check and go. thank you for helping to reset my mindset back where is needs to be .

Can't agree more. Another symptom of the same issue is that the Internet startup scene is becoming auto referential as hell.

Auto referential in what way?

Talking/caring more about the scene itself instead of the actual goal that should be building real innovation (and getting money as a side effect and not as primary goal).

To some degree, I feel the same way.

I look at what people had created and in between the thoughts of "this is cool", "this is boring", and "why didn't anyone think of this before?", there's a sense of inspiration that someone has created something and people are using it now. (I also get something similar to NIH, but I've learned through the years to mostly ignore that.)

I get a lot of joy in using software to allow people to do something new, something better than they had done before, or just to make their everyday life a little bit easier.

Forgot to post my comment here last time:


I can only comment from my experiences in Berlin,Germany but what I ve found here that many people here read books / watch movies of “How to…. ” or someone’ story to sucess and use it as a carbon copy of how to suceed.

I think people like to hide behind big names, like if you criticse them ” well Bill Gates did that” so like trying to use someone else mask to make you immune from critique. I think also this whole speech using figures and big names as well is a form of name dropping, its like ” im in their league / I m part of their crowd / take me serious” . To me it only shows who they want to be but who they are not at this very moment.

The shame is the “doing / creating ” aspect gets them to the state that they present themselves. So in this creatlve period, with no current exiting model template to follow, you need to strike out with something new, so if you are actually a new guy acting like you made it, well not much will happen.

Despite the potential conflict surrounding the leadership quote provided in the post I found that overall the post resonated with me.

As someone starting down the entrepreneurial path I have found that it's easy to get caught up reading the countless startup news sources, scouring endless books on how to succeed or attending the large number of conferences pitched at people like me. All have their merit in moderation but, particularly as someone who has decided to bootstrap my current startup, I find I get the most done and feel the best about what I'm doing when I focus on what my startup is building and how we're building it, rather than getting caught up in "all that noise".

In writing it down here it seems pretty obvious that focusing on what you're building should be the priority but it can be surprisingly easy to lose focus.

But I want to hear about things out there that they love. About loving the thing they’re building. There’s less of that.

Just because lots more folks know about valuations and are connected does not mean that they are not building stuff.

This holier than thou post by Caterina actually just sounds like nostalgic rambling.

Let’s get excited and make things.

This line, from the perspective she delivers it, is almost criminal. Most of us are nerds and have no problem building stuff. We do have a problem making money off it so kudos if we are building a little less and figuring out more about how to make money by charging or flipping(Caterina should know about this?)

> Just because lots more folks know about valuations and are connected does not mean that they are not building stuff.

It's not necessarily so, but there's some correlation. Startups are fashionable now in a way they haven't been since Bubble 1.0. At meetups I definitely have talked with people who seem more interested in worldly success than raw creation.

The upside of this current wave is that startup costs are so low that it's also sucking in a lot of makers who otherwise would have ended up employees.

Perhaps I could take this "make things" post seriously if the things made and shouted out (cough Flickr) could go the distance and remain viable. Did Flickr have a good run? Sure. But it seems to me there's a problem inherent in cashing out your company and moving on to the next thing. The Internet is littered with the corpses of once-great companies.

Seriously? You're discounting this because she only created Flickr? (And Hunch, and whatever she's working on now?)

I was working on my own startup at the same time Flickr was created; the funding climate then was brutal. Flickr was expensive to run, and growing like crazy. This was before things like AWS, so scaling was much harder. Selling to a large company with the ability to scale it easily may have been their only option. So I doubt it was a matter of cashing out.

I totally agree. Flickr was started 7.5 years ago. Believe it or not, things like storage and bandwidth used to be a lot more expensive. And with costs so high, monetization often required your own dedicated ad sales force.

It's amazing to me how quickly people can take the last decade or so for granted. Back when I started my first company, we had to buy a PBX and even install our own mail servers. Uphill, in the snow, both ways!!

No, I'm not dissing the founders. I'm talking about when these companies get bought by larger concerns. Seriously, when was the last time Flickr innovated since they became a Yahoo! property? Disclosure: I've been a Flickr Pro user since 2004, but recently I stopped subscribing.

I see your point but in a way it supports the OP's point. It's more fun to just build new stuff instead of maintaining old stuff. That's why most hackers don't care so much about the business and just want to make things.

It's a bit like how some artists feel about their work. I used to write plays in school and college, one of which got really popular. People would keep asking me to perform it again and again because they loved it. But it killed me to do the same thing over and over again. I just wanted to move on and make new plays.

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