I'm the SVP of Strategic Partnerships at ShareThis. It's my job to find the right strategic partners for us to work with. This morning, in the shower, I thought "I'd like to have a simple combo slide deck + narrated screencast to show to prospective partners."

So, I just finished hacking together a simple site that explains our business. It's something I did in just under an hour using a combination of HTML, Google App Engine, Google Slides, HelloBar, Vimeo, iShowU, Google Labs' ShortLinks and AdRoll. It was fun to make it and I expect it'll prove useful.

That activity, of taking an idea I had in the shower this morning and hacking it together in an hour today, got me thinking about the difference between makers and managers, and about how few managers really appreciate (or are able to participate in) the creation process -- especially when it involves some amount of hacking.

I find that managers who are also makers have an ability to key in on opportunities that non-maker managers miss. They have a better ability to connect with their teams. They can go a level deeper into projects than non-maker managers. They can ask more intelligent questions. They can conceptualize and create efficient processes much more quickly and easily. Or to put it another way, they can be much better managers by also being makers.

So if you're a manager, I'd ask you this question: Show me the last thing you created.

If you have a hard time answering that question, I'd cringe, and then encourage you to focus some percentage of your time on honing your 'making' skills. That can take many forms -- from the simple stuff like:

  • Be more curious: It sounds dumb, but it isn't. When someone sends you a tool or a site, or something they just made, spend even just 5 minutes poking around trying it out. Don't just say "great job!" but actually try to provide some constructive feedback. Why does something work like it does? Can you find a bug? What else would you like to see it do? What will it change in your daily flow? Asking questions like these show that you are curious enough to care and have a much bigger impact than an empty "great job".
  • Learn to code in some language, even if it's just basic HTML: HTML can be surprisingly useful. By combining it with a dropbox account, you can create and host pages in a snap -- a great way to test an MVP. You can also go a level deeper by using Google App Engine, which is insanely easy to use. (here's an example of the same site as above, but hosted on Dropbox instead of Google App Engine -- something I did just by dropping the HTML page into my "public" folder in Dropbox: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1096184/about-sharethis.html)
  • Create a culture where you hire hackers: Some companies have this idea that "hackers" are only computer nerds who do the heavy lifting. I couldn't disagree more. Ensuring that every single employee has some hacking ability, however light, completely changes the company's culture. And yes, by 'every employee' I mean the salespeople, the general counsel, the bizdev guy (or gal), etc. Everyone. Having a culture of hiring "makers" and not just "managers" is what's made companies like Facebook, Stripe and Dropbox so successful.

These things will also help you identify much more deeply with makers, which they'll really appreciate, even if you don't become a maker yourself.

If I'm asking too much of you as a manager, then at least do this: Read Paul Graham's "Makers's Schedule, Manager's Schedule" to learn about how you're probably wrecking at least some level of havoc in your makers' lives with meetings.

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PS thanks to Sean Seadmand for showing me and the entire team at ShareThis how to easily deploy sites via Google App Engine. I'd never tried it before that demo, and it was really valuable today (vs. spooling up a Heroku or AWS instance or something else more involved). Sean, you're a maker of makers! :)