Why Makers Matter to the Enterprise

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When Gordon French and Fred Moore held the first meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club on March 5, 1975, their purpose was to gather local tech enthusiasts to test and review the first MITS Altair microcomputer. In the letter Moore sent out to potential participants, he wrote:

Are you building your own computer? Terminal? T V Typewriter? I/O device? or some other digital black-magic box?

Or are you buying time on a time-sharing device?

If so, you might like to come to a gathering of people with like-minded interests. Exchange information, swap ideas, talk shop, help work on a project, whatever…

After Steve Wozniak left that first meeting, he went home and immediately began laying plans for the Apple I; his friend Steve Jobs agreed to help him sell it, and in 1976 the Apple Computer Company released its first product. Silicon Valley had met the makers of the personal computer.

Makers are essential to the business in ways often overlooked — countless major tech companies were formed in someone’s mom’s basement, with a couple of tech aficionados trying to better an existing product. The maker is the epitome of thinking outside the box: the inventor, the doubter of the status quo, the one who uses practical skills in the most creative way possible. And just because a company is established doesn’t mean that constant questioning should end. If anything, it should be deeply engrained in its business model.

In today’s tech landscape, it’s easiest to recognize makers within the realm of startups — perhaps the explanation for the recent surge in startup acquisitions. But there are also companies like General Electric, which prioritizes a maker mindset to power its innovation engine. Between initiatives like GE Garages and the “smart home” partnership with Quirky, GE puts makers front and center when it comes to research and development.

The ultimate importance of the maker lies in the importance of having a company culture that invites change. The enterprise doesn’t have to focus on acquiring startups if it’s embracing the maker mindset within current processes and procedures. There are companies that exist to preserve norms, and there are those who exist to confront them. Take Elon Musk’s press release made in June regarding the allowed usage of Tesla patents:

Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.

Welcome those who are choosing to question standard practices. Let them bend the rules a bit. They are the challengers of existing solutions and destroyers of convention, and they are ones who will propel the business to a true competitive advantage. Who knows, you just might have a Wozniak in your ranks just waiting for that perfect moment of kismet.

Intel has been thinking a lot about how to help makers realize their dreams. We gave you a taste of our plans at the Consumer Electronics Show in January where we announced Intel Edison. Next week, I’ll be surrounded by makers, developers, creators, and the next generation of innovators at the Intel Developer Forum 2014, where we’re going to share more about how Intel Edison will power the next industrial revolution. If you haven’t registered yet, there’s still time for you to join us and learn more about the minds — and technology — poised to change the world.

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