Now our minds just need to catch up with our tools.

Someone else makes buses and jeans and non-stick frying pans. 

Most of us wouldn't have a clue how to make any of the things we use daily. So we get used to seeing ourselves as non-makers. Even the craftiest among us generally does not see herself as a maker of the things that matter -- the things that make money and shape our world. 

With the advent of the internet, everyone talked about how now anyone could create hip-hop tracks, websites, and blogs. When I was 13 (in 1996) my brother's birthday present to me was my very own webpage. As I remember, it had some text and a few images, and I could customize it however I wanted (which seems to me now a crafty way my big brother conned his little sister into learning html, for which I thank you, Lar.) The idea was that I now had the tools to create a webpage in the same way that CNN or could. 

The thing is, I still didn't really have the tools to make the things that matter -- the things that make money and shape our world -- because I didn't have the money or skills to create outputs that approached the quality and functionality of the corporate guys. In fact, as recently as 2010, when I was building my last company, there was an obvious difference in design and functionality of Liga Masiva's website relative to the big guys, until we invested tens of thousands of dollars to make it work the way we wanted it to. Anyone could create a web property that made money and shaped our world -- as long as you had some pretty hefty knowledge and resources to make it look and work right.

But suddenly, something changed.* I haven't heard people saying much about this, but in the last 2 years, I have noticed a very sudden and significant change in the average person's access to real tools. There are now tools that let you make things that matter with tens or hundreds of dollars (instead of tens of thousands.) Now you can actually create an ecommerce site in a weekend that could knock off any existing site. You can actually learn to be a designer in months. You can actually create photos and sites and stores and design and platforms that are competitive with what exists. You actually have the tools to make things that matter. 

With the following tools, you can create things that work and look about 80% as well as what a professional would create for 1/100th the cost. (Whereas you used to be only able to get to about 20% as good on your own.) And, for most things, that is darn well good enough.** 

For instance:

  • Entrepreneurship. While startups and entrepreneurs has always had a bit of an aura of magic, I'm starting to believe that it's less mystical than we're led to believe. Become an entrepreneur by learning Lean Startup methodology (and putting what you learn into action), reading Paul Graham, going to the Unreasonable Institute, studying Seth Godin's works, and shipping something once a week. 
  • Photos. You can learn a few basic things about taking pictures with your iPhone and process the photos in the free VSCO app. With maybe 4 hours of practice, you can create photos that look 80% as good as a professional's, like we did at The Wild Easy. 
  • Websites. There are lots of free website and blogging platforms, with Wordpress and Launchrock probably the best among them. But for $8-$24/month, you can get a Squarespace site that will look badass right out of the box, and integrates seamlessly with pretty much anything you need to integrate to (like email, mailchimp, and ecommerce.) You need some html knowledge to get your Wordpress site working the way you want it to, and you'll eventually run into integration challenges that only a developer can help with, but Squarespace frees you from all of that. I have 3 Squarespace sites, and counting.
  • Analytics. If you can't get the information you need from the analytics in Google, Squarespace, AddThis, and Launchrock, then you have a more complex statistical understanding than I.
  • Design. I think that design (not about pretty-fying but rather about making things work beautifully) is now the foundation for business. IDEO offers a free course in human-centered desing for social innovation that beats any college course I've  taken, not to mention their HCD toolkit. And over on the more graphic-y side of things, Karen Cheng tells us how to become a designer in 6 months, while Lynda teaches the nitty-gritty, and Hack Design covers the basics. 

The reality has changed so quickly that we're still busy being employees when we could revolutionize an industry in a few months. The tools probably aren't the limiting factor anymore. So we just need to develop our courage, vision, leadership, and noticing to catch up with our brand new tools. 

*I don't want to overstate this transition because there are still so many impediments to the true democratization of making and publishing and owning the means of production. It's even arguable that for most people, in most places, very little has changed in terms of people being able to make things that matter. But for folks as privileged as me-- folks that finished high school and can count on a bed and food and access to a library-- there are some very really changes that it would benefit them to recognize and exploit.
**For many, many things, 80%-as-good-as-a-professional is not good enough. But for your jewelry site or magazine  or social movement or startup it almost certainly is. Once you get a thousand customers, go ahead and upgrade.