Matt Gemmell

My new book CHANGER is out now!

An action-adventure novel — book 1 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

Makers and Takers

Business, Development, Software, Tech & Work 3 min read

There’s a widespread mistaken belief that ideas are the currency of creative people. The reality is, that particular currency is worthless.

An idea is the germ of something. Maybe it’s a painting, or a novel, or even a piece of software - but the idea without the execution is nothing. Indeed, having ideas is a natural state. Innovating is a natural occurrence. We’re faced with problems (existing, or entirely new), and we conceive of potential solutions. It’s how we deal with the world around us, and why we’ve reached this height of evolution.

But the ideas weren’t what mattered; it was the execution. The development of an idea (into a concept, or a prototype, or a finished piece of work) requires both skill and dedication. The real act of creation occurs after the idea state. Only in this act of creation can legitimacy be found. Real artists, as they say, ship.

People who make things, or Makers, contribute something to the universe. Makers are people like writers, musicians, artists, architects, software engineers, carpenters, and the chap at the coffee shop who makes your morning latte. He has a skill, and he applies it to create something that makes your day a little bit better.

There’s another type of person - I call these people Takers. Takers participate in the economy as money-handlers, exchanging currency on the back of others’ creations. They lend, and sell, and negotiate and manage. You can argue that these things are in themselves skills, and that’s true - but none are anything I’d aspire to as my productive output. They’re inherently ancillary occupations. They’re just not enough - for a Maker, at least. The question of sufficiency rarely occurs to the Taker.

There’s no rule that says you can’t be both; indeed, many who are Takers by necessity find a degree of personal salvation in also being Makers, even if it has to be in their evenings or weekends, in the upstairs office or out in the garage. For some, it can make daily life as a Taker bearable. For others, though, being a Taker is not only enough, but is all they aspire to.

If you’re making money from other people’s ideas, without creating anything, you’re accruing a debt. You’re a sinkhole in the system, into which value flows without any commensurate output. That’s not entrepreneurship, and if you even think it’s a business, then I have a queasy feeling about you. I imagine that your handshake is probably slippery.

Whilst there’s art in the development of an idea, and legitimacy in its execution, the ideas themselves are commonplace. Each idea is independently re-conceived every day. We’ve all had an idea, then found that we weren’t the first - the majority of all ideas are like that. The very concept of being the “first” to have an idea is highly questionable.

Our legal system does have to offer some protection of intellectual property as an incentive towards commercialisation, for the good of the economy. It’s important to realise, though, that the logical purpose of such protection is to enable and provide a return on investment; i.e. on the injected capital of invention. For software user interface or interaction concepts, it’s dubious what exactly the up-front investment actually is, much less the notional cost of development of the idea. With patented algorithms and interactions, there’s often so little difference between the concept itself, and the mechanics of its implementation, that they are virtually one and the same. The entire existence, much less the legitimacy, of the idea is in its execution. The product is the idea.

If you’re simply a commerce-enabler, then fundamentally you’re a Taker. That’s all well and good, and necessary, but you’re in an entirely different category of economics than the Makers, who actually create things. Your break room is down the hall. Your keys unlock a different set of doors.

If you want to contribute and innovate, do so within your commerce-enabling, ancillary, infrastructural field, and good luck to you. To attempt to pass yourself off as a Maker by selling someone else’s idea without doing any execution yourself is tantamount to intellectual fraud. At best, it’s the sleazy, greasy underside of Western capitalism. It’s not something I’d ever want my name associated with, or for my family to know about. I’d feel ashamed.

I use the services of Takers to the extent that it’s necessary, and accept the tacit crassness and unseemliness of the interaction as a cultural cost. I don’t think that it always has to, or will, be like this, but I accept it for now. When, however, I’m choosing who to spend time with, or seek inspiration from, or learn from, or adopt as a role model, I’m exclusively looking at Makers. The fire and water, rather than the mere pipework. The lightning, not the rod. Surround yourself with Makers.

Choose someone you admire or otherwise care about. Given knowledge of your motives, would they be genuinely proud of you in your work? That’s the test. What are you creating?

Are you a Maker, or only a Taker?