Making Something Real that Will Last

Like many people, my working day is spent organizing electrons. The thoughts, ideas and problems I help solve are all persisted as digital impulses and magnetic traces on metal spinning disks stored underground somewhere far away. Without complex electronic equipment, it’s nearly impossible to see what it is that I do. As mystically arcane and technical as that sounds, the drab reality is that primary artifacts of much of my work are Microsoft PowerPoint decks.

Yes, I make corporate cotton candy. And it’s good stuff, mostly.

I do value my work. Complex ideas are clearly distilled and presented, strategies are sussed out and engaging graphics bring visuals to help sell the concept. But I can’t imagine pulling one out to show some future grandchild. "Hey kiddo, come over here and let Grandad show you the 2003 Technology Strategy. It’s a dandy!" There’d likely be a justifiable medical evaluation after that incident. Besides that, kids can’t legally sign an NDA, and everyone knows we gotta protect the IP.

This is a reflection of the intangible nature of intellectual property, and the nature of the contemporary economy. Everything is more virtual and less tangible.

In a March News Release: Ocean Tomo the intellectual capital merchant banc™ firm released findings from its Intangible Asset Market Value Study of the composition of equity market values. As reported by Geoff Colvin of Fortune Magazine, the components of S&P market value data for the start of 2015 reveals the implied intangible asset value of the S&P 500 grew to an average 84% by January 1, 2015 a growth of four percentage points over ten years.

Eighty-four percent is a remarkable number. Multiply that by the total market cap of the S&P 500 and you have an astounding number. The upshot of all this is more of our work is less tangible — indeed, it is less real, than it was in the past.

But I’m not here to lament the “good old days.” Frankly, they weren’t that great. If the brick and mortar economy is gone, so be it. Let’s move forward.

It’s clear that not everything can be virtual and intangible. There surely must be a limit to this trend. We still need durable goods, machines, tools, homes, and offices. I suspect, even hope that we are approaching that limit.

This is an interesting economic trend, and I think it has social implications as well. I believe the need to create is an intrinsic human trait that must be honored by each of us in our own way.

For me, there are times when I yearn to create something of substance. To manifest it with my hands (and tools if necessary). To have people look at it, use it, taste it, or whatever. I want to create and share a physical manifestation of my unique personal capabilities. Regardless of whether it’s innovative or not, making something real provides a singular joy that kicks my best PowerPoint deck into a rusty waste bin.

But it’s tough to make a living doing real things. Manufacturing is struggling in the US. Making art is seldom as financially rewarding as it is spiritually. Even bespoke creations don’t provide the standard of living they once did. (Ask any baker how much he can get for a fresh apple pie or a loaf of warm French bread. You’ll understand why there are fewer small bakers.)

Even though I haven’t figured out how to make it financially viable, my emotional health demands that creative outlet. So I make things. I occasionally remark that, "I like to eat, so I learned to cook." This has been great for our social life, but perhaps detrimental to my waistline. Most of our friends won’t turn down dinner at our house, and we love the relationships we’ve built over a nice meal and a bottle or three of fine wine. Of course, that’s the real benefit, the warm and crunchy baguettes are just a perk. But in the end, any meal, no matter how fabulous, is ultimately reduced to dirty dishes and fond memories.

So what is it that both sustains and endures? I’ve designed t-shirts, posters, ad campaigns, brochures, flyers and even bicycle jerseys. Most are temporary art, although seeing a team of thirty bicyclists all wearing my one of my jersey designs is amazing and cool and I love them all for wearing my art.

For me, the designs that endure are the furniture. I’ve made beds, shelves, and tables of all sorts. Each is a unique creation that combines the functional requirements of the piece with the esthetics of the room it will live in. The designs have an individual presence, and each reflects my design philosophy. In short: Form ever follows function, and if you’re going to build something, build it sturdy. Furniture should live on, and ideally outlive its creator. A well-built solid wood piece could serve generations. Particle board and polycarbonate can’t endure.

So when the need strikes, and the strategies, meetings and mission statements are more than I can take, I head to the shop to saw and drill, to sand and varnish, and to make something that lasts.

Gentle readers, thank-you for reading my work. I hope you find it thought provoking or helpful. If in some way, you’ve enjoyed this essay, please do me the kind favor of tapping the little Recommend heart below. Many thanks!

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