“Finding our people:” growing a global community of makers

In my very first job interview two years ago with Mozilla’s chief lizard wrangler, Mitchell Baker, she continually drove home the point that one of Mozilla’s core assets — almost as valuable as the Firefox brand itself — is a unique way of working.

It’s an open source approach to collaboration that aspires to be:

  • An open meritocracy. Where the best ideas count more than your place in an org chart.
  • Focused on building and doing. There’s a “let’s get stuff done” ethos that is refreshing for people coming from more bureaucratic backgrounds.
  • Mission-focused. Doing good. Answering to people, instead of just a bottom line. Making the kind of technology you’d want to use yourself — instead of finding ways to put consumers in a headlock or make a quick buck.

“Finding our people”

Part of what I’m finding inspiring about my job these days is watching these values resonate with new people and communities.

Take this post from Jon Vidar, a 2011 Knight News Challenge winner and leader of The Tiziano Project. He described attending the Mozilla Festival earlier this month as “finding my people.”

[As a news technology innovator,] often I am met with glazed-over eyes, or questions of “How much it is going to cost” and “What are the returns?”

When I am able to get past this and connect with someone who truly understands innovation, I am often stone-walled at the point of implementation by bureaucratic red tape or contracting processes that are as out-of-date as the systems we are trying to replace.

At the Mozilla Festival in London, however, I found my people.

By its nature, the festival paired journalists, creatives and technologists so that, in real-time, as ideas were being conceived, they were also being prototyped.

Jon’s post reminded me of what Jade Davis said about the Mozilla Festival last year:

I’ve finally found the people who understand my work — and are doers, not just talkers.

Making stuff vs. talking about stuff

Mark Surman has been writing a lot lately about creating a generation of web makers with Mozilla.

Posts like Jon’s and Jade’s help give an added sense of why that proposition resonates with people, and of the social potential of like-minded makers and doers finding each other and recognizing themselves as a community.

There’s something about the social and economic moment we find ourselves in that makes this approach to collaboration and change strike a chord. I think it’s the combination of both idealism and focused pragmatism — “more hammer, less yammer” — that’s novel and appealing to people.

A growing number of us are disappointed by the lack of values, short-sighted thinking and inertia that have come to characterize too much of the working world. But we’re also exhausted by endlessly talking about ideas or solutions without clear outlets for getting much done as a result.

The social media overload Fail Whale

Social media and blah, blah, blah

Sometimes it feels like social media and tech actually compound this problem. Many of us now feel like we’re drowning in data and talk, especially email. Talk is cheap — and getting cheaper all the time.

The net result is a growing hunger for tools, events, community and practice that helps us build and make and get stuff done — instead of just more blah blah blah.

I think that’s part of what makes events like the Mozilla Festival and Moz Camps unique, and a big part of the growth potential for our community and non-profit brand.
Science Fair

Building a benevolent do-ocracy

Mozilla is certainly not perfect at it — and building a temporary event that embodies these values is a lot easier than building an entire organization or world that runs on those principles.

But it’s interesting to see newcomers feel like they’ve found “their kind of people.” Like an invisible tribe that’s recognizing itself.

And it also open up an intriguing theory of change for Mozilla and our partners: shaping the future by gathering together a generation of people who will design, prototype and build it together.


  • When I shared an early version of this draft with my awesome colleague, Michelle Thorne, she shared some feedback that I found really insightful and wanted to share:

    “Maker spirit” and Mozilla values

    We have to balance the spirit of “getting things done” with the larger idealism of the organization. In particular, what are the values, not just the means, that Mozilla stands for? And how does the maker spirit bring us closer to realizing those values?

    In other words, making for the sake of making is meaningless. Making should be of “merit” and contribute constructively towards shared values.

    I.e. we’re not just making for the sake of it, but we’re working towards promoting certain values, and that’s what makes our making even more compelling.

  • I can only reiterate how important “Finding Your People” really is. I, too, found my people at the first Drumbeat Festival. Being in Barcelona with a bunch of people that wanted to make stuff that helped people be more involved in our world reinvigorated me and my working life. Before that, I was banging my head against the wall because of that stupid bottom line that so many organizations are looking at. In London, we made more things and during the making we discussed where we should be going. The bottom line of our people is openness, collaboration, and the willingness to experiment, the willingness to fail and fail well. If our overarching missions seem idealistic, so be it – someone needs to have that kind of optimism. It’s a beacon of light for some of us who are a bit disillusioned with the current state of the world. I’m happy to call myself an idealist and a maker. Yay for finding our people! I LOVE this post!

  • What a great comment. Thanks so much, Laura.

    Would love to quote a bunch of what you wrote in some of our upcoming messaging work.

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