The Maker's Marks

March 30, 2021

I shared a photo of my new messenger bag in the lead-in, designed and crafted from local materials by my friends Andrew and Charlotte Isbell.  Both are wonderful and fascinating polymaths, Charlotte a high-level brand strategist, business consultant and executive coach - and amazing painter and designer - and Andrew a former senior explosives ordnance officer in the military, now occupational safety specialist, musician, and fine leather craftsman.  I was honored to learn that my bag was the first to feature their maker’s mark - their leather stamp had just come in, and they decided to add it to the bag, even though it wasn’t in Charlotte’s original sketches.  

This bag immediately became one of my most-treasured items!  Mine was a prototype of sorts, and they gave me a screaming deal on it - and it’s so beautiful and functional and NOBODY has one like it.  I am truly honored to have been one of the earliest clients for this shared new enterprise - ISBELL & CO - and I can imagine the day when someone asks me how long I’ve had my messenger bag and I say - “I got this before you were born!”  

This month’s blog will explore a range of topics that this notion of maker’s mark has got me thinking about.  I’ll be wandering around in the region where the borders of business and philosophy and science coincide, and noodle around on these topics:

  1. The amazing human ability to transform ideas into reality.
  2. The challenging human impulse to make other people do stuff.  
  3. What to do about it! 

What’s most striking to me about my new messenger bag - let’s call her Isabell, shall we? - is that 7 weeks ago she was nothing more than a second broken zipper on my previous computer bag - meaning I could no longer secure the top nor look very professional going from here to there.  I’d purchased a cloth and leather bag for Jill for Christmas, which was among Charlotte’s first designs, and was so pleased that I inquired about a replacement for my tattered computer bag.  “Oh - we’ve been meaning to design a men’s messenger bag, could you/would you be our guinea pig?!”  Some sketches, some choices, and a lot of impressive leather work later - Isabell was born and delivered to me!  

And so in this messenger bag I’ve been telling you about (maybe Isabell is too weird, I’ll stop…) is my computer, and in my computer I have my business.  Well, not just in my computer, more in the cloud I suppose, but more in my computer than it is in my office to be sure.  More than that though, my business is in my relationships, and beyond that, LoCo Think Tank is comprised of a spider web of relationships, many/most of which don’t include me at all!  

The thing that has become LoCo Think Tank started when Andrea Grant, our original LoCo Facilitator, agreed to an engagement with me (with encouragement from our mutual friend Mike Labate) whereby I’d find the members and do all the billing and stuff, and she’d organize effective chapter meetings - with modest compensation compared to what her experience level might command.  This was the bright idea that has allowed LoCo Think Tank to provide a high-value peer advisory experience at a modest cost, with now 9 regional chapters and going on 10!    

I like to say sometimes, that at LoCo Think Tank, we look for the win-win-win-win solution, but we’ll settle for the win-win-win if necessary.  The continuing engagement that we maintain is such - the facilitators win by getting an enjoyable and flexible engagement and a little walking around money, the members win by getting a cost-effective and well structured peer advisory experience, our member’s staff and clients win by working in and buying from better-managed businesses with less-frantic owners, and LoCo wins by building more relationships that give us a stronger foundation from which to add more value and build even more impactful relationships!  

I was talking with a new prospect for one of our Builder chapters the other day, and she asked if our chapters were back to meeting in person.  I shared that yes - most of them are - in larger spaces than before and seated 6-foot distanced - but one is still meeting remotely, and another has a hybrid meeting where several members join virtually and others are in the conference room.  Each chapter gets to make their own decisions on that topic I shared - as they’re all grown adults and I don’t prefer to make anybody do anything.  She really resonated with that sentence, and I believe we’ll add her to the ranks in our April meeting. 

And then that got me thinking about the big increase in activity in the area of people making other people do stuff this past year.  Stay-at-home!, close your business!, wear your mask!, you are now a teacher!, get your vaccination!, and a dozen more and all the time.  It’s been a tough year for someone of my personality profiles.  In the Enneagram, I’m called a Maverick - a Challenger with a Promoter shoulder.  In the Myers Brigg I’m an ENFJ, and in the DISC I’m a High-I with a Low-C.  For those not familiar with these profiles, these all mean I’m inclined to challenge authority and the status quo, I am energized by being around people and having influence, I have strong values and generally think my ideas are correct - and I am much more likely to wear my mask or get a vaccine if you ask me nice and explain it well than if you tell me I must.  If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, I’m Team Wildling.  ; )  

But I do wear my mask, and I’m likely to get my vaccine - because I see evidence of the science and the utility (but I confess that I don’t understand it out of doors, I mean - if it’s all around us in the very air, does it just get hung up in those little cotton fibers?) - but I also see economics as a science, and math.  I did not appreciate the heavy handedness and executive authority under which many of these mandates were issued, and I take very seriously the fears our Founding Fathers had of government overreach and beliefs they had about the natural rights of man.  From my perch, free speech is under real threat in our nation and in our media - even my little quip above about outdoor masks is sure to make my editor and some readers cringe - and certainly religious freedoms and the right to assemble have taken shots this past year as well.  As has free enterprise.  

This harkens back a bit to my fixers and the nixers blog from last April, The Fixers Take Center Stage, but this topic is even more challenging to suss out because I’m contrasting makers with makers.  Makers have ideas and bring value and opportunity to the world, while makers force mandates and bailouts and taxes upon a population of citizens - for our own good of course.  To quote a favorite author:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. ”  C. S. LewisGod in the Dock

I speak often against the scale of government, against national debts and national regulations, because I value and appreciate the diversity that is these United States, and the iron sharpens iron effect of having states that rely upon and compete with one another.  One size fits all, issued by Washington DC, just isn’t the right way to stay competitive with China - unless we go full commie I guess, but I don’t want that either!  If you want to have $15 minimum wages in San Francisco or NYC, go for it - I guess - but don’t make it a national thing or a statewide thing please, as it’s fraught with unintended consequences!  

I found this article in Bloomberg, from before the Covid crisis, that talks about the incredible out-migration of citizens from three main states - California, Illinois, and New York - basically the states with the most government regulations and highest tax burdens among all the states.  And then I found this one on, talking about the acceleration of companies out of California and New York since the covid crisis started, and the crisis coming in commercial real estate especially in those markets.  I see it getting ugly, with unsustainable state budgets in the years ahead, and I see those big-population states throwing their weight around in DC to get some relief.  

In contrast, EVERYONE is going to Florida and Texas these days, as those states have less regulation, lower taxes, and their restaurants and theme parks and beaches are open for business (time will tell if this was a mistake - the data doesn’t suggest it so far).  I met a travelling Floridean recently in Winter Park - he’d chosen to move his restaurant from NYC to Jacksonville area early in the Covid crisis - and boy was he happy he did!  He’s never been busier, meanwhile his peers who attempted to weather the storm have in many cases given up the ship.  The makers have made their mark in New York and Cali - by shutting down these long-established businesses in the effort of making everybody safe, they’ve also made lots of people broke and others choose to leave.  Those of means will be the first to go, leaving more desperate people and less capable enterprises to support them with jobs and taxes.  

But this is a story of success I believe, as the spirit of the makers in our nation remains strong, and entrepreneurship itself is creative destruction.  We are born to imagine and create - designed this way, some would say.  I was watching a documentary recently, about the complexity of the code in each of our unique DNA signatures...but to call it a signature isn’t correct, as that implies something left behind - our DNA is instead something that comes ahead of - our DNA is the ginormous code that tells our cells within us what to become, starting with our first cell.  It’s a program, not a signature, and in my mind it’s telling evidence that we - and all life - have been created according to a plan, and we are created in His image, with the ability to have ideas and to make and create in service to one another.  It’s complicated - but if you read this article, you’ll have a better understanding than you had before reading it.

And I think that’s what people want, in this nation more than any otter perhaps, is the right to be free, to create and find joy in whatever means they might, so long as they do not harm one another.  And I hope our trends toward making people do stuff, of forced compliance, increased taxes and redistributions, are found out to be what I and many others believe them to be - counterproductive.  Make your marks on this world, make them beautiful, and don’t leave scars on people when you’re making them.  

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