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GE, Monocle promote building, innovation with 'Maker Movement'

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Sometimes the most successful and vital technologies emerge from fun ideas or simple hobbies. That's part of the idea behind the Make...

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sometimes the most successful and vital technologies emerge from fun ideas or simple hobbies.

That's part of the idea behind the Maker Movement, an initiative going on worldwide to spawn renewed and greater interesting in building innovative technologies.

Two forces that are working to advance the Maker Movement are General Electric and Monocle, which co-hosted a discussion event titled Make, Do, Change: A Convergence of Technological Craftsmanship & Culture in San Francisco on Tuesday morning.

Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media, explained that what people do for fun is often a better predictor of the future rather than what is dictated by venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.

"After the dot-com bust, we saw a lot of people playing with hardware, and it was just for fun," said O'Reilly.

Noting that many startups these days are often hobbies turned into a business, O'Reilly explained that he doesn't think of his business as a way to make money, but rather to make things interesting.

Beth Comstock, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at General Electric, said that GE is returning to its roots with the Maker Movement even as GE invests "record amounts in software development."

"For us, it's just a reminder that there are people who make these big pieces of technology, and that they care about them," Comstock said.

One initiative that GE promotes in this field is called Skill Share, which is an online learning platform where builders and welders can teach their trades either in a physical space or in a virtual classroom.

"It's amazing how much an appetite there is to learn from the masters," Comstock exclaimed, adding that "the kind of culture and craftsman that we need are here now."

O'Reilly noted that one of the great things about the Maker Movement is that it celebrates builders (including the "kids who used to be in shop class" and might not have gotten a lot of respect for that) and the value of making things.

Comstock agreed, asserting that we just have to remind ourselves about the innovative strength here.

"When you see kids that go 'Wow, I can do this,' it creates some direction," Comstock said.

She explained that GE is also taking a significant financial interest in promoting a builder culture again, especially on a domestic level. For example, GE has pledged a $1 billion investment to bring craftsmanship jobs back from Mexico to the United States.

Nevertheless, O'Reilly interjected by arguing that "we shouldn't worry about competition," but rather "we should worry about our own game."

Although she concurred with O'Reilly about focusing on our own innovation rather than competition, Comstock posited that in a global market place, companies desperately need to figure out where they can fit in as the race is on to determine who has the most and best makers out there.

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Rachel King

Rachel King is a staff writer for ZDNet. Previously she worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in San Francisco.