Lesson From CaT NY: On the Internet, Sharers Win

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To kick off Ad Age and Creativity's Creativity and Technology conference in New York today, MakerBot founder Bre Pettis beat the drum for a major driver of creativity today: collaboration.

With MakerBot, Mr. Pettis created one of the first affordable 3D printers. While the technology to translate computer images into physical objects has been around for 25 years, high costs have meant that 3-D printers have stayed in the domain of universities and major manufacturers. But now, at $1,299, Mr. Pettis' 3-D printer MakerBot has found its way into the hands of 5,000 designers and amateurs around the world.

Unlike its expensive predecessors that often look like giant mainframe computers, the MakerBot ships as a kit with pieces of wood, so buyers can build it themselves like IKEA furniture. MakerBot users then design their own objects using free software and 3D scanners, upload them to MakerBot's online community Thingiverse and draw from the pool to mash up others' designs to make all manner of objects from chess sets to whistles and toys.

For an appearance on "The Colbert Report" last night, Mr. Pettis scanned Stephen Colbert's head to make a 3-D printout for the show. He then uploaded the image to Thingiverse and, 12 hours later, the MakerBot community has affixed Mr. Colbert's head to all sorts of other objects, like an octopus body and the Statue of Liberty.

That collaboration, Mr. Pettis said, is the key to creativity right now. "In this age of the internet, it's the sharers that win," he said. "It just works better that way."

That means content creators -- brands, designers or otherwise -- need to throw their work into the hands of others, he said. "In today's culture of invention, you can share stuff, people will jump in, support you, criticize you -- both are helpful -- and move things along."

To support what he calls a "culture of derivatives," MakerBot supports general public and creative commons licenses, which basically mandate that design and any changes to those designs stay in the public domain and stay shareable. "Try things out, make opportunities for collaboration and, most importantly, invite people in and interesting things will happen."

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