gear_tools (1)In my nearly 20 years of engineering, I have found there are two types of creative people you must have in your groups if you want to be innovative while making awesome things. I call them “the Tool-igans” and the “Product Jocks.” Both are passionate about technology and both love to build, but there are some key differences between them.


These people are fascinated with the technology of the project: the tools and the processes. They are constantly striving to find a better way to do things. Traditionally they may be referred to as “specialists,” but I think a more creative word makes more sense to describe them. Tool-igans are fascinated with building out the infrastructure so that it becomes possible to make just about anything. They are the go-to guys and gals when we need to troubleshoot a technology problem, and they are easy to adapt to new situations and environments.

Product Jocks

These people are fascinated with the what-ifs, the possibilities, and the “what-can-I-use-these-tools-to-make” types. Initially, this doesn’t sound very different from the Tool-igans, but I would describe that more in these first two sentences instead of talking about “generalists.” The Product Jocks tend to have a broad range of hands-on skills across lots of skill sets, such as software, hardware, manufacturing, metalwork, woodwork, etc. They also tend to be more “end product” focused then tool focused. They will use whatever tools are available to build whatever it is they have in their mind’s eye. They prefer to make something that appeals to the masses.

Maybe they are good at guiding a project, good project managers? Big picture view? Whereas the Tool-igans get the work done and can be tasked with various parts of getting the project done?

Which are you?

You may feel like you have a mix of these characteristics. I’d say most of us do. But we probably each lean a little, or a lot, one way or the other. And that’s a very good thing. I know that when it comes to finding the best productivity app, I am a total Tool-igan, jumping around and experimenting with the latest offerings. But when it comes to electronics tinkering, I am less concerned about the tools and way more interested in building cool and useful products. So as a maker, I am very much a Product Jock.

But I think you really need to hone both sides to be successful and happy. So to find my balance, I locate groups like makerspaces, and I find them to be extremely valuable. We all have natural talents, and left to our own devices it is easy to become narrowly focused at the expense of growing as a maker and a well-rounded individual. Makerspaces allow us to be exposed to different ways of thinking and different skill sets which we can learn and include in our own toolbox.

Furthermore, I find that having both personality types will help organizations achieve the five tenets of the open source way. How you may ask? Well let’s take a look at how the two personalities types reinforce each other to achieve the principles of each tenet.

Open exchange: By admitting our natural preference and seeking out people with opposite personalities and having open discussion and exchanges helps everyone grow as a maker.

Participation: Success will take the participation of both types of personalities. Like any good partnership, it does’t matter how smart or good you are on your own, you have to participate to make a difference.

Rapid prototyping: Tool-igans can help find the best and quickest tools to get a job done. A Product Jock helps ensure the product is designed from the get-go to be elegant and easy to manufacture.

Meritocracy: In both camps, the best ideas rise to the top. If you have enough of the ideas that work, your “geek cred” rises and you gain more influence to shape future successes.

Community: Having both types breeds success and nothing bring a team or community together more than sharing in each other’s successes.

It really does take all types to make the world go round, especially in open source initiatives. And that’s pretty darn cool. So what is your natural tendency? Tool-igan? Or Product Jock? How can you better cultivate both?