Entrepreneur and social media maven Nora Abousteit is in the business of facilitating and celebrating the exchange of knowledge through interactive media. She thrives on blending old and new, having gotten her start at German power publisher Hubert Burda Media, where she reinvented a sewing magazine started in the 1940s into BurdaStyle, the largest DIY fashion and sewing community with over half a million registered members and nearly 7 million pageviews a month.
Nora was also on the founding team of the DLD (Digital Life Design) conference, has written two books, writes a startup mentor column for the Wall Street Journal online, and recently launched Kollabora, an online DIY community where makers share projects, instructions, techniques, supplies, and tools they’ve used to create. It currently covers sewing, knitting, and jewelry making, but plans to expand to all areas of making. Nora spoke at Maker Faire New York 2012, touting the virtues of making as “the oldest open source movement,” with its ability to defragment us, provide a deep sense of accomplishment, and save the economies of the West.
One project you’re particularly proud of:
1. A fashionable accessory in the eighties: scrunchies! Back in high school my best friend Gini and I sewed and sold the hippest hair decoration of that time. We started a solid business on making things and it laid the ground stone for Gini’s career in fashion and for the companies I started: BurdaStyle and Kollabora.
Two past mistakes you’ve learned the most from:
1. Fighting procrastination. Now, I embrace it. Writing doesn’t always come easy to me and I used to try to start early to have enough time, but mostly wasn’t inspired until the very last minute. Now, I enjoy procrastination, because I get a lot of other stuff done and don’t waste my time with stressful thoughts.
2. Not starting over right away when I’ve noticed a mistake in a project, for example a wrong stitch or badly cut piece of material. Now, I correct it immediately, saving time and effort and getting a quick sense of accomplishment. It applies to life, too: when you did something or someone wrong and don’t confront it right away, it’ll simmer and you’ll suffer. Dealing with things, the feeling of fixing something is so wonderful, you don’t want to wait for that pleasure!
Three new ideas that have excited you most lately:
1. “Intelligence explosion” and the aim to develop true or stable artificial intelligence for greater good (as opposed to our current AI that depends on networks and is not predictable and might do harm). Mathematicians at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute argue that “when machines surpass human’s ability to design artificial intelligence, they will be able to recursively improve their own intelligence in a way that could quickly lead to vastly more intelligent agents — an ‘intelligence explosion.’ If these agents are programmed with stable, beneficial goals, their arrival could bring unprecedented well-being to Earth and beyond.” Thick thoughts!
2. The emergence of the Contextual Internet is exciting me. Computers will finally understand what is going on around them and combining that with who is using the device. Wow! So much room for innovation to build cool new services.
3. The idea that globalism goes backwards and the emergence of an “inside economy.” I find this worrying and fascinating at the same time. Surprisingly, the world is becoming actually less connected in many areas (international trade is slowing for the first time in 20 years and policies of protectionism are on the rise), which can lead to more wars: “when goods don’t cross borders, armies will.” Yet concomitantly the rise of local and DIY gives hope for a more sustainable and conscious way of living.
Four tools you can’t live without:
2. Sewing machine (one of the greatest 3D building tools — after all, fabric from 2D patterns becomes a 3D body). If you like, watch the video where I am teaching how to alter a sewing pattern to make a well-fitting easy summer dress.
3. A good fountain pen. I am obsessed with nice stationary and it always deserves a good pen. My mother gave me a wonderful birthday present: beautiful personalized cards and envelopes.
4. My tea sieve. I come from a family of German-Egyptian tea lovers and my biggest enjoyment is a good cup of loose Ostfriesentee from Onno Behrends. Fact: My mother grew up in East Frisia, a region in Germany with the highest tea consumption per capita in the world.
Five people/things that have inspired your work:
1. My parents! They are my role models about making and crafting. They’re chemists, makers, and entrpreneurs. My father could build anything with wood, metal, or other crazy materials; I learned welding in his company and would spend hours in his workshop that had every tool you’d wish for. My mother is the most talented and precise knitter, crocheter, and needlepointer. I was lucky to operate tools and learn many techniques by simply hanging around my folks. With Kollabora I am rebuilding that environment. I want to empower people to be in a creative maker community and to learn with and from fellow passionate peers.
2. Rüdiger Stremmel, my art teacher in high school, who opened my eyes to art and industrial design. He taught me so many new skills: water coloring, etching, printing, lamp building, and more.
3. Japanese aesthetics. I really like reduced and flat design. I was lucky to hire two designers (Rick S. Banister and Hikaru Furuhashi) who could translate that into website and graphic design. Last weekend I went to Kinokuniya, a Japanese bookstore. Browsing through the magazines and coffee table books got me so excited I had to run and make something (I ended up staying awake till 1 a.m. sewing a shirt).
4. Hardware stores. Here you find all the tools and supplies to build anything, to create art, or too simply enjoy the look (so much design!) and tactility (all these different surfaces!). They scream, “Everything is possible” and that’s so empowering.
5. Kollabora. It’s my DIY super inspiration engine. It’s my dream come true: makers and their fantastic projects, new skills, and cools supplies.