season 2 episode 17 – How to develop a creative community | Noah Weinstein
In this episode, Noah Weinstein, the previous creative director of Autodesk Pier 9 – The world’s greatest creative workshop – speaks about how to build creative communities, what is the role of management in supporting creative initiatives, and how one space in San Francisco became the epitome for experimentation in digital fabrication, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D, and biotechnology, all led by artists.
Resources and links
Artworks and other topics mentioned during the podcast can be seen in the following links:
The transcript was produced by an AI, mistakes might appear.
[00:00:00] Nir Hindi: Hi Noah, welcome The Artian and podcast. Thanks so much
[00:00:03] Noah Weinstein: for having
[00:00:04] Nir Hindi: me. Thank you for taking the time and chatting with me today about exciting topics around creative communities, creative workshop, artist-in-residence technology, human centric. So many interesting topics we have today before we maybe kind of dive deep into everything that you were doing and are doing.
Maybe you can introduce yourself briefly toilets.
[00:00:27] Noah Weinstein: Sure. My name is Noah Weinstein. 2006. I joined a small company called instructables.com, which shares how people make things online. Uh, in 2011, that company got bought by Autodesk. And we had the privilege of building a place called pier nine, uh, for about six years, I dreamed and managed and ran that facility.
And we ran during that time, the largest artists in residence program that I know of that works with, uh, that’s funded by a corporation and working within a corporation. Um, I really love to make things and share how people can make things too. And
[00:01:02] Nir Hindi: days also exciting kind of detail about you that.
[00:01:07] Noah Weinstein: Yeah, I have a lot of exciting.
I think I find them rather charming details, but, uh, yeah, I’ve, I’ve had a weird background. I’ve installed toilets in Europe. I drove a tractor for a while on the raft guide. I started a TV show online for a little while. So about making things. I wish it could have been about something else, but, uh, yeah, I’ve got an eclectic background, but always around usually making things.
And helping people feel comfortable in doing new things as well.
[00:01:33] Nir Hindi: So you’re among great company because we love people that doing different things in different realms and connect unconnected dots. And I know what Autodesk is, but maybe you can tell us briefly what Autodesk is. And then I would like to kind of hear from you what was actually the spear nine that you asked.
[00:01:53] Noah Weinstein: Sure thing. Well, Autodesk is a software company and they’re really, they make pieces of software for people who make things. If you’ve ever been on an airplane or in a car or driven across a bridge, chances are those items were designed in a piece of software and that software was made by Autodesk. They’ve largely been known as a professional company, like making software for people who, who professionally designed those things, but starting in maybe 2010 or so, there was a growing movement of just consumers, like regular people who build in their garage or go to home Depot who are also using their software.
And that’s kind of where I came into the picture there helping Autodesk reach a larger consumer. So basically software company that helps people make stuff. If what you’re using is powered by a computer.
[00:02:38] Nir Hindi: then they bought the company or you were working for, and you start a new space called pier nine, which is located in San Francisco in.
[00:02:52] Noah Weinstein: it’s an awesome location. It was literally over the water on the San Francisco bay. We had the ability to build the facility from scratch. There was a butcher there before there was some warehouse space, um, an old lawyer’s office with some really old furniture, which I think is floating around the pier still somewhere.
We got to imagine what could a really a world-class digital fabrication workshop look like and what would it look like if you put an office next to that? So you’d could be combining these two really big communities. Like one is, is obviously just a, an office for people who want to make things. And, and that would have a tilt kind of towards, uh, a research and development facility, like an innovation space.
Those kinds of things had already been bouncing around San Francisco. And we said, Hey, we’re going to pair this with a really amazing workshop that helps people make. So in essence, yep. Pier nine is this blend it’s it’s got about a third of the back building is 15,000 square feet of, of digital fabrication space filled with mills and 3d printers and laser cutters and mold making rooms and a robotics lab and a bio nano research facility for biotechnology and nanotechnology for as it relates to 3d printing.
And it’s got all these. Amazing physical resources in the way that like tools empower people to make things. And we wanted to assemble a really beautiful collection of tools in one place. So people could pretty much, you know, we say make anything. Uh, I know that’s not entirely true, but it’s a, it’s kind of an idea.
And then the office, uh, was really a place where 150 Autodesk employees would work. And I was lucky enough to be one of. And we had, you know, all the things that officers have, we’ve got conference rooms and coffee machines and all that kind of stuff. And so it was really the unique marrying of these two places.
Side-by-side over the water in San Francisco, just super, super lucky, special opportunity.
[00:04:38] Nir Hindi: And it happened that you had signed kind of 150 office employee in that sense. And then you have the. Amazing cutting edge workshop. Why, why actually married these?
[00:04:50] Noah Weinstein: Yeah, I wish I could say, I wish I could say that it was all part of a master plan.
I don’t think that, you know, no one’s success story says, oh, I planned it exactly that way. So it was really because, um, two people who I was working with one was the CEO of Autodesk, Carl Bass. He’s like a tool fanatic. He has shops in the east bay, in Oakland that live in Oakland. And so. He just loves tools.
And I think he eventually said, Hey, we’ve got this huge software company. Let’s, let’s have a good time. Let’s have tools. And there’s a practical side to that, which is that the software powers these tools. And you really can’t make a piece of software if you don’t know how it’s going to operate that, that would be kind of like programmers, you know, writing an app, but never holding an iPhone in your hand to see what it’s like to actually use that piece of software, the software drives the tools.
You absolutely have to understanding of what the tool is before you can design a good piece of software. So that was a very private. Realization that Autodesk just hadn’t made until that point. Uh, it just became really clear that these tools are going to be widely available or they are widely available.
We have to physically have them onsite in order to make software that powers them. Um, the other person who was kind of not kind of, it was totally instrumental in the creation of the pier was a guy named Eric Wilhelm, who was my boss, who’s the founder of Instructables. And he really had this amazing ability to, uh, kind of notice.
Okay. An opportunity \ and then jump right through that window sort of without, you know, just totally all in a hundred percent, like, let’s see what happens. One of the most committed, uh, smart folks I’ve ever worked with. And so he was a huge proponent of building a space that kind of reached really far.
And he’d been lucky enough to have an experience at MIT when he went to school that had a workshop and tools that were allocated for people to use largely, however, And I also had a little bit of that experience in my school background. And I worked in the shop at school and at brown, and I kind of knew what it was like to have amazing resources allocated behind you and say, Hey, this is actually here for you.
Uh, so both of us just were itching to recreate that. So the three of us. And a very serendipitous way, kind of each, I think, egg each other on, in terms of, Hey, like what if the screw a little bit more, and every time we pick out a tool, uh, someone else would say, Hey, maybe this could really be that. And then we, you know, then we’d have a whole room of those tools and then we’d say, well, we really need another room next to that.
That has the robot lab. And we were really be cool if we had these other resources on top of that in a relatively short period of time, the, those ingredients just came together really within one. The whole facility was kind of, um, conceived and constructed and commissioned was just an amazingly fast, uh, and instead of sleepless days for me, but it was, it was fantastic.
So a lot of serendipity and I think some personalities of people who really enabled each. But enable each other for good things, rather than
[00:07:26] Nir Hindi: I don’t think there are innovative and creative companies. I think they are innovative and creative people that shape those companies.
Every time you will see a new creative act, there is a first name and last name behind it. So it’s kind of reinforcing some of the thoughts that. I’m interested to know why artists, why bringing artists into a workshop that has nanotechnology offices, software, et cetera.
[00:07:51] Noah Weinstein: I think that’s probably the thing I think about the most. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. It certainly wasn’t who people expected we would invite in, you know, Autodesk, I think assumed would be working. Corporate partners that had, you know, big, big names. And like we would bring Ferrari in and Ferrari would design a new brake pad for their F1 car.
And we we’d race that. And that was that’s, you know, that we did do work with partners like Airbus and Airbus was designing a seat partition, which was lightweighting, which means the plane will weigh less than so you’ll save money on fuel. Um, and these were the kinds of project that Autodesk was used to innovate around.
And those are absolutely wonderful projects. That’s perfect corporate partner innovation, but we were asking a different question. It wasn’t. What can to corporations who make products do together to collaborate, we were literally trying to define a new future that didn’t yet exist. And that was how will these tools be used in the future?
What do the tools want to do? And what is an emerging market of consumers, which literally nobody knew what these people wanted to make, except, you know, us, the people who work, you know, the consumers, we know what we want to make in our garages, but Autodesk doesn’t know that. And so how do you learn from those people?
How do you say, Hey, we want. We want to bring products to market that you’ll be interested in. And why don’t you show us what you’re interested in. So to do that, you have to bring in those folks. And I thought long and hard about this in terms of, I believe we are what we practice. Um, and you ha you know, people embody different qualities of who they are.
I think workers and employees, uh, embody labor practices. And that’s what it is to, to work hard and to show up at work. We, we labor whether it’s intellectual labor or physical labor, that is largely what work is. And so when I think about innovation, I think about creation and I think about creativity.
That is the fuel that enables innovation to. And so when I think about who has creative practices and meaning like, if I want to run a long marathon, I’ll go talk to a long distance runner to see how to do that. Right? Because runners practice a marathon running and long distance running. So I believe artists practice creativity, and I believe artists are beautiful practitioners of creativity.
And so why artist. Because artists are accomplished at the practice of creativity and creativity is the juice that fuels innovation and everybody has blends of who they are. No artist is just an artist. They’re artists that are dads and artists who are moms, artists, grandmothers, artists, chefs, artists, woodworkers, artists, painters.
We are all blends. Our identities and our artistry. And so the goal was to take what was an environment that was very heavily blended towards workers and employees, which is exactly the right thing a company should have when you’ve got to get a lot of work done and blend it for the sake of innovation with creativity.
And so for the 150 employees we had on. We had around 16 artists and residents sprinkled in throughout them. You really can’t have one token artist in residence that doesn’t really create change. That number changed from we’ve had one at times and we saw that didn’t work. We had 50 at times, and I saw that didn’t work.
And so 16 was what we kind of settled on as the size of the cohort.
[00:11:09] Nir Hindi: How many cohorts you had?
[00:11:11] Noah Weinstein: We had two cohorts per year and it would run for.
[00:11:14] Nir Hindi: So 32 artists.
[00:11:16] Noah Weinstein: Yeah. Per year, per year. Yep. And each one, each group was there
for about four months. And then we’d take a little break in between then restart the whole,
[00:11:22] Nir Hindi: I want to be a devil’s advocate because some people probably will say, you know, great artistic creativity, but it’s artistic creativity.
How it relates to machine creativity. What would you.
[00:11:35] Noah Weinstein: I think I’d have to say about that then that, you know, companies don’t have creativity or innovation. There’s people who embody creativity and innovation inside that company. So I’m curious what machine creativity is without the person who operates it.
I think I’d say that it’s very narrow to think of artists only as painters and sculptors and, and jazz musicians, right. Everyone has an artistic practice or a sense of artistry to what they do. Anyone who is an expert in something, or who is masterful in something I believe has an element of artistry to them.
And so when we use the word artists and residents, it’s not like everybody in there has an MFA and is holding a paintbrush, just painting on the walls. Although some people did do that. It’s really a collection of people who just have a strong artistic practice. We worked with engineers, we worked with chefs, we worked with the United States, Marine Corps, active duty people.
We worked with amputees who were building prosthetics for themselves. Uh, and it’s really just a program for anyone. Who wants to get in touch and express the artistry inside of their practice. And that really does extend far beyond things you’ve seen in art. So,
[00:12:36] Nir Hindi: can you give us some examples if maybe we can even focus it on artists that actually worked with you?
I mean, one for sure that we interviewed Madeline Gannon that work with robotics, but I will be happy to hear more examples that you have.
[00:12:51] Noah Weinstein: Yeah. There’s, there’s tons. Uh, some of my favorite really, and we can kind of go from like, We can work up in complexity. Cause some of these projects get a little involved, but like I think that there’s such delight in something really simple.
I can kind of wander for just a bit. There’s a guy named John Edmark who made these 3d printed blooms. These are sculptures that peer to be moving when you spin them around on a platter and strove a light at them at the right speed. And it’s a 3d printed object. You couldn’t manufacture this thing by hand..
Although there are things naturally that do this it’s as though a trophic effect. So if you take an artichoke and you spin an artichoke, um, around on a record player or a fan motor, whatever you want and you flash a light at the right speed, artichoke will appear to animate almost as if it’s. And you can stop the light or you can stop the motor.
And the trick is over. You can see nothing is happening. It’s just spinning in a circle, but your brain actually makes us animation. So this guy, John Edmark started 3d printing these amazing forms. Pretty quickly. People were just enthralled by them. Uh, we made videos about them posted them online, and it was a way to show people a 3d printed object and get them excited about a form that they had really never seen in the past.
I’ve never seen any. Like what John Edmark made in these forms, those objects and those videos became like Vimeo’s top video of the year. They were viewed not, not in a category. I should, I wish I could, you know, be so cool to have that gold medal. That was like number one video. But I think it was like number one video in that category.
And these were tens of millions of views. And so for a company to be able to get attraction about 3d printing, which is what Autodesk was trying to do and reach tens of millions of people in a relatively short amount of time. Um, totally organically. None of this was paid for, besides the subsidizing, the print for.
That’s a very basic collaboration that has a very simple thing that was made, but that has a huge audience. And so I view that as very
[00:14:38] Nir Hindi: we’ll make sure to put the links to the video in, on the show notes so people can see it as well.
[00:14:44] Noah Weinstein: Yeah. You kind of have to kind of to see this, to believe it then kind of going from there, other collaborations that really, that really were interesting to me they’re all sensational. The point of, I, you know, I want to be honest about what we were doing. It was to get attention. It was to share what we were making. And so they kind of are all the projects that were the most interesting to me are the ones that kind of got very wide and, and covered. And so another one of that was, uh, two French artists, um, who were with our robotics lab to perform the world’s first robotic tattoo.
[00:15:14] Nir Hindi: What does that mean?
Yeah. These guys have been totally obsessed with them. I think probably first tattoos and then robotic tattoos. They both have a fair number of tattoos and they’re just really expert in this field. It’s, it’s how to get a, a six axis robot, which is normally responsible for, you know, doing heavy labor, like welding car frames or picking up heavy things or repetitive tasks over and over that people can’t do and asking it to.
Give a real tattoo on a human body. Um, what’s involved in that is actually a ton of useful steps that, that people who work with robots really need to break through and solve the human body can move. Uh, and so you have to actually have the robot interact with the human. It’s not a flat surface. It isn’t a piece of steel.
You have to treat it very gently. Uh, the artistry of the robot in terms of how it makes lines is directly translated into your skin with ink forever. There’s a lot about finesse and control that is. Really really precise. And it has to actually work in collaboration with its environment. Robots don’t work in collaboration with their environment well, today they will very happily, you know, bang into a wall and then, and then take the welder and hurt itself if it doesn’t know what’s happening. And so giving the robot some senses of awareness, which is what Madeline’s work is all about. Is is kind of right where robotics is today because, because a robot that has to be in a factory line behind Bulletproof glass, isn’t terribly interesting.
And isn’t the future that most people think robots could achieve if there, if they had more awareness. Anyway, so these guys, uh, solved software problems with our software teams on how to get the robot to interact with someone’s flesh, from a 3d scan of what that flesh was. So the robot knows the contours of the person’s leg, where the tattoo was going.
We had to solve tons of safety obstacles around robot human interaction with. If you, if Autodesk believes the future is going to have more people working in close proximity with robots, which they certainly do, because that’s a huge market in terms of how software controls, robots, safety. Solving these problems as absolutely has to happen.
Um, so as we break through those barriers, we kind of learn the very fundamental challenges that we’ll be facing in the future. And it’s very much a test and it’s very much just a, a concept, but the reality that we had to do to bring that to life and the tattoo was successful and
they did it on a human.
[00:17:28] Noah Weinstein: Yeah, I believe it’s the, it’s the only robot given tattoos. Yeah, uh, that’s out there. And so it was a spiral. It’s cool. It’s, you know, I’m sure a tattoo artists would look out and be like, yeah, I can do that. But as the first tattoo, it’s about three inches, big four inches big and it’s a spiral and it’s pretty cool.
And it was successful. For one day pier nine was a licensed and certified tattoo parlor, uh, in San, in the city of San Francisco. And then
[00:17:52] Nir Hindi: they took it to the two. What did that mean? That
[00:17:55] Noah Weinstein: there was no person who delivered the tattoo. The artist walked up to the robot and having pre-programmed at all and set up the environment for everything.
Put their leg out. And you know what? A 2000 pound giant robot arm came over with a little tattoo gun that they had made and began painting on this person’s body. Do you
[00:18:12] Nir Hindi: have images of this? Yeah. Yeah. I can just, we can share that we were sharing it. Definitely. So one of the things that I think is special about this place is that it’s not only space.
It’s not only 32 artists coming and you have 150 people working over there. But your goal was to build a community community. And I’m interested from your experience because we hear a lot about communities, but I mean, to learn from you, what are the ingredients someone needs to have in mind when they want to build a creative community.
[00:18:47] Noah Weinstein: I think one of the most important things in building a creative community is to have someone creating an umbrella of safety above and for that community. And I think that really means, uh, looking out for external risks so that people inside the community don’t have to, and everybody has someone who’s gone before them, that facility.
What they’re doing next, right? None of us are leading completely alone. There’s always someone who’s who’s come before us. Who’s, who’s making what we’re doing possible. And so I think it takes someone who can be a translator and a leader to create that umbrella of safety. And I had that role for a short for some of the time.
Um, my boss, Eric Wilhelm had that role for some of the time. But that person really has to be a translator between the business and the creative community. And they’re really straddling both worlds. The only way for that to work, I think is if they’re actually not really a true full member of either world they have to be sort of someone who’s comfortable in both spaces and, and constantly going back and forth that person, or even better, um, someone who’s then fully inside the creative community.
It needs to really embody the behaviors that they want to see inside that community. And I think that means that whatever you’re trying to cultivate or grow the leaders of those spaces should have those feelings and those behaviors inside themselves. So it has to be authentic. For example, at pier nine, um, the leader of the workshop who was actually the person who, who catalyzed everyone around making things was, uh, a person by the name of Jay Sasson.
And so privileged to work with Jay Jay is a background in architecture and building and making things and just super sharp. Wonderful vibrant and alive person. And David really be someone who’s like be sweeping up, uh, in the morning and working on projects after hours and just fully dedicated to making that place go with an energy and a lifeblood that, that everyone could feel.
And so if you were standing next to. You knew actually that, that not only were you encouraged to use the tools, but you were actually encouraged to be more of who you are to be more of your own self, because Jay was being so much of their selves. And I think that’s, that’s an amazing part. That’s hard to do that.
That’s actually really necessary about embodiment. Uh, the leaders who were in the space, you know, I, I walked through the shop and would just kind of touch the tools. I didn’t even make stuff that those days I was writing emails all day. I had admiration for the tools. I had a love for the space. And I, I think that was palpable.
I, I tried to share that. I tried to express that and as I expressed it, other people then, you know, could see that, okay. It’s, it’s okay to express that as well. And so that’s kind of how passion and excitement becomes infectious. So yeah, leaders that can embody the qualities of the community. They’re trying to cultivate and foster, I think is essential.
[00:21:23] Nir Hindi: So you mentioned the safety embodiment of the values that you want. What else are they ingredients to build a creative company? I
[00:21:30] Noah Weinstein: think certainly an openness to learn from different ideas and people would talk about cross-pollination all this. Cross-pollination would come up over and over that, if you see what you’re doing as existing, only in a silo, then you’re not taking the benefit of a community, then that work could be done alone and in isolation, but really cross pollination from the people around you is where those serendipitous collaborations and those new ideas come from.
It’s like getting a new idea in the shower, right? We all have to do things that make us open to what might be coming next. And cross-pollination inside of a community means having conversations with. Asking open-ended questions, getting curious about each other’s work. So sharing was a huge part of what we did also inside the residency program, the work was shared internally in like basically studio critiques.
We, we made the environment very similar to things I’ve seen in art schools and other residency programs. And then we also shared that online. The general public. And I’m talking about millions of people who are on Instructables, who are looking at these projects that people are making and sharing how they made and there’s feedback and discussion and learning that happens there.
And so I think that’s a huge element of the cross-pollination.
[00:22:36] Nir Hindi: So we have safety, we have embodiment of values, we have openness, and cross-pollination other things that you have in mind how to build creative community.
[00:22:46] Noah Weinstein: Yeah. I mean, it really depends. I think what you’re aiming it at because it’s not like, we’re just saying, Hey, we’re, we’re here for no purpose.
We had a purpose, right? The residents wanted access to this amazing tools. And really, we really wanted people to help us share the resources that we had and come up with ideas that we had never come up with on our own and would never be capable of coming up with on our own. So I think that. Also then looking for working with types of people to involve in your community, maybe different than you’ve had experiences with in the past.
Because if you keep surrounding yourself with people who you’ve normally been around and they’re just going to recapitulate and re habituate experiences from your past. So Autodesk is a software company had not worked with the kind of people we were bringing in. If you read through the articles about what was, you know, who was there, people would describe us as well.
As kooky as creative. And it’s like, these are really up to not the best words, I think, to describe who we are, but it gets to a quality, which is that we’re different. They were trying to say, Hey, this office feels different. This office has more excitement and more passion than normal offices. And Hey, these people look different.
They’re expressing themselves inside the space differently because they’re coming up with new ideas about what this stuff becomes. So I’d say the other. Invite people to work with you who have different behaviors than what you’re accustomed to in the past. If your goal is to have different behaviors and ideas yourself in
[00:23:59] Nir Hindi: the future.
So you’re touching a very important point . You spoke a lot about connecting a lot of people from different disciplines. You spoke about openness and corresponding nation. The thing is that cold poets are designed to defend themselves from the outside, but they still want open, innovative.
How do you manage this balance or this not balanced? This tension between protecting what we have, but being open to the world, having cross-pollination sharing ideas, sharing thoughts.
[00:24:33] Noah Weinstein: Yeah. I’m thinking about answers to that that are theirs. You know, I kind of think about answers that fall into two domains, there’s tactical approaches, and then there’s kind of like, um, ideological approaches and so ideologically, because that’s more fun to think about, but I can talk about, but tactical, maybe, maybe I just start with tackling.
It’s really about separating. What is the product in each community right in the business community and the corporate. There’s a physical product. That’s there to achieve some kind of capitalistic enterprise or game. Right? And so that’s what, that’s the point of the corporation. The product is at the center and that’s the thing they need to protect in a community, in a creative community.
The community is at the center. The people are at the center. In fact, that the product literally is the community itself. And so that’s why I believe those two things are not intention. People can learn from each other and be in community and being connected. And that does not have to take away from the product.
And so ideologically, I think it’s really important to just see those as two separate categories, because you’re not starting an artist in residence program to buy their products. That is not the purpose. We are not here to bring products to market that are created by artists. I do not believe that’s a, a useful endeavor.
I think artists are incredibly good at bringing new ideas to the world and then the world can figure out what to do with them, whether they want to pay attention, not pay attention, put it in a museum. You know, those are buy it. Those are all great. But the company’s goals are not in conflict with a community’s goal is to just share and be creative.
So ideologically, I think you have to have that understanding of the difference between those. Tactically and practically you need a really good lawyer and you need good agreement. We’ve worked for months on the artist and residents agreement on drawing really clear boundaries between Autodesk does not own or want to own anything that they create.
Uh, everybody who came to the arts and residence program one home with everything that they brought, unless they gifted it to us, meaning like little trinkets. I have stuff on my desk. That’s like 3d prints from people to say, thank you. I don’t mean like gifts in terms of, uh, Nobody got rich off this thing.
I just ever been, it just costs a lot of money, but tactically. So yeah, it’s having agreements that, that protect the company against loss of IP that protect the company against products and ideas being used in properly. And it’s about having a residency staff that actually can enforce those things currently.
And, um, I think we did a pretty good job of that. Uh, certainly there’s examples where we could have done better because it’s hard to control everything and limit risk to the extent that companies want to limit risk. Um, tactically, it’s also about limiting risk. It’s about creating as much training and tight-knit community and trust as you possibly can.
So that, so that the company and the artists can feel comfortable with the amount of risk that both sides are taking on. Right. Cause there actually are risks on both sides. It’d be naive to say that there isn’t a risk is a risk of using the tools. There’s a risk of having your ideas shared in a way you don’t want, there’s a risk of, of products going out the door in some way that you’re concerned about.
But pier nine, wasn’t a place where Autodesk was actually making the products. Pier nine was built really to be a mixing bowl of these two communities. The software is being written in all over the world. I mean, in Canada, in India, other offices and among. It’s not like someone would come to pier nine and see the secret recipe and then be able to just steal an Autodesk product.
So I think that’s, that’s another important thing to mention as well. It’s like it was the, it’s a mixing bowl and a space for people to share ideas. That’s maybe one step removed from the actual product itself. And maybe even, you know, from the actual artistic practice, I doubt that the artists who were in the artists and residents program would say that when they were at the pier, that they were there for complete and total connection to their artistic.
I’m sure they were very aware. They were working in an office that there were meetings happening around them that their work, the king from the pier was affected by the fact they were working inside of a giant corporate artist in residence program. Right. Just like the employees at auto. We’re affected by having these artists working adjacent to them or working with the artists on collaborations.
Um, or even the idea that when you go to work at pier nine, you knew you were working in a very special place and that changes your behaviors. So does that directly affect the work that the employees and the artists are making? Not directly, but nobody actually, that’s not what they were there to do.
That’s not what residency programs are for. It’s not to create the product it’s to create the environment that will shape and affect people. So that then people. Then shaping effect products, artwork, families, the world, you know, whatever it is that people go.
[00:28:53] Nir Hindi: Obviously, you know, you and me, I don’t know if we are biased though.
Seeing the out in the lights of we want, but I guess that a business person listening to us ask. Okay. But why are with the KPI? Where are they all chaos? Where are the business goals? Why do you get the DND? And I think it’s a much more complex answer than just we have 20% increase in X and we have 10% increase in B.
Um, Personally, I think that satisfied employees are important KPI that influence on the bottom line of the company. But that’s my opinion. I don’t know. How do you answer the KPI question?
[00:29:35] Noah Weinstein: Yeah, there’s some really tangible results, certainly in the domain of. Earn page views, earned experiences like media and publication, that there were hundreds of articles posted.
We’ve got literally millions of views. Our videos were in the New York times. We were in NPR. Like there’s an amount of earned media that comes from organic earned media. That comes from what we did. It’s just amazing. It rivals or surpasses what paid content could do. What, what PR teams do. Um, so if you’re interested in just how to gain.
How to attract people to what you’re doing. I think there’s an amazing opportunity there it’s really substantial. And I can back that up with views in terms of attracting talent for hiring people. That was a game changer for us. Autodesk is a, you know, when I joined was a 34 year old software company, the average age of the employees.
Older than I was. And that was, you know, I came in through an acquisition. Somebody said, Hey, Autodesk is going to buy Instructables. And I was like, who? And so, and so, uh, attracting talent in the bay area is incredibly difficult. And having a workshop that’s open to all Autodesk employees and having this artist in residence program.
Which brings really interesting people to give talks to present their work. We have lunchtime presentations, literally every Thursday, everybody would gather together in this space called the arcade and hear what was going on from someone new and sharing their work. That’s a very unique perk. And when every other tech company already has, you know, the best coffee machine and gym and dental plan and.
How do you differentiate? Well, this is a very real differentiator. I think artists and residents programs also help people become household names. It’s very hard to relate to software. It’s very hard to relate to software that controls big, heavy machines, which people often don’t even know exist. Most people don’t look at their toaster and wonder how was this made?
So if you want to access people on a level, that’s actually relevant to them. You need to frame what you’re doing. And in some way that gets them interested artist-in-residence programs and human centric, individuals help people do that. They help people see themselves in something else and that’s incredibly important.
And translating your product or your business to the public. What else? Employee satisfaction. I think you mentioned it and we can’t just like gloss over that. That’s real. And what that means at the end of the day, like what really satisfies people is I think unique and individual, right? You can have a nice boss or you can have a fast car, right?
Some people respond to those things. Like I think for the kinds of folks that make software for people who make things and who are passionate about making. You know, what satisfies people who are passionate about making things, resources and permission to make things. And so one would attract and delight those people.
And that’s your customer. And you want great customer experience and great customer satisfaction, which are all KPIs that people really do care about having a workshop and having access to those tools 24 hours a day, and having a team of people dedicated to helping folks use those tools. And we had a staff that was responsible for that.
That’s essential in employee satisfaction. That’s. I think that’s a revolutionary moment. I, you know, that’s not just like putting in a swimming pool and saying, Hey, you can go use this are getting people, uh, a free membership at a gym. I mean, this is a substantial way to change the lives of your community, of your employees.
Um, and I think that the effort that Autodesk made around that. Significant. And I think the payoff is significant back because the amount of delight which I witnessed at the pier and satisfaction was amazing and was palpable. And when people would come, they would say, Hey, there’s a feeling here and I’m not sure what it is.
And I kind of pause and let them wait. And then they’d say, oh yeah, it’s excitement and passion. And being here makes me passionate about my own life and excited about what I’m. That’s a very powerful feeling. That’s what stores are trying to create and people to get them to buy, right? These are, if you can instill delight in someone, you can sell your product to them.
So actually being in the business of what is delight and what is excitement and what is an infectious delight and excitement is actually a very calculated approach to those things that makes me sound like I knew that was the way it was going to go all along. And I absolutely did not. I just follow my own connection to delight and I learned.
This is useful inside of a space for other people too.
[00:33:28] Nir Hindi: I think you nailed it. The KPI question, obviously, I think you dealt a lot with the corporate world because I think it was articulated very, very well. So if I were listed, I probably would have asked myself why you always speak. In pastime. It was what happened in, in the space, in the workshop.
The change in the program has changed. What may be things that people should think about when they want to start and avoid maybe what happened in the space?
[00:34:01] Noah Weinstein: Well, I think all things have a beginning, a middle and an end every time. And we often don’t know when we’re in those phases. And so what happened really is nothing catastrophic happened.
We worked with hundreds of artists between 2011 and then around 2016. And over those years, Uh, depending on who we worked with and what the product wants to do and how the goals of the company changed. And, you know, an Autodesk went through probably two or three pivots over those years, which is totally not uncommon for a tech company to pivot quick.
And that changes the structure and the portfolio of what they do. But there was really a focus on manufacturing when we first started in manufacturing at the consumer level, meant people who make things at this kind of at the scale that we were at, it wasn’t whole factories. It was really like consumer manufacturing, which is which in 2012 was the maker movement.
And I think that the pier was perfectly aligned to service that need, which is what was in place when it was created in 2011, 2000. Which was a, a Haven and a, a beacon for all people who make inside the maker movement. And for this consumer level manufacturing, there was a pivot to more industrial manufacturing a few years later.
And I think we made that pivot really well. We had industrial machines, we started working more with corporate partners. We have. The U S Olympics came through a local colleges. We would participate in manufacturing and prototypes with NASA and bring on more R and D projects through the robot lab. And so we made that pivot, I think also successfully.
And that was a big change. That was a really different population. We were working with. The residency program had. Consumer level folks and more professional folks in it at that point. And we still had plenty of artists, but definitely, you know, more than half the cohort towards those later years were practicing professionals who had day jobs.
And their company was basically saying, Hey, we think it’s beneficial for you to be at the pier because we like what’s happening there. So we want you to be there working on your day job inside this program. And then there was another pivot towards. Architecture and really getting into digital fabrication and architecture.
And at that point, the company was going through some restructuring. The CEO, uh, changed, uh, Carl Bass left the company and stepped down after, you know, being a huge proponent of the space. And so there were structural changes and after those pivots, the maker movement and that. Vibe which had created the peer in the first place was seen as a brand identity that Autodesk could not afford.
And actually it was a shift back to professional users. And so the embodiment, the humanistic tilt, the passion, the creativity, the kind of qualities which we embodied in those earlier years was no longer desired. And the moment. That became clear to me. The more I saw that I actually was not the person to continue leading that space because those aren’t the things that I embody inside myself.
I’m committed to those things and I love them. And I still think there’s a place for that. But what the peer needed to do going forward better be led by someone who could embody that. And so as those structural changes happened, it became clear to me in around 2000 early, 2018, that. There, there were other managers, other senior managers above me that were coming into, I had a new boss.
I had gone through four new bosses in one year, actually. And so it became really clear that there’s just a lot of change. So I left in 2018 and a lot of the staff, which, which were there that were kind of past artists and residents, really, particularly people who came to the pier because it was a beacon of something.
In a city that had a lot of the same, I’m talking about San Francisco. A lot of those people left in the following years and there’s a handful of folks who were still there, but for the most part, what’s happening at the pier now is still a residency program, but it’s a corporate residency program for corporations.
And so the community. A little more homogeneous. I suspect in terms of the people who come into the residency program and the people who sit in the office and they’re certainly aligned at more similar goals. And those goals are kind of back to, to things like products, physical products, and bring them to life.
There’s nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just not what, uh, in 2012, what we were setting out to build,
[00:37:54] Nir Hindi: no, it’s something coming into my mind. I’m thinking of the moment you kind of. Maybe align it to your existing products and strategy. Wouldn’t it invite a more, the same way of thinking while when you have the peer that people from every discipline from chefs to to designers, to fashion designers, to architecture, come in and you have a mix that actually invite different way of thinking.
[00:38:31] Noah Weinstein: I think you’re totally right. And I think this goes back to what we were talking about, about what are successful ingredients to creative communities. Yeah. When you align your entire community to, to the it’s funny, I was just thinking about, um, what do they call it? Echo chambers on social media, right.
It’s kind of timely, right? It’s like, what are you getting. Sit in a room and talk with only people who agree with what you say. You get a lot of agreement about ideas, which may or may not be right. And in fact, when it came to what the revolution would be for 3d printers and the bets that everybody made on that they were dead wrong.
You know, there aren’t 3d printers in every home. The shoes on my feet, you know, are not created by a 3d printer. Injection molding is still alive and well, it did not disrupt the market the way it, the way it, it said it was going to in 2011 and. A lot about manufacturing is still to be determined and still to be discovered.
And I think that’s, what’s lost in surrounding yourself with people who are aligned already to what you’re doing, because you’re not asking that tough question about the future anymore. At that point, you’re just reinforcing the assumptions you already have. And that’s a great way to find out what happens after the fact that had.
It’s not a good way to lead into a future that you want to create, but the space is still there. The tools are still, oh, not now with pandemic. It’s a little bit harder to work in a creative space, but I hope one day that ends and yeah, and that residency program is still very much alive and well, and I know people have wonderful experiences.
It’s just, they’re working with a little bit of a different
[00:39:51] Nir Hindi: goal, know who are getting into the end of the podcast. And as someone that was involved very much with a artist that in my own humble opinion, always working at the edge of technology, always at the exploitation of technology. I’m wondering what.
Your perception of what will happen in the out of, in technology or what are the things that excites you that happening today? I get
[00:40:18] Noah Weinstein: excited about people who have a felt sense of technology on the impact of their lives. I think we’ve been, I, I have. At times in my life, passively consuming technology without a felt sense of is this good or bad for me, I’m excited about products that have an awareness of a felt sense of how they’re being used.
That’s gold and I’m unemployed right now. And if anybody’s got a product that has a felt sense of what it’s like to use it, and the people who are making that. Are honest about that and not saying that because they think it’s going to sell the product, but because that’s actually, what’s in their hearts, I’m very excited about that technology because technology is not going anywhere.
Obviously we’re going to live a very intertwined life with it. And every year it seems like we’re living a more intertwined life with it. And so I’m excited about the discussion and people who can articulate, why we should shape technology for the benefit of our own experience, rather than for the benefit of the market or the product or the profitability.
Because, because those, those short-term goals. They anger me. I’m I’m angry. I am I’m. I’m not, I’m not I’m I’m I’m yeah. I’m wholly dissatisfied by the technology that’s out there and I’m wholly dissatisfied by the way it’s marketed and the way it’s shared as, uh, as it’s really acting for its own benefit.
And I’m excited for technology that X for our benefit, because that’s what a customer centric product
[00:41:37] Nir Hindi: does. And that’s why I think by the way, it is more relevant because I would put humans in the center.
[00:41:44] Noah Weinstein: I think you nailed it. And I, and I. It’s not, you know, when we say it out loud, it’s not an epiphany.
It starts to make sense. It’s just, it’s practical information. I’m excited for human centric endeavors. I’m excited for products and leaders that connect back to that space. I’m excited for a vocabulary and a set of people. Really? Yeah. I’m excited for a vocabulary. I feel like I’m lacking the vocabulary to express my excitement back to corporations.
And I’m looking for allies and communities that can help amplify that voice and express that back because we need to be proficient in that vocab. And I’m not, uh, I I’ve, I’ve tried so hard and I think what if I could, some of the mistakes I saw in the air program that, you know, we were talking about before, just even briefly, um, I don’t think I built a community around the leadership team and the staff that was right-sized for communicating back to the company.
When I think about other teams inside the company, quite often, they had very, very large mechanisms of people. Gather information that ideas gain consensus, uh, and then share that that decision back out and teams were actually structured with relatively few operators and many, many, many consensus builders and communicate and external communicators.
And that really means like being a part of this corporate organism that is deeply interested in doing the right thing. And then sharing back that you did the right thing and reinforcing that feedback loop as many times as possible. And the pier was filled with a lot of people who were operators. And maybe not as skilled at gaining consensus on what was the right thing to do and then sharing out, Hey, I did what you thought was the right thing to do and reinforcing that feedback loop.
And if I could do it again, that would be a part of the team that I would build out more strongly because that’s because business development and communications are requirements. I think of being inside a corporate environment and where we were coming from being operators was the requirement of being inside of our creative community.
And so I think if I could do it again, I would blend those two things different. We were operationally heavy and consensus building light and business development light in those things. But I didn’t go to school for business.
[00:43:45] Nir Hindi: Yeah. I mean, growing up in startups. So I think that’s the whole point of startups to challenge this, make
[00:43:53] Noah Weinstein: any.
Yeah. So I think having a shepherd or getting to do it again would feel wonderful because I see that now. And I see that I learned that behavior from the company from Autodesk, but I think I learned that, you know, too close to the, not with not enough time to do it, we had communication specialists and internal communications folks at the end.
But I think once there’s some negative ideas out there about what a division of a company is doing and negative, meaning like, oh, they’re embodying some qualities that we don’t stand behind, you know, the brand doesn’t stand up. We were incredibly well lined up with the brand ideals before some of these pivots, but then after the pivots, if you’re going to look into a workshop and you expect to see.
A factory line, iPhone earbuds coming off the factory and you see someone creating a bubble machine or a prosthetic hand for a kid like that doesn’t line up. And I think that builds descent and that builds mistrust. And so that needs to be very carefully managed and attuned across the company. So that, that’s a, that’s a huge lesson I took from this is that I was, I did not know how much effort goes into a company.
Try to understand what is the goal. And really asked that question of everybody up and down, you know, through a community, then spend a moderate amount of time achieving that goal, but then broadcasting out, Hey, we did the goal. Hey, we did the goal. We met the goal and that behavior, you know, wastes a lot of time and energy, if you want to be more goal oriented, but it absolutely serves the needs of the company to have.
Consensus it’s obedience in a way, but it’s also, it’s also function, you know, it’s all of those things. It’s truly all of those things. So yeah, that’s something I’d change. I think if I could do it again or a cautionary tale.
[00:45:30] Nir Hindi: Yeah. I see that you become pensive thinking about the reflecting on all your experiences now, before we finish, I think it’s important also to say kind of great, a thank you to a dear friend of our state actually introduced that.
did I can tell him Tommaso um, for introducing us not thank you very, very much for taking the time for sharing all your thoughts for being so authentic about your successes, the mistakes, the learning, the lessons. I find it very, very valuable and positive. Our listeners will find it valuable. Yeah.
[00:46:12] Noah Weinstein: Oh, that warms my heart.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and asking me to be on your show. It’s, uh, I’m in the company of wonderful, beautiful people. And, uh, and thank you so much.