I would like to order the kangaroo cups from you. Dee Godby

are you looking for the plastic or the ceramic ones?  There’s a week left on the kickstarter campaign for the plastic ones:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/joeborn/kangaroo-cups-plastic

Lily and Grampa on the Channel 2 news last week!


Inventables democratizes digital fab, Mayor Emanuel opens a beer at 10am.


There you have it.  Who wants to wait years for a big corporation to design a new bottle opener when you can now do it yourself and be drinking beer first thing in the morning?  On a more serious note, this really is revolutionary.


"I spent the weekend with 300 some of the most compelling, inspiring people you can imagine: it was magical."

Only in certain circles do people widely know and understand what ORD Camp is all about. And even if you’ve attended, can you pinpoint why that magic happens?

From the outside it might look like an exclusive club due to its invitation-only nature. Once you’re inside, you’ll find that while a handful of ORD Campers are familiar names with great, well-known accomplishments, the vast majority are regular folks. But they’re regular folks that are smart, offbeat, and who have a passion that they excel at sharing.

This fact—that all of us are really just regular folks—is not lost on the attendees themselves, and is so widespread many ORD Campers suffer from impostor syndrome (excepting Harper Reed of course). As was revealed this year, most of us quietly wonder what the hell we’re doing there, in part because as a group we’re humble, but mostly because we know damn well we’re not nearly as awesome or inspiring as the rest of the crowd in attendance. It’s like this example: 93% of the driving population think they are a better driver than most. Somewhere in there, the math just doesn’t add up.

To add further confusion: many of the now prestigious attendees credit large parts of their own recent success to the inspiration and bonds they found at ORD Camp. In other words, a bunch of “ordinary” folks are inspiring and motivating each other in ways beyond what they feel themselves capable of. How does that work?

Similarly: perhaps purely due to impostor syndrome, we’ve both wondered why (so far) we continue to get invited to this party, and why, even after years of exposure, do the participants continue to value us in ways that are vastly in excess of the way we value ourselves?

Upon self-evaluation, we both found that we excel in our respective niches. Our niches are our strengths. For Joe, that’s bringing mass produced electronic inventions to market and the process of invention. For Anne, that’s strategically building sustainable communities, online or in-person or in combination. On the other hand, both of us are terrible at lots of things: pole vaulting, aircraft repair, tailoring a suit, driving a train, pricing derivatives, playing the ukulele and a thousand other tasks.

Which leads to the realization: how competent anyone might seem at any given moment is mostly a product of how far the topic is from a damn narrow band of experience and expertise that person holds. Impressions depend very much on the questions you ask.

Now let’s be clear. The ORD Camp organizers do a phenomenal job of selecting and recruiting very smart, very interesting people doing a huge diversity of fascinating things. They are very disciplined about weeding out the kinds of people who could easily spoil the culture. They are brilliant at creating an environment that is open and inviting to a host of ideas. But what exactly is it that sparks the magic?

This event is important. Even if we were only to consider each year’s connections and unrepeatability, ORD Camp is a masterpiece, like a work of human art. Inspiring 300 talented, productive, caring people is about as important as it gets. It needs to be expanded and it needs to grow, but how? The inspiration that drives and inspires the event touches down in other ORD variants like the DisORDer satellite events, but how do we keep that spark lit throughout the year? How can this self-contained annual event grow without losing coherence?

Part of the answer comes from the location of the event. Chicagoans are by their very nature a humble and diverse bunch. We have an old city with a lot of different industries and a diverse economy, and our heroes reflect that. They aren’t all bunched together like Silicon Valley tech billionaires. They are industrialists, civic leaders, entertainers, marketers, engineers, educators and artists of all kinds, and that makes us more open and curious than our counterparts on the coasts. We celebrate lots of different types of success and excellence.

So to get to that magic: start with humility, curiosity and diversity of interests. Those are the essential raw ingredients to the magic of ORD Camp. They change how interesting and inspiring we find one another. They change that first impression. If we can assume that everyone attending excels at something, loves to share that something, and that any one ORD Camp may be our last, that adds up to every single Camp-goer trying to learn and share as much as humanly possible in every moment. We all listen more than we talk, but when we contribute, we contribute the best of ourselves. And that’s very special.

Fitz and Zach put a lot of smart, cool, curious people in a room, and over the years the enthusiasm for the event has snowballed to a point where everyone is beside themselves with contagious excitement, and that’s the raw fuel. The magic occurs because the diversity of interests and the momentum of the event trained us to unconsciously turn the usual conference intro question on its head. Rather than “tell me about XYZ,” we expect excellence from each other, but don’t presume to know the domain of that excellence, and every time excellence occurs, we expect it to be new, and to learn from it, share it and build on it.

ORDcamp is an “unconference” where we come to learn rather than impress. The great irony is that history shows it is in this setting where it seems we find one another most impressive.

Not to mention that the intro question often comes up later in the discussion when attending ORD Camp, rather than as the very first thing. “What, by the way, is the subject of your passion?” you ultimately ask. Sheepishly, not wanting to disappoint, and desperately wanting to return the energy this group has given me, Joe might reluctantly begin: “Well, I do have a lot of heart for kid’s inventing, it started with my daughter who had this invention…”

You may not have an immediate need for the random thing you’ll proceed to learn about YoYos, storytelling, running, 3D modeling, opera, physics, relationship research, startup law, button making, education, beekeeping, or choreography, but you will have no trouble finding a use for your new inspiration or the bond you feel with the person that shared it with you.

ORD Camp is not about elitism or exclusivity. In fact, from the organizers on down, there is an almost desperate desire to find a way to spread this magic far and wide.

At its core, it puts good, smart, open people together in a way that fuels passion and creates bonds between people. Chicago—and visitors from outside Chicago—have no short supply of such people doing very diverse cool stuff.

Those people, with their humility and open curiosity, are the crucial raw materials. The fuel is enthusiasm for learning. That magic spark? Sharing, with the only assumption being excellence, and building something incredible and new from those components.

Let’s learn how to light more ORD Camp fires and spread that passion broadly.

Anne Petersen

Joe Born

A Little Boy’s Hero

A little boy sees his father as a hero, but he doesn’t really know him. He only knows that his dad loves him and protects him and is molding him. His father is, in many ways, his whole world, forging him into the person he’ll become.

In our detached sophistication, we can see the truth though. In virtually every case, his father is very ordinary, having accumulated no great wealth, having created no great movement of people, having impacted the world in no obvious great way, having performed in front of no great audience. There is no great hero we can see.

My father is writing a book, and I’ve often asked him why he doesn’t write more about his own life and the great many lessons he’s taught us, when they seem so profound and important. His life, after all, is the example he led that molded us into the people he’s so proud of. “You write books about your life only if you become famous or important,” he says in his own detached sophistication.

It was then I realized the little boy had it right all along. Our sophistication simply clouded the truth he saw so clearly.

Two years ago at Lily’s Halloween parade, I was dressed in my usual cold weather uniform: black jacket, gray fedora, white shirt. While there was debate as to who I was, gangster or Indiana Jones, etc, there was broad acknowledgement that I was in some kind of costume.Lily Born has taken to saying I dress up for Halloween “as myself”  Today, Zachary Price dressed up as me for the 1871 party, but it was no longer the fedora that identified the costume, it was the Kangaroo Cups (from Lily Born). The symbolism of this should be lost on no one. — with Zachary Price.
If I ever find myself speaking about Lily and the impact she’s had on my life, I’m pretty sure this story will be a part of that speech.

Two years ago at Lily’s Halloween parade, I was dressed in my usual cold weather uniform: black jacket, gray fedora, white shirt. While there was debate as to who I was, gangster or Indiana Jones, etc, there was broad acknowledgement that I was in some kind of costume.Lily Born has taken to saying I dress up for Halloween “as myself”  

Today, Zachary Price dressed up as me for the 1871 party, but it was no longer the fedora that identified the costume, it was the Kangaroo Cups (from Lily Born). Th
e symbolism of this should be lost on no one. — with Zachary Price.

If I ever find myself speaking about Lily and the impact she’s had on my life, I’m pretty sure this story will be a part of that speech.

"your mother often had to inform me we were having a fight."

"your mother often had to inform me we were having a fight." Was typical of the simple, unusual and somewhat ridiculous sayings Kathryn and I would hear from Ronald Born growing up Also typical is the fact that, only decades later, do I appreciate its genius. The quiet, unconscious learning, thankfully, didn’t have to wait. 

What does it mean? Well, ostensibly it means that my dad was too dense to appreciate the social cues to recognize a fight, and that’s the explanation he would have given if we’d have asked. But that cute, self deprecating explanation is a load of bull. This is a guy who made his living working with people and interviewing them. Reading social cues was a key part of his job, and best I can tell, he was damn good at it.

Only decades later, as I think about that line, do I understand it. It really means that he never took things personally, at least until he had no doubt. That, in my opinion, is brilliant. Say you find yourself getting yelled at my someone, in any given situation, 90+ % of the time, it is all about them and nothing, or almost nothing, to do with you. They are frustrated, hot, cranky, tired who knows what. Maybe they are upset about something else that happened. He intuitively recognized that, and rather than taking it personally said “oh this person is venting or upset or looking to pick any fight and I just happen to be here,” rather than the usual automatic assumption people make that, “oh, we’re fighting, I better stiffen my back and get in the game, adrenalin, kick in full force” Now, you’ve got an argument regardless of the original situation, and often before you’ve even figured out what’s going on.

Want to have a calming influence on the people around you? Silly as it sounds, maybe you should wait for them to inform you you are having an argument before you assume that’s the case. If my dad’s example is any indication, no only will you avoid fights, but the mere act of requesting confirmation is so quietly disarming most fights can’t persevere through it.

My Nettlehorst Commencement Speech June 2013

This is for a group of 8th graders that I’ve worked with a bit on their senior project: the Elephant Hooks  pardon typos, etc this is just cut and pasted from my notes


Every generation looks to the next as the future,

over the coming years and decades you will leave the nest and we will hand the reins of power and influence for every facet of our society, from government to commerce, science, technology and the arts. Of course, this is not unique to us, its been going on from time immemorial

But I will tell you that this generational change is no ordinary one. Hiistory does not move in a smooth arc, it moves in long flat spots and bumps: the pre-historic great leap forward, the invention of agriculture, the industrial revolution. In all the eras, society jumped forward. I realized in putting this together that it was 73 years ago that my father sat in your seat, graduating Nettlehorst. It was June of 1940, Churchill had just become prime minister, and the Nazis were driving the last of the English and French forces into the Sea. things didn’t look too good for the free world at that moment. But those young kids rose to the occasion and now we call them “The greatest generation” they made the world we live in today

But no generation ever before, including theirs, has experienced a technological change so abrupt that the world between generations changed so dramatically. your parents were born to world where we our inventions, art, philosophies required the permission of gatekeepers. There was someone who decided when, where, how, to whom and even if at all our ideas made it to the broader world. They may have been radio station owners, newspaper editors, factory or department store owners, but they were there.

In history’s blink of an eye, you were born to a world where your inventions, art, philosophies can be transmitted around the world instantly and in your own voice. Power not held by world leaders a generation ago is now yours

These are only the tools you will use to forge a new world… for youself and future generations, the possibilities for that world are unimaginable

Here I am, speaking to you 43, who seem to me to be almost anointed by fate to have a special role in this generation.Beyond just a good education, you have been immersed the process of actually “doing” With programs like do the write thing, to your documentaries and science fairs, and now as you pioneer the Dig8 program where You have created an invention and sold it around the world. From the deserts of Israel to California’s bay, from Alabama to the plains of Australia, and now in 7 short days you have paid for tooling and this product will make it to production (with 3 weeks left to spare)!

are you amazed? Don’t be, this is only the beginning, these are the tools you will grow up with, and this is your destiny. So when I was asked to speak to you, I JUMPED at the chance. Thank you, for giving me the honor of speaking with you for a few moments.

So what’s next for you all? Well, I have no idea. In fact, truth be known, really no one does, no one can predict the future. At a recent commencement address at U of M Dick Costello, the CEO of Twitter told a story about how they didn’t know how important a tool Twitter would become— Now if the CEO of Twitter can’t predict the future of the very tool they created just a few years hence, its seems very clear that no one can predict what the world will look like some ten twenty years from now.
So, I’ve told you I believe you have an extraordinary destiny, but yet I have no idea what it is. That may sound ridiculous or horribly frightening or both. But its true, all I know is that your generation has been given new tools of unprecedented power, and that your school and community has come together to show you their possibilities, I don’t know what you’ll do with them. That’s for you to figure out.

If that sounds horribly frightening, let me provide some comfort. You have read Robert Frost about taking the road less traveled, but those woods have largely been cleared. The world you are entering looks much more like an open field than two paths diverging in the forest. You don’t need to get to the end of a deep trail to find opportunities, today they surround us. For example, Dick Costello the CEO of twitter who I just mentioned, he started his his career in Improv comedy. Peter Thiel started Paypal only after failing to get a clerkship after graduating stanford and stanford law school. Of course, you know about all the college dropouts: Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates dropping out. This is not the old days, where you got into a good university and a good corporation and just sailed along. the world is much more freeform. This is not to say that we are drifting free or powerless, not at all, that freedom is a big part of the reason we are more powerful than ever.

While I can’t predict any of the details better than anyone else, I do have four pieces of advice, some of these are old fashioned, but I think they will serve you well in this new world

1. Don’t set your mind, certainly not yet, used to be they said you can do anything you set your mind to, but I’d encourage you not to set your mind at all. I recently read a story about a women who had decided to become a doctor in high school. Now, years later, she said “I have a career chosen for me by a high school kid”. Of course, you will have to make decisions and commitments, but make sure they are yours and always keep an open mind about them, and take no pride in making them any sooner than you have to.

2. Understand your fears and face them. In a world as free as the one you are entering, one of the strongest forces holding you back are the fears in your own heart. Nothing can distract you more from finding your love and your destiny whether it be a person or a career or anything else than fear. You’ll find that the sound of the murmurs of your heart we call passion are faint compared with the loud, cacophonous clanging of your fears. The first step in finding our passion is to quiet our fears. Learn to face your fears early, most importantly Learn to fail, early and often (and publicly if at all possible.) You will find that failure is like an old, loudly barking dog who terrifies the neighborhood, but has no teeth. You need to get bit by him a time or two to understand that.

3. Take responsibility for charting your own course. Have others fixed a course for you? Learn to disappoint them. Frost’s paths in the forest are largely gone, so are the days where you could entrust your future to your education, or corporation or even social norms. Now you must take responsibility for understanding history, the great works, and the broader world yourself. These form your map and without that you can’t really know the greater context in which your life has meaning. It may not be a better map than others create, but it at least it will be your map, and most importantly you won’t have any illusions it came from an infallible source. You will know when to depart from it.

4. You will find your passion and your destiny, not on a distant shore through a set of binoculars, but at the tips of your fingers, not by observing, but by doing. Experience the world as it comes, living moment by moment in the present. They say a journey of a 1000 miles starts with a single step, in fact it ends with a single step and has single steps all along the way. Our lives are not lived by giant proclamations or momentous sweeping decisions, it’s often only in retrospect that we realize which the important moments were. Focus on putting your energy into the daily tasks and the daily decision, and instead of asking what the long term strategic impact of your daily work is, ask simply if it brings you satisfaction and joy. If you have truly opened your heart, that question will be your best compass for knowing when to continue and when to change direction.

I am so excited for your future because on this last point you are already on your way. The gift of your experience thus far have ventured well into the realm of “doing” of “building” and of creating real things, taking real action, in the real world. I believe that flame, once ignited will never be extinguished, that lesson will never be unlearned.

And what is the future for these 43 young people, will they make history? As people from around the world can testify, they are in fact already well on their way.

In closing, I leave you with the most important & simple point I can. You 43 come from a very special time and place. Your principal, your teachers, your parents, and from Beyond Design to NU, your larger community has come together to vest in you our hopes and dreams, and to unlock in you the full power of the times to which you were born. 

As you venture out into this big world, you will meet people who won’t know your background, who don’t know what you have learned and experienced here, So they naturally cannot be expected to understand you and what you are capable of. They will throw around words like “impossible” and “can’t,” and in dark, inevitable moments of disappointment, their words will ecco. So yes, be humble and listen to criticism, that’s how you grow, but alway remember those words are relative, impossible never really means impossible, but only “impossible for me.” “Can’t” means only “I can’t” or “I can’t imagine.” In those moments, hold the memories of what we did together dear, and honor that memory by remembering that all the efforts of your community were meant for one purpose, that no definition of “impossible” created by outsiders will ever be yours.

Your mountains are waiting, get out there and make us proud.


Geoff Trukenbrod, CFO of the Obama campaign, and Michael Slaby, CIO of the Obama campaign, give Northwestern SEE mentors a tour of 1871. SEE strives to expose and connect both elementary and university students to the rich current of entrepreneurism and invention in Chicago.

The impact these folks are having on the lives of middle schoolers is beyond inspiring.


Geoff Trukenbrod, CFO of the Obama campaign, and Michael Slaby, CIO of the Obama campaign, give Northwestern SEE mentors a tour of 1871. SEE strives to expose and connect both elementary and university students to the rich current of entrepreneurism and invention in Chicago.

The impact these folks are having on the lives of middle schoolers is beyond inspiring.