James Carlson – Co-Founder of Bucketworks

[quote style=”boxed”]The most powerful tool in an entrepreneur’s tool chest is a well-made question. I ask dozens of questions every day. Good questions grow relationships and lead to success, learning and new ideas.[/quote]

James lives and works at the crossroads of the co-working and maker movement. After leaving high school at 16, James launched a successful career as an entrepreneur and technologist, but never stopped looking over his shoulder at school. He founded The School Factory, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the business, education,and creative communities together to transform public learning.

In 2002, James engaged Milwaukee in creating Bucketworks, a health club for the brain. Bucketworks offers people and communities a physical space and the tools to test-drive their ideas and passions. Since Bucketworks opened, its members have created more than 70 new programs and companies, ranging from high-tech startups to high schools, hundreds of pieces of art and technology, and thousands of events and experiences.

As the economy compressed in 2008 and 2009, and hundreds of similar spaces sprung up across America to support displaced workers and new entrepreneurs, James partnered with these spaces to form the Space Federation, a national network of creative maker environments that share resources, tools and expertise.

To engage the business community in this conversation, James and his team created the Bucket Brigade, a for-profit company that brings the values of open source, open communication and transparency into the workplace through social technology and social experiences.

At the heart of these efforts is James’ fundamental passion and belief that all people are creative; each person has a “genius” which, given a place and the tools, will flourish. Through his work, he strives to spark the creative potential in everyone and to change the game of economy, education and community development.

What are you working on right now?

I’m developing a collaborative workspace in downtown Paris, and next year, will be doing so in Beijing. I’m also creating a youth program for STEAM education, called Makerscouts, at and around hacker- and maker-spaces across the U.S.

Where did the idea for Bucketworks come from?

I was thinking about how to make big changes in the world in lasting ways. For big things to change, lots of people need to get involved, and the ideas for change need to be simple. The image that comes to my mind is the story of the bucket brigade–everyone in the village gets in a line to pass the buckets from the well to the fire or the field or the farm. To respond to the big challenges of the world, we’re going to need everyone to participate and come up with the solutions. We’re going to need lots of creativity and risk-taking. I wanted to make a place where people could learn, for themselves, what it means to be creative and make mistakes, and to share the experience with others who are learning the same thing.

What does your typical day look like?

It’s hard to explain–I run three organizations, so in any given day, I might bike or walk to Bucketworks, sit on the deck and work online, have teleconferences with people all over the world, participate in a photo shoot, speak at a conference, create an intricate visualization, or collaborate with my teammates. I’m surrounded by people every day while I work, and I probably meet 10-12 new people each day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

By getting them out of my head as soon as possible and into other people’s heads. Once that’s done, I stick with the ideas as long as they have life–and let them die if that’s what they need to do!

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The increasing trend of communities across the world creating collaborative and creative spaces like Bucketworks–especially women who are creating these places for their families and kids to share the creative experience.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I was a data entry clerk when I was 17 years old.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I’d have learned more quickly how leadership means listening.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Ask questions. The most powerful tool in an entrepreneur’s tool chest is a well-made question. I ask dozens of questions every day. Good questions grow relationships and lead to success, learning and new ideas.

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Learning to tell the difference between what’s important and what’s not in terms of the growth of the organization. Sometimes everything seems important, but it really isn’t all the same. I created self-interviews and other tools I could use to sift the important from the not-important-now, and I apply them regularly.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I give away all of my business ideas. Everything I have created is open-source and creative commons licensed.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I’d elect officials who can change the regulations that make it difficult for schools to be located inside of businesses, and for businesses to be located inside of schools.

Tell us a secret.

I don’t know any secrets.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

  1. Prezi offers nonlinear presentations that absolutely destroy PowerPoint.
  2. Google Docs. Editing with others at the same time is much more fun than email attachments and meetings.
  3. Xtranormal. Creating character animations just by typing and building a scene is a blast!

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Consilience by Edward O. Wilson, because the solutions we need will not come from religion, hard science, art, or the social sciences; they will come from how we combine these things together.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

  1. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a great astronomer and has a playful and engaging approach to space science.
  2. @marscuriosity is a must so you can stay up-to-date on what Curiosity is doing on Mars!
  3. @xeni finds stories worth knowing.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Every day I laugh–usually at myself!

Who is your hero?

I have many heroes, but Buckminster Fuller is probably my favorite.

What do you like most about your work?

The opportunity to collaborate with brilliant, dedicated people on history-making projects!

What do you like most about your life outside of work?

I love what I do so much, I can’t tell the difference between my work life and my non-work life. But I love it that I have the time and space to think, pause and listen each day!


James Carlson on About.me: