Monki Gras 2018: Sustaining Craft

Kicking off at 9:50am with my new Monki Gras t-shirt, and a hilarious introduction from James, I was ready to learn as much as possible. In a position to attend Monki Gras once again, I felt privileged to be in a room full of incredibly intelligent people all doing various amazing things. As always, feeling of place with my limited technical background and lack of knowledge in sustaining craft brought out the introvert in me, but I was prepared to tackle the day ahead.

Aneel Lakhani — Disintermediate, Empower, Sustain:

Giving us an introduction to his past, Aneel spoke about growing up in poverty and his interests in technology. What came after, however, was not what I expected. Using supply chains as (some sort of) an analogy, he explored how removing intermediaries/middle-men would enable us to better verify the source and rebuild trust. Let me explain.


Intermediaries sit between us and layers of facts. Each of the intermediaries take a cut of profit, influence and power. For example, intermediaries that sit between us and our governments — typically in the form of lobbyists — take a cut of profits, real influence, and power.


All these things - from farmers markets to supermarkets and technology — are all supply/value chains. We as consumers make assumptions of how things work, and enforce this through a social contract. The social contracts we abide by differ from culture to culture, but we rely on those assumptions being upheld. We (used to) assume that the information is reliable…or at least distinguishable. We believed we could differentiate the facts from the matter.

For example a widely held assumption is that peanut butter is made of…well, peanuts. This is a social contract — we trust that whoever sells us this peanut butter (whether we buy it at a supermarket or independent supplier) received it from someone who made it from all peanuts. “Jif Creamy Peanut Butter”, however, used to be made of 70% peanuts, 20% something else and 10% unknown ingredients in the 1970s. Shocker.

Disempowered + disenfranchised:

Things we believe in are regularly breached and invalidated. We have been so far dis-removed from those in power that we lost all understanding. We are no longer consumers, we are products sold to corporations.


So, what does it mean to sustain? When people talk about sustainability and craft, they’re typically talking about things at the beginning of the supply chain. From our position at the opposite end of this supply chain, we are essentially powerless. All what we can do is spend less, or spend differently. We have to believe in other parties and assume they are telling the truth (e.g. we assume Fairtrade is truthful about its aims and operations). The alternative is to get rid of the middleman and go straight to the source.


For our social contract to be upheld, we have to remove all the people between us and the people who we have formed this contract with. We have to remove the middleman.

And that, was Aneel’s talk. Wow. Imagine beginning the day like that. I knew the rest of the day would be amazing.

Dormain Drewitz — Not Dead Yet: sustaining Crafts at the Intersection of passion, community and commercial value

Dormain Drewitz, Pivotal employee, was one of my favourite speakers of the day. Maybe it’s because of her History of Arts background. Or maybe it’s because the title of her talk was a reference to Monty Python’s ‘Holy Grail’. I don’t know. Anyway, I loved it.

Let’s rewind to the days of medieval craft guilds. Many of the guilds laid the foundations for sustainable crafts. But what drove craft guilds over time?

The guild is the coming together of people who share this skillset. But there’s also some commercial value. People are putting together things that can be sold in the market. Thus, we can narrow what drove craft guilds down to the intersection between commercial value and the community.

But does having those two things make a craft sustainable? Dormain says no. passion must be included into the equation.

The subsequent talks were equally as enlightening. Catherine Dixon’s talk on typography and the problem with skill was interesting. As was the talk on the history of the PDF, given by Chas Emerick. However, I took away the most gems from Lars Trieloff’s talk on ‘Sustaining Through Change’.

Lars Trieloff — Sustaining Through Change: A 20 Year History

While his talk on Web Content Management Systems was interesting, and I chuckled at his comment that “all good Adobe products started through an acquisition” (which is hard to dispute), I benefited most from the 9 lessons he learned as an Adobe Experience Manager.

5/9 of the lessons learned from sustaining AEM:

1. “Grey beards are sustainability Santas”. [I would have left this to your interpretation but it makes more sense explaining what he meant. Older, more experienced people have made the mistakes already and are willing to guide you away from making the same mistakes. Make the most of this.]

2. “When you know that every mistake you make can follow you for years, you start to question your own <<brilliant ideas>> a bit harder”.

3. You have to take out your garbage. A lot of garbage is hidden in places you won’t expect it.

4. Nothing lasts forever, except for architecture.

5. Avoid the roller coaster and take the stairs.

All the speakers were great, and while I would love to speak about them further, I have probably bored you enough with this. Before I leave you all, I do just want to say thank you once again to James for the invitation. Another excellent Monki Gras. Next time, I’ll be one of the speakers!

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I write about the personal. I write about the mental (health). I write.