29 June 2006

Curiosity and Exploration

From the beginning I've liked what's going on over at Make magazine. I love their video podcast and all the crazy projects they put on display. What they show are regular people, just like you and me, doing stuff, making things, being creative. I was just reading an article titled, Life is Not a Spectator Sport by Darla Isackson in which she makes a very interesting point:

Today’s children are following the example of many adults to become watchers instead of doers, consumers instead of creators, observers instead of active participants. ... Instead of singing, they watch others sing. Instead of making up stories, they watch or listen to stories someone else made up. Instead of figuring out how to do something and developing a new skill they watch someone else perform.

This is so true! There are many reasons for this, but one that stands out to me is the very focus on math and science, these left-brain, less active, and somewhat less creative activities. What's funny to me, is that while the whole schooling infrastructure is supposed to produce excellent employees, what the post industrial revolution market needs is "makers", people who creatively produce.

Paul Graham recently published an essay about the The Power of the Marginal. Near the end he makes this summary comment:

If I had to condense the power of the marginal into one sentence it would be: just try hacking something together. That phrase draws in most threads I've mentioned here. Hacking something together means deciding what to do as you're doing it, not a subordinate executing the vision of his boss. It implies the result won't be pretty, because it will be made quickly out of inadequate materials. It may work, but it won't be the sort of thing the eminent would want to put their name on. Something hacked together means something that barely solves the problem, or maybe doesn't solve the problem at all, but another you discovered en route. But that's ok, because the main value [of] that initial version is not the thing itself, but what it leads to. Insiders who daren't walk through the mud in their nice clothes will never make it to the solid ground on the other side.

The word "try" is an especially valuable component. I disagree here with Yoda, who said there is no try. There is try. It implies there's no punishment if you fail. You're driven by curiosity instead of duty. Which means the wind of procrastination will be in your favor: instead of avoiding this work, this will be what you do as a way of avoiding other work. And when you do it, you'll be in a better mood. The more the work depends on imagination, the more that matters, because most people have more ideas when they're happy.

If I could go back and redo my twenties, that would be one thing I'd do more of: just try hacking things together. Like many people that age, I spent a lot of time worrying about what I should do. I also spent some time trying to build stuff. I should have spent less time worrying and more time building. If you're not sure what to do, make something.

So what should you do? Don't just watch, do something! Don't be afraid to try. Fear kills creativity. Just do something, anything and you'll be surprised how much you'll learn and how well it will go. It's the doing that matters.


Anonymous said...

I agree with these sentiments, though I've always focused on the words "producers" and "consumers". I don't want to be a consumer! If such thing as a pure consumer actually existed, they'd be nothing more than a drain on society.

But producers build things, make things better. Fear gets in the way of producing - consuming is easy, but it's scary to put yourself out there, to fail at producing what you want to produce or succeeding but then having others critize it. But in the end, it's the only worthwhile endeavor.

Red said...

this was a very inspiring post; it made me think of the world of blogging and podcasting and videocasting, and how they are an excellent way for people to make and learn things; your post also made me think of how the mac makes making just so easy; the first time I put my hands on a mac, three years ago, I edited a 30 minutes artistic movie for a Romanian artist, and I remember how easy and beautiful the whole process was; even though I had never in my life used Final Cut Pro before, nor any other movie editing software, and though I hadn't previously worked seriously on a mac, it only took me about a day to do everything;