Life to me is tinkering. Tinkering is all about starting, the power of serendipity and sharing. Tinkering is figuring out how things work, applying that knowledge and learning in the proces about stuff, people and life.
This is part 1 of the wrongfully named tetralogy on innovation and tinkering. Written on May 16th, 2016
Let me tell you how I learned how tinkering formed my life, friendships and view on the world.
Who of you have every started a project because it sounded cool, ignoring the fact you knew nothing at all about the subject?
I did! I do, actually I am right now!
This ‘Gong ho’ attitude about things is the basis of tinkering, or ‘klooien’ in Dutch. It might sounds informal, unfocussed or even childish, but it is a rather powerful way to create things, create energy and thoughts. Tinkering gave me direction, professionally and personally.
My first start in tinkering
When I was a awkward bucked toothed boy in elementary school I found I liked learning in a specific way. I need to emerge myself into a subject. I basically created a world and story around my obsession.
You know those obsessed kids that can’t stop spewing facts about spacecraft, dinosaurs, or physics? I was one of those kids. I still am!
After the first protected, but also emotionally confusing 12 years of my life, I found this emergence into subjects is a great way to connect with people. This is something pretty important for kids that age. Looking back, that was the first time I started to exploit tinkering socially.
Tinkering is kind of a social process, because the process makes you think about all ingredients you need to progress towards a goal.
Mostly I start with something that fascinates me personally, like recreating a movie that inspired me. Then I just start and continuously hone my skills to get a level of understanding of the subject. Honing the skills means learning about the material I use, but also learning about the people involved.
I try to learn about how they can excel in our little project and make them happy. Come to think of it, I think I approach materials and tools like I approach people. Trying to find harmony between the three of them by exploring the boundaries of all of them.
In this process I keep tinkering and find ways to approach little problems and solve the puzzle.
I say ‘puzzle’, but that implies a predefined outcome. This is not persé not the case. I like to work towards a level of completion, but not a specific end result.
With each step we take, we should feel free to backtrace, follow a tangence, or even start over. This is where serendipity comes in.
In a nutshell serendipity is finding when you’re not searching. These are magical moments in life and projects, when you see that glistening of a rough diamond when you’re down in the dirt of something seemingly unrelated.
Learning to recognise those little gems and grabbing them, is the toughest thing. In school and life we learned to focus and keep ourselves from being distracted.
I think we need to unlearn this, because dealing with these distractions is exactly what we’re build for. Freely following any interesting pursuit is key in tinkering.
The skill to identify, use and trust serendipity without prejudice is tough, but also critical in tinkering. Serendipity is a true catalyst of the tinkering process.
Unlearning the fear for serendipity is however a deceptively simple, but also tough thing to do. It is like learning a new skill.
Curiosity > Fear
That skill of embracing serendipity is to me the skill of letting curiosity win from the fear of the unknown. It is the skill of turning the unknown into a world of possibilities.
The main tool for me to turn fear into a forward motion is curiosity. Pure wonderment about things, people and the possible directions a story can take.
I think following ones curiosity is one of the most underestimated skills in life. Curiosity is like a little compass. It not only drives innovation, but also creativity and I think even happiness.
With that grand statement I perhaps also explain how tinkering progressed me through various jobs without losing direction. It’s being curious, just doing it and sharing with whomever wants to join.