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Soapbox
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This week for my bi-weekly soapbox column, I thought I’d share some of my notes I’ve jotted down recently about making things, working with and supporting beginners. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much fun it is when you’re a beginner at something as opposed to being an “expert.”

At some point, we all become experts at something. I really want to avoid being an expert in some things, only so I can continually look forward to learning more without the overhead of being an expert. Being an expert means your journey is somewhat over. I was going to call this column the “expert problem” but I hope you enjoy this semi stream of conscience collected over the last few weeks. Be sure to post up in the comments about your experiences with learning a new skill and how you keep motivated to keep learning more.

I thought I’d start with a favorite quote:

Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.
Alice in Wonderland

When you start out making something, you usually don’t end up where you thought you would. It’s usually some place better. A beginner can imagine more than an expert because a beginner doesn’t see constraints yet. Kids are the same way — they approach things with an open mind because they haven’t been told “you can’t do that” yet. Beginners aren’t billing someone for their time — it’s not a job, and time doesn’t matter. Beginners (and kids) usually have more time than money. Beginners aren’t collecting trophies (yet) — they’re exploring. If you don’t know the boundaries of something, for a brief time your ideas are boundless.

Maybe becoming experts in things is just in our destiny — we all specialize, growing old is unavoidable — but retaining things from our childhood is possible; it’s just a struggle sometimes. This is why a lot of us have safe places, like a workshop or an electronics bench, where we can protect them. If you’re a self-proclaimed expert in something, you’ll end up defending your work from other experts. The internet is an amplifier of this phenomenon. I think it’s important to have places where beginners can help each other, and the experts are there to not only share information, but share how they discovered things (sometimes the how is more important than the what). The best experts I know open the door, but you enter yourself.

Experts stay still; beginners are constantly moving. An expert can point out the difficulty in every project, while the beginner can only see possibilities (and later many ways to make mistakes). The reward for beginners is not the stuff they make, it’s the person they become because of the stuff they make and share. Beginners need to practice a lot; experts need to talk more than practice usually. Beginners do very simple things before they understand what they are doing, but they are simplistic. Experts struggle to make things simple because they want to put everything they know in something, to demonstrate their expertise.

Beginners share their mistakes; experts hide them. Knowledge is one of the few things that doesn’t diminish the more you share it. I probably read about 1,000 messages a day across mailing lists, forums, customer support emails, Google+, Twitter, and more. Beginners can celebrate failure while experts rarely admit it. For a beginner, all the obstacles, failures, and challenges are the path ahead. Beginners usually do not have any fear; they just make things — maybe it doesn’t work out, maybe it does — but they don’t have the same risk aversion experts tend to have.

Beginners get the satisfaction of solving many small problems that are wonderful milestones to keep motivated. Experts build bigger and for longer, so when something goes wrong it can really crash hard. The little problems a beginner solves are like weeds in a garden: you find them and use them for mulch — they’re fuel. Eventually you might have a manicured estate, but I think the small garden is more fun and approachable. More people can participate because the fence is lower, or not there at all.

Once you get enough experts together, that’s when the in-fighting usually starts. Even The Beatles fought with each other about who was the best. Experts start to see the tiniest differences between each other and (usually) fork their efforts. It might be over-phrasing or titles of efforts, what licenses they use or don’t use, who is more pure than someone else. Beginners don’t know enough to care about these things yet — it’s the freedom beginners enjoy, even if it’s just for a short while. Beginners tend to see what they have in common with each other; experts can only see the differences. Many experts don’t want to share their knowledge, and beginners don’t have anything to share yet other than encouragement and enthusiasm for other beginners. Experts like to defeat each other, often publicly; beginners conquer themselves and their own challenges, and the experience cannot be taken away by anyone. Beginners don’t have strong opinions — they can’t effectively bother each other yet.

Relating this specifically to electronics, projects with Arduino are now practically ubiquitous. If you are beginning in electronics, when something is always around beginners, like Arduino, interesting things can happen. Beginners bend things, break things, they do things that the experts couldn’t imagine — and that’s a good thing. Some of the most disruptive innovations came from people tinkering, not exactly knowing what they’re doing, and later becoming experts only to be usurped by a new crop of tinkerers. It’s an endless cycle of people doing weird things because “they didn’t know any better.”

Electronics is full of problems, but it’s also full of people overcoming those problems — those are fun people to be around. They’re convinced that if they try, they can figure it out. Over the years I’ve tried to collect all the stories people would write in to me from Hack-a-Day, MAKE, or Adafruit about how, in a short time, they went from not knowing anything about electronics to being able to make something they always wanted, and how they discovered they had the potential all along. All they had to do was listen to their own voice and not someone else telling them they couldn’t do it for one reason or another.

When you’re learning something about electronics, you usually don’t know what’s “enough” until you discover what’s “too much.” Beginners are filled with uncertainty on how things will turn out — that’s the fun part — the surprise, the unexpected, how knowledge is made. Experts have expectations. Beginners can adapt themselves because they’re not set in their ways yet; experts tend to be more rigid and demand the same of others. Experts value what they have; beginners value what they don’t have yet.

Beginners can take more risks than experts — they start with zero, so there’s nothing to lose. Experts worry that if they’re an expert in one thing, they’ll need to be an expert in other things, otherwise their expertise could be questioned. For experts a lot of things are easy because they’ve done it so many times. Experts become impatient (with themselves and with others); beginners are patient and brave, because they don’t yet know it will become easy. Experts have pride; beginners can’t deceive themselves so easily.

Starting out now with making things is fantastic. With 3D printers, laser cutters, Maker Faires, hackerspaces, Techshops, Instructables, open source hardware, it’s never been a better time. I’m sure every generation says that, but I really think it’s true. Starting out now, you get to explore more, faster, cheaper, and with more people. This is all new stuff too — it’s hard for anyone to be an expert yet. This happened with homebrew computers, and it happened with the web. In the maker world, we’re all still figuring a lot of this out. There’s still plenty of time before we’re all experts at one thing or another.

Some of the most talented and prolific people I know have dozens of interests and hobbies. When I ask them about this, the response is usually something like “I love to learn.” I think the new discoveries and joys of learning are the crux of this beginner thing I’ve been thinking about. Sure, when you’ve mastered something it’s valuable, but then part of your journey is over — you’ve arrived, and the trick is to find something you’ll always have a sense of wonder about. I think this is why scientists and artists, who are usually experts, love what they do: there is always something new ahead. It’s possible to be an expert but still retain the mind of a beginner. It’s hard, but the best experts can do it. In making things, in art, in science, in engineering, you can always be a beginner about something you’re doing — the fields are too vast to know it all.

Since I started with Lewis Carroll, I figured I’d end it here too:

Alice came to a fork in the road.  “Which road do I take?” she asked.
“Where do you want to go?” responded the Cheshire cat.
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”
- Alice in Wonderland

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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Comments

  1. I’ve often railed against the advice I received again and again: “You need to focus on one thing and get very good at it to succeed.” I think the opposite mantra, which you illustrate here well, Phil, is that that might not be necessary. Sure, I’ll never be the best, but I’ll learn lots of new things and see opportunities to have crossover effects (i.e. use what I know in one field and apply it in another).  Sure, I’ve concentrated on one area in my career, because that’s a symptom of the industry and maintaining a job. But if I “jumped down the rabbit hole” to stick with your analogy and never, I’d never know how to do any of the auxiliary skills I’ve picked up while continuing to tinker in other areas. Lifelong learning is a goal everyone should strive for, because even if you’re an expert in one field, learning other fields will help your every day work. Oh, and it’s fun ;-)

    1. Anonymous says:

      awesome comment, i am starting to see really interesting things from people who are experts in one thing, hop to a completely different field. EEs and programmers going in to bio for example, this was crazy a few years a go – but now, it makes total sense.

    2. Anonymous says:

      awesome comment, i am starting to see really interesting things from people who are experts in one thing, hop to a completely different field. EEs and programmers going in to bio for example, this was crazy a few years a go – but now, it makes total sense.

  2. I’ve often railed against the advice I received again and again: “You need to focus on one thing and get very good at it to succeed.” I think the opposite mantra, which you illustrate here well, Phil, is that that might not be necessary. Sure, I’ll never be the best, but I’ll learn lots of new things and see opportunities to have crossover effects (i.e. use what I know in one field and apply it in another).  Sure, I’ve concentrated on one area in my career, because that’s a symptom of the industry and maintaining a job. But if I “jumped down the rabbit hole” to stick with your analogy and never, I’d never know how to do any of the auxiliary skills I’ve picked up while continuing to tinker in other areas. Lifelong learning is a goal everyone should strive for, because even if you’re an expert in one field, learning other fields will help your every day work. Oh, and it’s fun ;-)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Interesting post. Thanks. I found it odd, because for the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking on the subject of “experts” too… I basically just thought to myself. “why don’t people actively try to become experts in a certain area of knowledge (or skill)?” – Of course some do, but I’d say for the most part, most don’t. What would happen if teachers encouraged students to learn all they can about a certain subject? Thanks for keeping me thinking about the subject – perhaps this will motivate me to become an expert in something. :)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Interesting post. Thanks. I found it odd, because for the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking on the subject of “experts” too… I basically just thought to myself. “why don’t people actively try to become experts in a certain area of knowledge (or skill)?” – Of course some do, but I’d say for the most part, most don’t. What would happen if teachers encouraged students to learn all they can about a certain subject? Thanks for keeping me thinking about the subject – perhaps this will motivate me to become an expert in something. :)

  5. When I started out machining I definitely embarked upon projects that I’m now far too “educated” to attempt. I do lament this loss , but it is unavoidable. As you go you learn how long things take and how well things will work – you avoid going down paths with little likelihood of payoff. 
    In the course of selling machine tools to both the beginner and the expert I do notice that while some beginners are fearless others are full of trepidation. Often the cost of the tools and materials paralyzes them with the fear of failure (and fear of additional costs). Likewise with my attempts at electronics I can see how one would be scared of frying an Arduino –  if you spent your last shekel on one you would be hesitant to try anything but the most basic experiments. Not all people have healthy hobby budgets. 
    With my airgun (pellet gun) hobby I decided early on to focus on fixing airguns that were in such poor condition that the cost of failure was easily borne. This strategy has worked out well as I am less afraid of failure and more likely to try something off the wall when repairing one.
    While documenting most of my varied projects is a burden it certainly does reap many rewards beyond the time spent. It does take a great degree of courage to post a failure, to show why and how you failed so that others can learn from your hamfisted idiocy. Although there is no way in hell I’m posting a picture of my first Cupcake print I did last week. That would just be humiliating. 

  6. When I started out machining I definitely embarked upon projects that I’m now far too “educated” to attempt. I do lament this loss , but it is unavoidable. As you go you learn how long things take and how well things will work – you avoid going down paths with little likelihood of payoff. 
    In the course of selling machine tools to both the beginner and the expert I do notice that while some beginners are fearless others are full of trepidation. Often the cost of the tools and materials paralyzes them with the fear of failure (and fear of additional costs). Likewise with my attempts at electronics I can see how one would be scared of frying an Arduino –  if you spent your last shekel on one you would be hesitant to try anything but the most basic experiments. Not all people have healthy hobby budgets. 
    With my airgun (pellet gun) hobby I decided early on to focus on fixing airguns that were in such poor condition that the cost of failure was easily borne. This strategy has worked out well as I am less afraid of failure and more likely to try something off the wall when repairing one.
    While documenting most of my varied projects is a burden it certainly does reap many rewards beyond the time spent. It does take a great degree of courage to post a failure, to show why and how you failed so that others can learn from your hamfisted idiocy. Although there is no way in hell I’m posting a picture of my first Cupcake print I did last week. That would just be humiliating. 

    1. Anonymous says:

      @facebook-782797497:disqus awesome :)

    2. Anonymous says:

      @facebook-782797497:disqus awesome :)

  7. Ryan Turner says:

    The message has merit but I find it very hard to agree with some of the criticisms levelled against experts.  Things like experimentation and lifelong learning are impossible to argue against, but you have paired them with some very strange statements.

    I would much rather be an expert than a beginner.  If you ask me to choose knowledge or the lack thereof I will take knowledge every time.

    The “magic” a beginner might feel when first shown to add pales in comparison to the beauty of true mathematics at a higher level (for example Euler’s identity).  Being an expert hardly separates one from the joy of creating and learning (I would argue the reverse).

    Sorry but your “Zen” seems to be about experts losing their field of view but in my experience the opposite is true.  Perhaps if you end a behind a desk doing the same thing for twenty years but that’s different.

    Hell, as I’ve gotten smarter things keep getting more fun.  Take that how you wish.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @google-cf32b9b21d44f549e3798567fa88d4ab:disqus which specific statements are “very strange” ?

      1. Ryan Turner says:

        I felt like the article was overly negative towards experts in general.  I’d imagine most beginners are at least trying to take steps towards being an expert so it is strange to glorify a state of what is essentially ignorance.

        I don’t feel that being an expert implies a narrow skill-set and I also feel that anyone who stagnates and squabbles over details cannot be considered a real expert.

        I suppose it comes down to me considering experts what you call experts who retain the beginner mindset. 

        Sure being a beginner can be great, but knowing what you are doing is a thousand times better.  Otherwise what point would there be to learning?

      2. Ryan Turner says:

        I felt like the article was overly negative towards experts in general.  I’d imagine most beginners are at least trying to take steps towards being an expert so it is strange to glorify a state of what is essentially ignorance.

        I don’t feel that being an expert implies a narrow skill-set and I also feel that anyone who stagnates and squabbles over details cannot be considered a real expert.

        I suppose it comes down to me considering experts what you call experts who retain the beginner mindset. 

        Sure being a beginner can be great, but knowing what you are doing is a thousand times better.  Otherwise what point would there be to learning?

        1. Anonymous says:

          @google-cf32b9b21d44f549e3798567fa88d4ab:disqus but no specific statements were “very strange” then?

        2. Anonymous says:

          @google-cf32b9b21d44f549e3798567fa88d4ab:disqus but no specific statements were “very strange” then?

          1. Here’s a “strange” one:

            “Experts worry that if they’re an expert in one thing, they’ll need to be an expert in other things, otherwise their expertise could be questioned.”

            I generally find that experts are very quick to determine if something lies within/outside their knowledge domain. An expert will provide advice/knowledge, if possible, while warning you that his/her knowledge in that field may be limited. A good expert will point you towards an expert in that other field. I could probably be considered an expert in statistics for quality control, and I have no problem admitting my knowledge of mechanics is rather limited. In fact, I’d argue that experts know when they can be dangerous with non-expertise knowledge. Beginners don’t.

            People who are “worried” about judgement of their expertise in subjects outside their domain are just plain paranoid or arrogant. 

            (Note that I’m assuming there is little transferability, for lack of a better word, between the domains in question.)

          2. Anonymous says:

            @twitter-39656360:disqus usually the “experts” i run in to in various electronic’s circles are completely frightened to ever admit the way they’re doing something could possibly be improved by someone who isn’t also considered an expert, maybe they’re paranoid or arrogant like you said, but it’s a common theme. the good experts are the ones that are not afraid to said “i don’t know”.

          3. I’d call that more a function of culture than expertise……

          4. Frank Canaan says:

            There is an “Expert” culture.. I think that may be part of what Phil is going for in this article… Go to any trade show, in any field, and you will see what I mean.

          5. I don’t think it’s *any* field. I’ve been to numerous trade shows in a few different fields. In some, experts were easily approachable and were glad to discuss their knowledge without any hint of what Phil described. I’ve even worked in one field where the experts from competing companies gladly exchanged knowledge with each other because they did it to advance the whole industry.

            One the other hand, in one field, I had an “expert” at a trade show tell me that my technology would never work because he had “looked into it and there was nothing to it.” I got the pleasure of kicking his company out of a few accounts over the years with said technology.

            By culture, I mean culture of that particular area, not “expert culture.”

        3. Frank Canaan says:

          Ryan,

          Through your tone, you are perfectly illustrating for us some of the downsides of becoming an expert, or at least a person who believes they have become one. Thank you.

          1. Anonymous says:

            @google-14d871ee3edcc101da79ddc124801f94:disqus +1  :)

    2. Anonymous says:

      @google-cf32b9b21d44f549e3798567fa88d4ab:disqus which specific statements are “very strange” ?

  8. Ryan Turner says:

    The message has merit but I find it very hard to agree with some of the criticisms levelled against experts.  Things like experimentation and lifelong learning are impossible to argue against, but you have paired them with some very strange statements.

    I would much rather be an expert than a beginner.  If you ask me to choose knowledge or the lack thereof I will take knowledge every time.

    The “magic” a beginner might feel when first shown to add pales in comparison to the beauty of true mathematics at a higher level (for example Euler’s identity).  Being an expert hardly separates one from the joy of creating and learning (I would argue the reverse).

    Sorry but your “Zen” seems to be about experts losing their field of view but in my experience the opposite is true.  Perhaps if you end a behind a desk doing the same thing for twenty years but that’s different.

    Hell, as I’ve gotten smarter things keep getting more fun.  Take that how you wish.

  9. Thanks for the great article, Phil.

    Small typo there: “Experts value what the have; beginners value what they don’t have yet.”

  10. Thanks for the great article, Phil.

    Small typo there: “Experts value what the have; beginners value what they don’t have yet.”

    1. Anonymous says:

      @twitter-110316845:disqus fixed, thank you :)

  11. Rahere says:

    Just to add to the painful aphorisms, there’s the etymology of expert: ex=has-been, spurt=drip under pressure, and the definition set against a generalist: the generalist knows absolutely nothing about absolutely everything, and the expert absolutely everything about absolutely nothing. I’m sorry to have to say that after a long life as a generalist, I discover I’ve accidentally become expert in something. Damn!

  12. Joshua Kopel says:

    Being a beginner is great. The wide open feeling of knowing nothing and wanting to know everything is exhilarating. I think you capture that well, but there is something else that often happens (at least to me) on the road between beginner and knowledgeable. you get frustrated by what you don’t know, and you realize why experts exist.

     I have always been a generalist, and have never really gotten beyond the “knowledgeable” stage in any of my hobbies. This means I get to enjoy that early rush, and make wonderful mistakes, and laugh at them later when I learn more. But some things just take a lot of work, and they really do require expertise to do well. For instance, analog circuit engineering is complicated. If you want to do it well you have to learn the basics, so you can understand the advanced stuff, so you can figure out what the hell is going on when things don’t work. Best case you keep the sense of wonder and your passion just gets deeper, and you become an expert.

    A lot of what you are talking about is the way that supposed “experts” communicate, especially online. It is unfortunate that knowledge can breed contempt for others who are not there yet, but doesn’t that have more to do with the personalities involved then with the state of expertise itself?

    There are many true experts who love to share their knowledge and help beginners, a perfect example being Ms Fried. Sure you can make all your own mistakes and learn from them, but without experts to offer advice and wisdom the beginners path can be frustrating indeed!

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  14. Interesting read – Thanks, Phil!

    I’m continually thinking on this topic when answering questions sent from folks who watch my videos.  Each topic I cover, even the more academic ones, still feel relatively fresh and open to me – and often people seem surprised at my lack of conventional expertise when answering their questions.

    I rely on that ‘beginner’s sense of wonder’ as my primary motivation to learn about science, music, electronics, & video production.  In fact, I often feel no choice but to follow along with whatever new aspect of those fields my brain has taken a shine to.  I’ve yet to reach any position of static expertise in any of these fields – but, if one stays truly inquisitive/curious it would seem impossible.  I mean – electromagnetic radiation can travel through a vacuum – WHAT’S UP WITH THAT?!?

    1. I once read that the definition of an expert is someone who has spent enough time on something to essentially know or be familiar with all aspects of that field. In other words, he or she has “seen it all.” However, the expert gains something from this: the ability to contribute to the field by generating new knowledge in a way a beginner cannot.

      Thus, a true expert retains that inquisitiveness/curiosity and satisfies it by creating new knowledge/methods/techniques/etc. As you said, it’d be impossible to be static in your knowledge.

      Interesting side note: Herb Simon, a Nobel laureate, did a lot of research into what makes an “expert.” It takes about 10 years of sustained effort at something to become an expert. Assuming 2000 hours/year working, that’s 20,000 hours to become an expert in your career. Obviously, for many of us hobbyists and makers, we’re devoting less time than that. It could take us an entire lifetime. But it’s a fun journey.

  15. David Forbes says:

    I consider myself an expert in making electronic stuff, but I work with people who have much more formal education and understanding of electronics theory than me. So I’m not that much of an expert. But when I come up with an idea for a gizmo, and then build it, it tends to just work.

    A curious side-effect of this is that all my recent creations are just repackaging of existing electronics ideas. I do design my own circuit boards, since many types of circuits aren’t published and these circuits are definitely not made in the form factor I seek. But I see the circuitry as incidental to the important part, which is the new packaging I’ve given to the gizmo.

  16. ChipN says:

    Think what I’ve learned more than anything is laser focus (shut out all distractions) then open yourself up to serendipity, randomness, chaos. In that way, with just a sheet of lofting plans and some carpenter tools working over the winter in a barn, I built the sweetest little skiff that nobody had ever seen before, ran beautifully, dry as a bone, even took it offshore in blue water … and had never built anything before! All that I had was solitude, patience, openness to ‘oops’, and some inexplicable luck, like finding an old barrel of ship’s varnish in a field, didn’t even know why I went there, it was right when I needed the paint. That’s the wonder and joy of creating, I think, setting the ‘sails’, then letting the universe take the helm.

  17. wendy Remork says:

    I wrote a little text called “Tinkering versus engineering” that is very related to what you are saying. Here’s an excerpt:

    [...] An artist friend of mine organized a visit to an engineering school. The engineers had set up a lot of very nice experiments (we learnt a lot: on different types of batteries, on power, on solar and wind energy…)
    and at the end we were supposed to build a circuit, a set-up by the engineers. The engineers totally rely on a set of skills (formula’s, math, physics, proof, understanding) and they get well documented
    results – within a certain timespan following the “scientific method”.
    We, the tinkering artists, seem to work the other way round, we start with an idea and we try. Failure is an inherent part of this. The engineers were baffled on how much we accomplish without knowing the ins and outs of the physics and the math.[...]

    Greetz

    Wendy

    http://www.capacitor.constantvzw.org/?p=330
    (But it was impossible for me to post this comment without the use of a commercial platform – can you still login somewhere through the make website itself?)

    1. Anonymous says:

      @google-ea36fa1ffe421f386d0732a45788549b:disqus great comment and story, thank you!

  18. John Morse says:

    28 years ago I started working in a machine shop and the owner told me that there’s an opportunity to learn something new every day. He was talking specifically about the shop but it has proven to be true about my life in general. You may not always like what you’ve learned, but it helps to recognize the moment. Today, I’m the owner of that shop and my problem isn’t the learning, it’s the energy. There are things that I’d love to try but the risk of injury is too great. You heal quicker when you’re younger. So try everything you can when you’re able!

  19. supertwist says:

    I’m not sure where I found this quote [maybe apocryphal?] but I share it with my students every semester:

    “Creative people don’t want to “do it right.” They want to share the excitement you had when you yourself didn’t know how to do it right. Creative people are unconsciously attracted by the parts that make no sense.” – Bruce Sterling

  20. This is why I love Steampunk we are all mostly tinkers and artists who are trying to make something cool and interesting, it may not be perfect but the road to making it is fun.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Phillip Torrone…thank you so much for this wonderful article. Art and Zen is my theory as well. When I find myself around critics or artists who are looking for perfection in a piece of art I usually tell myself one of two things…they didn’t study theory hard enough,or someone is looking for money by ripping some one else off with the perfection scam..which normally is not the artist claiming perfection.Well there is the intimidation factor as well,and your comments about mistakes and of showing them is really important like you mentioned so young inspiring minds or artists can learn that there is no such thing as a perfect piece of art or a perfect life it is all a process. Artists make mistakes,go through different processes in a piece of work then either hide them or show them like youmentioned.I really like the posted sketch work by the way.Any way art is Zen. As a child  I was encouraged in creating zen art through my creative imagination by a terrific art teacher  when she took interest in my creativeness more than any one else had,and I’ve been hooked ever since.( thank you (Mrs McCormick) I can get really annoyed at times with the perfect attitude in a artist because there is no zen in that and children lose interest in opening a creative mind and don’t learn the importance of creativity…so goes our future with out creativeness.Like you said even computer work or car work is creative but generally I believe that zen through a creative mind starts with art.
    I want to teach art some day and follow those I admire most…teachers.The process work you mentioned is how my zen work creates itself..and like you mentioned Phillip,artists start out with an idea and the idea processes into some nearly totally different,and perfect and beautiful… creation.I find zen art a good way to draw distractions away from dismembered art work  I personally find offensive and whipping on young minds…like tagging is or actually I should say it can be very offensive.Any way Phillip I have my degree now,,,finally and after years and years of processing I really enjoyed what you wrote. independentrex…Portland Oregon.

  22. 5ecular4umanist says:

    As a software developer, I’ve been a tinkerer all my career. In the 1980s, when I was enjoying the wonders of COBOL at work, at home I had a BBC Micro and was coding text compression and getting into assembler.

    In the 1990s I was working on IBM S/38 and AS/400 while at home I played with Pascal. Then there was about ten years of near convergence, when I was lucky to get into a kind of R&D role at work that spilled over into my home tinkering habit, first in Smalltalk (1993) and then Java (1997). These were the most fun years of my career.

    In 1999 I was hired on the basis of these tinkering traits and all went well until a change of management when, looking at my spread of interests and mini projects, my boss insisted that we (I) needed to trim this down to what, for him, appeared a more sensible scale. This effectively killed my chances of tinkering at work (R&D) and locked me into a few key areas of “expertise”. The beginning of the end. I stayed with the firm (jobs were scarce) but my tinkering opportunities never returned and a few years later I was laid off. So it goes.

    Now I tinker like hell at home: Smalltalk, Android, Java, Lua, Go, Dart. But it’s not like the sheer joy I had before. Perhaps I’m just getting old :)

  23. pt, this was masterful. It crystalized a lot of ideas I’ve been chewing on for a long, long time, and I feel like I have to do something about them now. I don’t know what that will be, but you may be hearing from me soon.

    Thanks for writing this! :-)

  24. Haven’t had a chance to read all the replies to this really good article, but… at the risk of repeating another comment… you presumably are well acquainted with the term ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’ a term coined by Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, who also wrote a book of the same name.