I’m genetically predisposed to do things twice. My dad would eagerly make stuff, only to have my mom tell him to do it over again, nicer and better. I could make a long list of stuff I’ve made that failed, including some that scared my wife and scarred me.
Ideas for new projects come at any time of day or night; my sketchbook keeps me on track. Jotting down possible solutions for ideas is the start of any project. I make it a rule not to get too detailed — I’d rather be testing and making as soon as possible. It’s better to act on that initial ignition before new projects pop up. Going from sketch to dirty hands needs to happen fast. This process leads to some obvious fails, but those are part of the process. A too-detailed idea on the drawing board will result in hurdles before I even begin, so I’d rather try, fail, and retry. The mistakes never stop me; they fuel a wish to overcome the problem and learn firsthand. I will sometimes be advised to drop my proposed solution, but like a child I will stubbornly try anyway. I love figuring out what went wrong and doing it all over again. When I finally get it right, I’ve become a better maker, ready for the next level.
Approaching new projects with a naive attitude gives me a chance to refine my task as I go. Learning by doing is a great mantra; this involves failing to succeed. My wife went away one weekend, and I set out to make a foldable ladder for our attic. After a quick sketch to figure out what materials I needed, I started building. Hinges and locks were essential parts of the plan. After hours putting it together, and attaching the ladder to the ceiling, I got ready for the one small step. Luckily, I was only halfway up when the thing collapsed and I fell to the floor. My sore back and wounded maker pride faded by the day’s end and what was left was the joy of failing, learning firsthand the impact 165 pounds have on a foldable ladder. We have a ladder now, though it’s not foldable. It’s not as impressive as my first idea, but I make it up and down from the attic alive.
A mantra I continuously repeat is quantity equals quality. The more I make, the bigger the chance that I make something great. I have boxes filled with sketchbooks, a testament to this philosophy. They are filled with stupid, crazy, and useless ideas, but once in a while combining two of them makes gold.
I love sharing my mistakes. I brag when they work, but also when they “work.” The mishaps and redo’s open up a fruitful discussion. People will help and give advice, telling stories of their own misses and fails. A great mistake means you’re aiming high, and by sharing, you will most probably succeed.
Over the years I’ve wound up with many misfit projects, but I love them all. I’ve come up with a name for these hard to describe projects, partly to justify to my wife the many hours spent on making an electrical ear-cleaner. When friends and family ask why I made something, my best reply is “because.” So I made up a new word (in Norwegian): Hvorfordi, which translates into two words, why (hvorfor) and because (fordi). It doesn’t matter what you make — or whether you’re any good at it — as long as you make it. It’s making for making’s own sake. When I failed a typography course at San Francisco’s Academy of Art college, the teacher who failed me told me something I still strive to live by: “Think it, make it, and move on.” Some day I’ll make that a tattoo.