Tinkering is figuring out how things, people and life work. Let me tell you how tinkering formed my life, friendships and view on the world, by starting, making a lot, sharing and the power of serendipity.
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 an awkward bucked toothed boy in elementary school, I found I liked learning in a specific way. I needed 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. In fact, I still am!
After the first protected, and frankly emotionally confusing 12 years of my life, I found this emergence into subjects is also a great way to connect with people. Connecting with people is something pretty important for kids that age. Looking back: that was the first time I started use tinkering as a social hack to make friends.
Tinkering is in fact 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 a little project or subject 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. Serendipity are those 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.
APPLY your distractions
I think we need to unlearn to only feel happy when we’re focussed, because dealing with distractions is exactly what we’re build for. Distractions are life’s cool way to say: this is more important! 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.