Mark Frauenfelder: Teach Your Kids to Make Mistakes
Mark Frauenfelder is the founding editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine, the founder of Boing Boing, and the editor-in-chief of Cool-Tools.org. He was an editor at Wired from 1993-1998, the founding editor of Wired.com, and is the author of seven books. Below is an excerpt from his new book, Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Anti-Gravity Jars and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects.
“I wasn’t always an eager maker of things. I was timid about it until I became the editor of the technology project MAKE. Working there, I met hundreds of people who made amazing things in their spare time in their garages, in their basements and backyards, and on their kitchen tables. As I got to know them, I discovered something that profoundly changed the way I thought about creativity. I learned these “alpha makers” weren’t perfect. They didn’t go into their workshops and effortlessly build beautiful and functional things. Instead, they worked by trial and error. They revised their original designs, often drastically. They made plenty of mistakes and didn’t get upset about it. They expected to make mistakes, and they learned from them. Their finished projects turned out better as a result of having made mistakes. The mistakes pointed out the problems with the project, pushing the maker to improve upon them.
This was a shock to me. One of the main reasons I didn’t like to make things was because mistakes made me feel like a failure. If things didn’t work out the first time, I often gave up. I know other people feel the same way. A big reason for this crippling mindset is that we’ve been trained in the classroom to equate mistakes with bad grades. If our educational system teaches us one thing, it’s this: “Be perfect. Avoid mistakes or you will be penalized.”
Alpa makers’ superpower isn’t having awesome making skills, or owning a high-tech workshop filled with the latest 3-D printers and laser cutters. Their superpower is the ability to ignore the “just say no to mistakes” lesson the schools drilled into their heads from kindergarten to grad school.
When I finally learned to embrace mistakes, the world of making opened up to me. I lost my timidity and started making skateboards, musical instruments, wooden puzzles, and electronic toys. My daughters (Jane, ten, and Sarina, sixteen) joined me, and I tried my best to share with them what I learnd from the alpha makers’ attitude about mistakes.
When Jane, Sarina, and I made projects for this book, we often made mistakes — drilling holes int he wrong place, splitting wood, attaching electronic components in the wrong orientation, selecting materials that didn’t work the way we wanted them to, and so on. Sure, it was often frustrating, but these mistakes caused us to think about other possibilities. They sparked our imagination.
Each project in this book is the result of many iterations. It never turned out the way we expected the first time around. The second version of each project often took care of the major problems, but it was still full of annoying buys. The third version was usually close, but not good enough. It wasn’t until we build the fourth, fifth, or sixth prototype that we felt we had something worth sharing.
Even though we’ve tried our best to provide instructions that will ensure a successful build for you, and your daughters, it’s inevitable that you are going to make some mistakes along the way. Consider yourself lucky. These mistakes will give you an opportunity to be creative and resourceful, to improvise, and to come up with something even better than we did. Have fun!”
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