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The Lost Art of Making Stuff

Growing up my brother and I spent a lot of time outdoors.

Cruising the streets on our bikes, climbing down sewerage tunnels, putting food on train tracks to watch it explode, playing ball with the rest of the neighborhood kids, riding to the library to get the next Hardy Boys book, using elaborate techniques to ‘borrow’ fruit from neighboring houses, recreating WWI trench battles for our toy soldiers, finding creative uses for fire or pretending to be vikings whenever our backyard flooded… the list goes on and on.

The point is we had to entertain ourselves, use our imagination and sometimes during this process we made cool stuff.

The Lost Art

We live in a day and age where kids are spending almost no time exploring the physical world around them and are instead immersing themselves in the virtual world. Personally I think this will result in a bunch of weak ninnies with zero imagination and the attention span of a goldfish!

It’s the way the labor market has gone as well. A lot of the traditional trades are disappearing as they have been replaced with mass manufacturing and technological advances that make the yesteryear artisan obsolete.

There is a strong push nowadays towards white collar jobs as opposed to blue collar work. The majority of young people have their minds set on attending university rather than looking at getting a trade.

Now this is all fine and good but I do think this has resulted in a general lack of being handy and ‘make cool stuff’ ability.

I just have to compare my generation with my fathers. As a rule most men of that generation can fix or make pretty much anything. The same can’t be said for my generation unfortunately.

Does it really matter?

Fair questions and to be honest at a surface level probably not.

We live in a day and age where things have become easier and a man doesn’t really have to ‘make’ things anymore. He’s no longer required to be a jack of all trades but can instead rely on others to provide the requisite skills he might be lacking.

Still, there are a bunch of reasons why it is in our interest to be able to ‘make cool stuff’.

1. Kids love making things

Kids have incredible imaginations! I know my kids do.

That cardboard box I want to throw out? That’s a jet pack in my son’s hands! A piece of flat rectangular wood? Mobile phone to my daughter!

I am constantly blown away with what they imagine and the myriad of different things they can create out of a cardboard box, some toilet rolls, duct tape and markers.

Now imagine taking one of their little inventions and turning it up to 11!

Take that jet pack above. How about attaching some plastic coke bottles, adding a couple of straps and giving it a nice lick of paint.

Now I’m not going to insult your intelligence and suggest this is ‘making cool stuff’ but what if you get your kid to do all of the above under your supervision? Get them to cut the coke bottles and straps to size. Get them to use the spray can.

Sure it’ll be messy and it probably won’t look as good (how embarrassing would it be if your kid did a better job than you??) but you’ll be teaching them to be handy whilst having an amazing time with them. These “make cool stuff’ sessions will also be lodged in their minds as some of their most memorable memories.

2. You’ll learn as you go

It’s so much easier nowadays to just buy a new product when the old one breaks or to pay a tradesman to do something which you could have probably done yourself.

More and more I’m realizing it’s better off having a go yourself, after all, the only way you’ll learn how to do something is by trying to do it.

When my father was in his 20s he rebuilt a yacht from scratch and then sailed it over 5,000kms from Melbourne to Darwin in Australia.  I once asked him how did he know what to do? His reply was simple, “I didn’t. I learnt as I went.”

A lot of times I won’t do a project because the thought of it is overwhelming or because of the unknowns. What are all the steps I need to do? How long will it take?  How complex is it? Will I really be able to do this?

The thing is you don’t need to know the answer to all those questions. The only thing you need to know is… what’s the next step? When you start to think like this it takes so much pressure off and makes things easier.

Say you wanted to make a bow and arrow.

What’s the next step?  I need some wood for a bow. Next step? Figure out the type of wood I should use. Next step? Find it! Next step? Whittle it down. Next step? … etc

This ‘next step’ principle has helped me immeasurably in life was well. Want to achieve some amazing goal in life but don’t know how to get there? Just think of the next step to do.

In life there is always a process to follow to achieve anything. You just have to figure out the next step in the process. Whether you figure it out yourself, google it or find a mentor it doesn’t really matter. Just do the next step!

3. You’ll be more manly

I don’t want to turn this into a ‘macho’ thing or say a man who isn’t handy isn’t a real man; however, at some base level all men want to be handy with their hands.

I’ll admit I’m not the handiest man but by the same token I’m a fairly blokey bloke and not a cream puff.  I do have feelings of envy though when I’m with some mates who have built houses or cars or can make/fix anything they put their mind to.  I think my wife is a bit envious too!

The male psyche is an interesting thing. What does it mean to be a man? Am I a man? How do I compare to other men? Do I care how I compare? Do I care how other people think I rate as a man? What is my rationale behind my definition of a man? Do I feel comfortable in my manhood?

Whilst there is no silver bullet to these questions there will be a fair bit of bias in the answers based on what our traditional views of a man are. And generally the traditional view of a man is ‘he is good with his hands’.

I say don’t fight tradition! Get good with your hands!  Your subconscious will thank you and you’ll notice a difference in your swagger. At the very least your wife will see you in a new light! :)

4. You’ll improve your problem solving skills

Making stuff is really all about problem solving and being able to solve problems is an important skill in life, especially if you want a great career.

When you make something there is a heap of things you have to think of. Some of the more basic things are:

  • materials to use
  • dimensions and measurements
  • how things will fit together
  • geometry and spatial awareness
  • the most efficient order of doing things

The whole time you are doing this your brain is building ‘problem solving’ neural pathways. The more problems you solve the more pathways are built and solidified. The next time you need to problem solve your brain doesn’t have to start from scratch. That’s why it’s always easier to make something each subsequent attempt.

These abilities then carry over to every other facet of life where a problem needs to be solved or some logical thinking needs to occur.

I’m a software developer which essentially is problem solving all day long. I’m always fascinated how in meetings I’m the one to most succinctly identify the key problem and the steps to take to either solve the problem or go about finding a solution. I truly believe that’s because the key to being a good developer is being able to solve problems.

Another interesting observation here is that usually there are many different ways you can solve a problem and that is good!  It creates more neural pathways. It gives you more options. It causes you to think more outside the box and be creative.

Summary

Being handy has a number of aims which I’ve gone through above. But remember everything about being a legendary dad is to “be a legend, to raise a legend.”  So get out there and start making some cool stuff with your kids!

If you’ve completed some cool projects leave them in the comments below.