Thursday, November 16, 2017

Good Ideas are Spawned From Bad Or Failed Ideas

My elder daughter and I have been working on a number of small projects together over the past few months and every once in awhile, I will get a comment from her where she says "wow, how did you know what to do in that situation? We hadn't faced it before, and you quickly figured out a way to deal with it. How is it so easy for you? Why can't I do that?"

I chuckled a little and then I've told her a maxim that I've used a bunch (and I'm sure I've said it here at some point, too)... "Good ideas/solutions come from good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad ideas/solutions/judgment." In short, she sees that I can come in and consider an idea and implement it (in some things, I do have my limits, and they are legion). What she doesn't hasn't seen is the countless times I've tried similar things, failed at them, regrouped, reconsidered, remeasured, tried again, and repeated this process until I happened upon something that worked.

As a Scout leader, I've had the benefit of decades of teaching a few generations of kids how to do some basic stuff (note, I said basic, not easy or simple). We teach how to tie a handful of knots. We teach some basic cooking techniques. We teach how to handle items like an ax, a knife, and a saw. We teach how to safely use fire. We teach some basic wilderness survival tips. Each time through this process there is always a similar "wave" that I witness. At first, there's an excitement level, but that quickly gives way to a mild boredom. Seriously? This is such a big deal? Snooze! Still, I push on and demonstrate what I can and encourage them to practice what I am showing them. A hallmark of our Scouting year typically takes place three months in for a typical scout. That's the "silent campout". Not silent in the sense that there's no talking or interaction, but silent in that the leaders (i.e. me and the other adults) make it a point to not discuss any of the campout particulars with the troop. They have their campsite, we have ours. they are within eyesight of each other, and we reserve the right/authority to intervene if a situation is deemed unsafe. Outside of that, we let them pick the camp area, bring in all needed items, and then we leave them to it. They construct the camp, they cook their meals, they clean, they tend fires, and do all of the other things that we have taught them over a few months.

Each time, the outcome has been similar. The bored expressions often give way to genuine concern or in some cases panic. Wait, what was I supposed to do at this point? Did I pack what we needed? Did I cook that long enough? Am I going to be able to properly contain the fire? You get the idea. They make mistakes, they get frustrated, and then they approach the problem(s) from different angles. They confer. They discuss options. They experiment. Some of those experiments fail, but some succeed. They note the ones that were successful. The next morning, fewer mistakes, less frustration, and almost no panic. The process, while ragged, gets smoother and more refined. Almost to a person, this experience makes for a change of attitude, and then when we talk about "the basics", they are not so jaded and bored. they realize that basic stuff often is harder to physically do in a regular and smooth manner. Like everything, it takes actual practice and it takes some working through frustration. Do it enough, and you start to actually get good at those basics and then you forget that there was a learning curve at all.

My point with this today is that, too often, I think we approach aspects of what we do (testing, coding, administration, learning new stuff, getting out of our comfort zone) with the same mindset. We start out enthusiastic, we get bored and jaded and then we panic when what was supposed to be so simple doesn't work out to be. It's OK to feel these things. In fact, it's necessary. Over time, as we stumble, learn, practice and perfect, we too might forget exactly what it takes to do basic things and make them look easy. May I encourage you not to? You never know who may be watching and feeling discouraged because they can't seem to "get it". We've been there, we know how that feels. Let's make sure we remind others that basic doesn't necessarily mean easy, and that good ideas/solutions often come from bad ideas/attempts.

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