May 18, 2010
News & Opinion: Made by Hand
Whether you're looking to live "off the grid," looking to start your own business, or simply want to find some inspiration to better face challenges in your life, I can't recommend the new book by Mark Frauenfelder, Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World highly enough. Many will recognize Frauenfelder as the founder of the blog Boing Boing and the Editor in Chief of Make magazine, but this book is so much more - it's his personal story and insight. The intro describes the author's family's quest to find peaceful living, away from the hectic city life, so they sell their belongings and move to an exotic island. Once there, they discover that "peaceful living" is much more difficult than what the environment and location implies. Lessons learned, they return to the city, and start addressing things on the practical, as opposed to a conceptual level, and it works. Filled with personal stories, as well as those from a variety of Do It Yourself cohorts met along the way, Frauenfelder has created a book as much about fixing problems and making things better as it is about developing a new personal philosophy about how the world works and how we work within it; are we dependent or are we able to create our own solutions? Here is a brief Q&A with the author that will give you more insight into his ideas and what the book touches on. A major theme in the book is fear of failure. What are some of the ways you see a system of fear being created by organizations meant to support people (schools, jobs, etc.)? Students are afraid to make mistakes in class because errors result in bad grades. Striving for a "perfect score" takes your mind off the real goal, which is to learn and to be effective. In organizations we are afraid to make mistakes because a mistake is a convenient way for others assign blame. A fear-based workplace discourages risk-taking and experimentation. The worst mistake is to punish people for making mistakes in the pursuit of doing something in better way. What are some ways people can work to overcome that fear? Fail early, fail often. If you make lots of small mistakes and correct them as you go along, the finished project will probably be good. If you hedge your bets every step of the way and take the safe route, the final result may be adequate, but it won't stand out, and your competitor who does take a risks is eventually going to eat you alive. How is DIY better than expertise? Because an expert is not going to know the particulars of your problem or challenge as well as you do. The expert will never care about it as much as you care. You are living the problem, and so you will be able to tell when your attempts to meet the challenge are really working or not. In an entrepreneurial sense, how can can people balance authority or expertise without it becoming a barrier to creativity? Learn from experts, don't lean on experts. Take what you can from authority and expertise and throw it in the mix along with your own skills, knowledge, curiosity, instinct, and drive to succeed. Many companies create disposable products that need to be upgraded, etc. What are some some alternatives to have a successful business without all the waste? And how can consumers break from the cycle themselves, particularly if they become dependent on using said products? Make beautiful things out of superior materials that last longer than their owners, and make sure the parts that do wear out are easy to repair and replace. Take a look at appliances built before 1945. They didn't have "No User Serviceable Parts" labels. Instead, they had access panels that could be opened to replace motors, belts, vacuum tubes and other parts that had a short life span. Some of my DIY friends find the oldest tools, cars, and appliances they can find, because they are easier to self-service. Made by Hand is a book about empowering individuals to create meaning in their lives. Overall, how does DIY create that opportunity? My friend Shane Speal of cigarboxnation.com said DIY is not about cheaper, it's about deeper. In other words, the sense of reward and engagement you get from " living with the things you've made with your own hands is deeper than simply buying everything you consume. As I wrote in my book, DIY presents new opportunities to get deeply involved in processes that require knowledge, skill building, creativity, critical thinking, decision making, risk taking, social interaction, and resourcefulness.