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Weather the Storm: Some Hard Truths about Making Awesome Things

We want to make awesome things.  Whether you make something awesome for yourself, to sell to the public, or to solve all the world’s woes – we want it to be awesome.
And when we look around at the Maker Movement and see people building all these amazing things – do you ever stop and think:

“Wow – I’m really lame – because I can’t seem to make things nearly as awesome as everyone else?”

This is about the time your brain should cue the soft violin music because you are on the brink of a hardcore pity party!

So here’s the real deal – of course we all want to make awesome things but the awesome things are not going to make themselves!  The world needs you to figure things out.

So let’s talk about some hard realities of making…

It doesn’t happen overnight

Have you seen that guy on YouTube that has created giant Tesla coils around his car?  Do you think he rolled out his Delorean one day, grabbed some random parts from an old microwave and JB-welded it to a saucer and whalla?

Of course not – it took him years to get to the point where he could make that happen.

What about the infamous Arduino.  Do you think that turned into a successful platform overnight?  Don’t you think the founders spent almost a decade getting to the point where they could culminate the knowledge and skills necessary to produce what is so ubiquitous today?  (Not to mention the time that went into Wiring and Processing which are both pillars of the Arduino’s success).

What about the guy who created a really neat clone of that “Useless Machine“.  It should be a weekend project right?  I mean, people have made it a hundred times before – this should be a synch!

Well, I guess if you discount the year he has spent learning about electronics and the time and effort he has put in learning to program C++, and the fact that it’s his second go around…well then yes, I guess it is a weekend project.

So after two hours at your bench when the flux capacitor is still not working – take a deep breath and remember –  awesome things take time.  They also take sacrifices…

You will have to make sacrifices

I enjoy playing board games.  And I have friends who live close by who enjoy playing.  We crack open a beer (or pour a glass of wine), lay out a game and have some laughs.  I never seem to win – but I always manage to have a good time.

But there are nights when I have a project that I want to build, and I have to step back and say “As much as I want to drink a beer and play a game, I am going work on this project instead – because it is going to be awesome and I want to see it through.”

Here is the bottom line:

“It won’t build itself.”

-the universe

The people who are building awesome things – whether these creations  save lives or are letting home owners know via twitter when their sump pump turns on – they have made sacrifices to see it through.

They have parted with other things they enjoy – like board games, lamborghinis and cash.

Sacrifice is a necessary step when you are making things happen.  But just because a project starts to go sour doesn’t mean your sacrifice has been wasted – in fact it is an indicator that you are on to something good.

If it works the first time, it is probably broken

A good project is like a roller coaster – there are ups and downs.

At first it’s all roses and unicorns when you are drawing the designs, then it is a baseball bat to your imagination when you realize you are creating a “real” thing and reality doesn’t agree with your design.

Because an awesome project is like an adventure – and every adventure has its moments when you think the world is collapsing. You hang your head and think “$%#@…Is there anyway I can get this thing to work…ever?!”

Yes my friend – you can get it working – but that doesn’t mean it is going to be easy.  And it might also mean that your design changes 180 degrees and that the original project is so far removed from the second, third and 100th iteration that it becomes a completely new species of project.

Which means you will have to redo all that work – all that work that you had sacrificed your time  and money for – it all must be redone – differently – and you are still unsure just how that is going to look.

Ultimately the difference between the awesome project and the one that stays in the box in your closet is that the awesome project is born from all the failures you experience along the way.

If you can learn from your failures, if you can turn that defeat of a project gone haywire into an invaluable lesson – then you are on track to making awesome things.

Weather the storm

I am working on a project right now with a young gentleman in my volunteer electronics class.  It is fairly complicated for his first exposure to “making” – it includes 4 TinyLilies, over 25 LEDs and conductive thread.  I have been amazed at his dedication to this project.

He recently had to rework one of the microcontrollers, which meant snipping eight soldered wires and replacing it with a different board – which is a lot a when you are new to this.

As he was getting started on this task he said quietly “Is this project ever going to be done?”

He sees his classmates completing projects and while the scope of their projects is far less than his, they are still pretty cool.

I can feel his pain.

I reminded him of what he set out to do – make a shirt that flashes the superman crest outline.  I reminded him that his project was complicated, and that he should EXPECT troubles along the way.

After a while, he grabbed that new board and started soldering.

We have to be willing to go through the trenches to get to the other side.  There is no magic rainbow bridge to carry us to the successful completion of a project.  It is the mud, sweat and tears that cultivate an awesome project.

Are you willing to keep soldering?

Here is video of that student’s project – he finished it!

2 Comments

  1. Avatar Bob Durk on March 28, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    I had to search to find this post again; I just want to say it made the difference to get me over the hump. Wow, talk about the right post as the right time! I had been struggling with writing some Arduino code, and spent so much time searching for something similar to what I wanted. I was able to follow some code tutorials at BrainyBits, but still wasn’t getting my head around it. After reading this post, I set out to make it happen…and within about 3 hours it was working just as I wanted it to!
    Thanks for the inspiration at a time it was needed.

    • Avatar MICHAEL JAMES on March 28, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      So glad this could help Bob! I know from time to time, this article gets me back on track to. thanks a ton for taking the time to comment on this. Have a great one!

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