We all see things that bother us many times a day, every day.
The interesting question is, what do we do about it?
First, I’ll tell you what I used to do.
Like most people, I often ignored the problem. When I decided to “do” something to solve the problem, I actually didn’t “do,” most of the time. Instead, I delegated it to someone else. By “delegate,” I mean that I either bought the solution (e.g. buy Halloween costumes for my kids), or I asked someone else to solve the problem (e.g. ask our handyman to fix the kitchen cabinet door).
Now, though, I’m on a personal mission to become more of a doer – to try to actively solve problems myself, rather than ignore or delegate.
My motivation at first was to set an example for my kids. After all, I want my kids to be consummate doers. I want them to change the world for the better. I want them to have a “can-do” attitude borne out of a combination of chutzpah and competence.
However, as I continue this transformation, I realize the wonderful benefits of doing to me in my everyday life – not just for world-changing innovation.
You see, in my journey to become a doer, I’ve come to see everything around me differently. More and more, I see everything as changeable, improvable, by me. When I see something that bothers me, of course, I can’t always do something about it, but increasingly, ignoring is my choice – it’s not forced upon my by limited competence or imagination. Besides thinking about solving problems, I not afraid to dream about things I don’t have, too, because I’m developing confidence that I can do many of them.
In my career as an entrepreneur, I’ve done pretty good job of being a doer in business, but now, I’m working to become a doer in making physical things, a “maker.” I’ve created a fabulous garage workshop to make things. I’ll give a few examples of what I’ve done or plan to do there:
- workshop cart: In my garage workshop, I came to realize that I could really use a drum sanding machine to clean up wooden board surfaces. I figured out that the best place to fit it is on the same shelf as my first sanding machine, and if I did that, the shelf would have to slide out somehow like a drawer. After kicking some alternatives around, I decided that I should take out the shelf that was there and install a cart that is stowed where the shelf is now, but rolls out when I need it. I spent a lot of time looking for carts on the Internet, or at least legs for carts, until I realized that I could make exactly what I want myself. You can see the result in the photo above. It’s not a work of art, but I’m very proud! It’s the first wood project I’ve made since I was a fledgling carpenter in my childhood days.
- wooden signs: I’m making a concerted effort to become an expert in making wooden signs with carved lettering. I use my new Shopbot Desktop to cut a computer file out of wood – like printing to wood! The biggest challenge for me, however, has been finishing the sign with paint, stain, or varnish. Already, I’ve made signs for my boys’ rooms and a sign for my uncle-in-law’s house. My goal for this activity is to create a sign making business with my boys, and to eventually let them run it. They’re very interested, but we all need to develop a lot more skill to do this. One big step will be when Marco and I attend this sign making workshop this spring.
- Arduino robot: Like all kids, I often fantasized about robots. Back when I was a kid, it was real fantasy, borne out of watching Rosie in The Jetsons and the “Danger! Danger!” robot in Lost in Space. Today, it’s totally possible to create a programmable robot, albeit not as smart or sassy as Rosie. I’ve become pretty good at Arduino, a popular microelectronics platform, so I plan on building this robot for my boys, which can take simple commands from any remote control or follow a black line.
- kids’ work bench: In an adult education woodshop class, I recently completed a work bench for my boys which now resides in our garage workshop.
- go kart: Upon seeing that workshop cart I made, my oldest son Marco (8) immediately recognized that I could make a go-kart, too! He didn’t have to push me too hard, since making a go-kart was always a dream for me when I was a kid. However, go-karts have become a lot more high-tech in the past few decades, with all metal and real engines. I prefer to make a simple wooden one with no engine for my first try. I’ll use the plans for this one on the Internet.
- trash enclosure: My wife’s been complaining about our trash cans on the side of our house for years because they make for an unsightly, smelly walk to our back yard for our guests. I was finally ready to buy a very nice, very expensive commercial trash enclosure, but I was frustrated that they didn’t have the right size for the cans I wanted to store. Then, I realized that I can just make this myself. Boy, it’ll be satisfying to get this one done!
So, how is this doing of mine affecting my kids? Well, my wife’s concerns about the dangers of power tools and paint fumes have kept them from spending a lot of time in my garage workshop. However, Marco has started working on his own on the kids’ work bench. He hasn’t made a project yet – he’s just sawing and sanding for now – but I expect that he will start working on something in the coming months.
In addition, Marco and his middle brother Nico (5) are really enjoying their handtool-based woodworking afterschool program called Young Builders in Palo Alto, CA. Marco has built a coat hanger and a decorative bird, and now he’s working on a car-shaped mailbox. Nico is midway through his coat hanger.
My fundamental goal for them is not to build any particular thing, per se, but to develop the “doer mentality” that they have the power to create, whether it be physical things or social phenomena like businesses and movements. They seem well on their way to developing the chutzpah and competence they need to do this.