Make More Bad Stuff

I spent 90-minutes yesterday interviewing Bob Taylor, the legendary founder of Taylor Guitars, at his San Diego compound.

What an amazing person, company and and experience. But that’s for a future post.

This is about something Bob shared with me after I stopped recording and asked a personal question.

Since selling my last business and turning most of my creativity to the digital word, I’ve been missing something. Making stuff I can see, feel, touch and look at. Yes, book’s count and I’m insanely proud the one that’s about to come out. But I miss getting my hands dirty.

I also play guitar and love the physical form of acoustic guitars. There’s just something utterly sensual about a beautifully-crafted guitar. So over the course of this year, I started researching what it would take to learn to build them. You can do apprenticeships, buy kits, take courses or read books. I learn best by doing, so I figured I’d jump into a 2-week course that looked very cool. That was 9-months ago and somehow life keeps getting in the way. Or so I thought.

So, I asked Bob what he thought I should do.

His answer, “go and make a really bad guitar.” Stop waiting around, go buy a kit and do it. Today.

The first one, he said, will be bad. Maybe really bad. But you’ll learn more making one bad guitar than you will waiting to do something and then taking a course that teaches you how to do it right. You’ll understand a lot more about the “why” behind good and bad building, and that’ll put you in a radically different position to do it better moving forward.

Dohhh. Palm to forehead moment.

In the nine months I’ve been waiting for the right time to do the course, I could have made one really bad guitar, a second kind of bad one and maybe even a third half-decent one. Meaning the the one I would build next just might be pretty sweet.

Thing is, Bob’s advice wasn’t about guitars.

It’s the same in writing, painting, sculpting, hacking, designing, building businesses.

The best way to build a kick-ass X is to immediately begin the process of building any X, knowing full-well there will be a lot of bad ones that need to be made on the way to “OMG that rocks!”

There’s a lot of emphasis on trying to accelerate the path to success by spending a ton of time studying the methods of those have succeeded before us in the hope that we’ll be able to avoid many of the mistakes they made. And, there is a certain logic to that.

But, what it doesn’t take into account is the fact that the thing that led them to be able to do what they do is that they, themselves, messed up, over and over and over, and it was that repeated intimate relationship with the mistakes that led to a deep enough understanding of “why” it needed to be done differently that led to their success.

Knowing how to do something “right” lets you more easily recreate the success of those who’ve come before you. But it doesn’t give you the knowledge and depth of experience needed to eventually go beyond what they’ve taught you. Because you’ll likely never understand, fully understand on an experiential, emotional and intellectual level, what went wrong along the path of those you’ve chosen to learn from. And how those things factored into what they are teaching you is the “right” way to do it.

And there’s something else. You’ll also only be learning their right way to do it, which may well not come close to being the best way to to something. But you’ll take it as gospel and, along with the fact that you don’t really understand why they do it the way they do, it’ll kill your own personal exploration of better approaches.

You wont get the admittedly potentially terrifying opportunity to build your own methodology from the ground up. Nor will you benefit from the visceral “why” that allows you to not only get to that same place (albeit it a bit more battered and bruised), but also to have the ability and reservoir of experimentation that lets you not just replicate another’s success, but take your own success beyond the place that a simple knowledge of how others succeeded before you would have left you.

So, learn, what you can, but at the same time, get your head out of the classroom and start making more bad stuff. Because…

There’s no greater accelerant along the path to genius than a flaming trail of crap.

Now, excuse me while I go order my first-ever guitar kit…and up my homeowner’s insurance.


For those who missed it earlier this week – the new trailer for my next book Uncertainty went live. And the response was, well, go see for yourself…

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