Make More Bad Stuff

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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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76 responses

76 responses to “Make More Bad Stuff”

  1. The assumption that your first guitar will be bad is unfair to yourself. I’ve built guitars and while it is a process comprised of about 100 discreet steps, there are only a few major challenges in the process.

    A lot depends on your existing woodworking skills and understanding of how guitars work from a player’s point of view. Don’t try a cutaway the first time out. You’ll probably regret it. Kits may be alright, but bending the sides is and interesting process worth experiencing.

    • smarty says:

      The meaning of making bad guitar was not about the quality of it, but about its impact on doing things. Duh

  2. Kyle Young says:

    OMG, Jonathan. THANK YOU! This arrived in my in box just after a conversation with a good friend where I finally had that BGO (blinding glimpse of the obvious) that in order to write the book I’ve been writing in my all year, it seems, I had to, Indeed, keep writing. Bad parts, good parts, funny parts, poignant parts. Only writing it ALL down will actually get me to the point of distilling the message I really want to communicate.

    Thanks for sharing just the right confirmation, at just the right moment for me!


  3. Daniel says:

    Great post! Failing forward. It’s a skill and when seen that way it just becomes a tool like any other. It’s like that old game Mastermind. If you get none of the correct colors or positions you learn 10 times more than if you got some right.

    Thanks Jonathan! Looking forward to your next book (love the last one!)

  4. Sarah Yost says:

    When I read “Make More Bad Stuff,” I got an electric chill. My first thought was, “OK!” and then I immediately looked for an opportunity to create.

    That’s excellent direction right there.

  5. The abbot of my former monastery used to say “anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

    So while I was there I built a really bad drum. A conical bell made of pine slats.

    I was very proud of it. And I loved playing it.

    But it was bad. No mistake.

    Thanks for this reminder to embrace beginnerhood every chance I get.

  6. Jonathan,

    I loved this post–mostly because I know from personal experience how true what you say is.

    The thing is that most people look at the unknown or something new–especially something creative and fear rejection–the fear failure. They worry that what turns out won’t be what they hope for. So they put it off, they wait for the right time–or worse yet they never do it. They never give it a shot. And that’s tragic.

    Hemingway said “first drafts are crap”… I’ve written and ghostwritten several books and helped clients publish another two dozen–and I can tell you for certain. First drafts are awful. But they are a beginning and without a beginning you will surely never get to the end.

    My personal philosophy is that you have to be willing to fail and to deal with it if that is the outcome and keep moving forward in order to achieve the things you dream of.

  7. Alysson says:

    The most important lesson here is that “the WHY” is as important as “the HOW” – sometimes even more so. Unless we truly understand WHY something is/should be/has been done a certain way, we can never truly understand and improve upon any accepted standard operating procedure.

    Learning by doing can help some people not only learn how, but why, a given approach yields a better result – so instead of just “doing what you’re told”, you’re able to put into practice what you’ve LEARNED – not just what you’ve memorized.

    Without actually learning why, we’re little more than robots repeatedly performing the tasks we’ve been taught…completely unable to improve upon HOW things are done, because we’ve never understood WHY they were done in the first place.

    Learning how to learn, rather than learning how to memorize…what a novel concept. If only our education system operated under that premise! 🙂

  8. John Bickerstaff says:

    Nice – enjoyed your post. My young daughter put it succinctly a few days ago when I was trying to build a shelter for our horses. “This can be your throw-away project daddy. Then you can build a nice one.”

    She nailed it on the head and since then I’ve added the concept of throwaway project to my mental vocabulary.

    I had a pottery teacher years ago who made us throw away every pot we pulled for the first 6 weeks of the course. Same idea – to get us over the “preciousness” of that first effort…


  9. Andy Sansone says:

    Great post, Jonathan. Especially love the quote at the end “There’s no greater accelerant along the path to genius than a flaming trail of crap”. Don’t be afraid to fail. Know what you want, commit to it and take action. I expect a picture of that guitar before the end of the year 🙂

  10. All this has something to do with never feel ready, good enough etc. And in the end you end up wasting so much time. I wanted to launch my blog on April 1. That day came and I didn’t feel the blog was good enough. So I postponed to July and still I wasn’t ready. Then I said: ‘Ok, september 1’. Then something happened. I asked myself: ‘what is going to happen between now and september 1 that is going to radically convince me that the blog is ready?’ Nothing, I decided. So I opened in advance (I mean late, but in advance!) and I’m using the time between now and Sep 1 to collect feedback from visitors and start getting the hang of it.
    Great article. I’m gonna do something bad tomorrow.

  11. Midwesterner says:

    Jonathan – Great call to action – so much better to DO something than study an idea forever, or in your example, WAIT to even begin the study until there’s “enough” time.

    A comment on today’s distribution mechanism: I’d rather get the link to your blog, not the full-text e-mail. It also has the advantage of allowing you to correct errors that got missed in your first round of proofreading – I see that some of these are still in the blog.

    …. company and and experience (double “and”)

    … Yes, book’s count and I’m insanely proud the one .. (invalid apostrophe; missing “of”)

    … methods of those have succeeded before us … (missing who)

  12. Wardell says:

    It all boils down to two words…do it.

    These are the directions found on the back of the soup can of life.

    Do it.

  13. moonfire says:

    eh, I’m lovin’ it. Have fun. Very timely post – I’m creating my own website – working slowly to have it as perfect as possible – as if I can’t go back and chg things. – yes, hand to head movement 🙂 live,love,laugh and laugh some more.

  14. moonfire says:

    by the way, why does a strange icon appear in my posts – that purple guy?

  15. Nicky Hajal says:

    Something I’ve noticed, too, is that the most learning doesn’t happen while I’m working on Project A but rather when I take those experiences into account and rethink my approach for Project B.

    It takes starting fresh to _really_ crystallize those lessons.

    My programming ability has grown immensely the past year or two mostly because I’ve been working on concise projects that give me the opportunity to start often, instead of getting too stuck in one project and approach.

    This has really changed my mentality from thinking about individual projects to instead thinking about the “ratio” between one project to the next – which I think is where it reconnects with the idea of producing crap now to produce awesomeness later.


  16. Peter Mis says:


    Inspiring post. This is one of the life lessons I’m trying to teach to my kids. Dive in. Don’t wait until the time is perfect, don’t wait until your skills are perfect. Just move forward with your best efforts and then keep moving forward.

    BTW, “There’s no greater accelerant along the path to genius than a flaming trail of crap.” Now that would look great on a t-shirt.

    Thanks for sharing the gift of you!

  17. I love this, Jonathan! Just DOING something is the unsung secret of creativity in general.

    Don’t know what you want to create, or how? Just DO something — the taps will start to flow eventually (and probably quicker than you think).

    And who knows what you’ll discover while making that “bad stuff”? In my first ceramics class, very first thrown pot crumpled terribly. But you know what? I loved the look of it — so much more interesting than a “perfect” pot! I glazed it and fired it, and it’s one of my favorite pieces.

    Who knows what wonders will spring from your first crappy guitar? I’ll look forward to finding out! 🙂

  18. Linda says:

    I read this and thought you were talking directly to me! Can’t tell you how many things I haven’t done because I didn’t want to do them badly. If it can’t be perfect why bother?

    A friend of mine was telling me how she undertook a project with no idea of “how” to actually do it. I expressed my admiration for that and she said “Why? If it turns out badly, so what. I’ll fix it.” That was an ah-ha moment for me! Now your article is sending the same message. I think the universe it trying to tell me something – just get out there and do it! Thanks for that.

  19. Roy Jacobsen says:

    You clocked me right between the eyes with this one, Jonathan. I want to do things RIGHT. And I easily forget that we learn to do things by doing them, and in the process, we’ll invariably do it wrong . . . a bunch. But we’ll gradually start doing them right more often, and wrong less often.

    BTW, I agree about the “flaming trail of crap” looking good on a t-shirt. It would also make a great band name.

  20. Bruce Grimes says:

    Nail. Head. Yep.
    Look at any toddler. They do it badly. Some become Barishnakovs. Some become Lynn Swans. All of them learn to walk with some sense of grace. None of them wait to take a course. Get out there and fail!

  21. Jonathan–this reminds me of my favorite part in the book Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott: the thing about shitty first drafts. Like others, I get hooked by trying to do something great right out of the gate, which more often than not keeps me from even getting started! When I give myself permission to just start, to do anything and then go from there, it’s amazing how the process (as well as my output) changes.

  22. Jane Crosbie says:

    Hi Johnathon – amazing post. Loved it. I’m an artist and writer and often go back to folders of work I did years ago. The balls-ups, the mistakes, the screw-up paintings and short stories and what I thought at the time were absolute crap stuff. A lot of this is created spontaneously in the heat of passion and inherent in those less than perfect art works are many attributes way absent in far more perfect works of art. That pure unadulterated no holds barred passion that drove you to create it in the first place – that phenomenal emotional charge – that pure power – all those powerful forces of inspiration you so desperately wanted to express – they’re all there lookin right at you – spontaneous, passionate, enchanting, exhilarating. The passionate love affair. Raw. As raw as you can get. Pure unadulterate emotional intensity. Fire.
    Have you ever had one of those love affairs – you feel this sense of torment, of torture, because the love is so deep so powerful it’s painful to feel it – but you’re in love so deep you can’t let go. So deep you never want to let go because you know nothing else will ever make you feel this way. That’s what it feels like to be an artist. Every moment becomes perfection. Thats what those first attempts remind me of. The love affair that inspired me to become an artist in the first place. That takes you back to the roots of your inspiration. Never discount those first attempts at anything no matter how bad they are. They cannot be replaced. There is no substitute for the real deal. Real love real passion. Sometimes as artists we make the mistake of believing perfection is more important than passion. Our earliest attempts remind us passion is all. They are perfect too. There is no bad. Its all in there together. Loved your post.

  23. Jon Wilburn says:


    This is one of your best posts in my opinion. So good. It’s all about getting out there and doing it.


  24. NomadicNeill says:

    Exactly. Trial and error out performs planning.

    Bottom -> Up is more efficient than Top -> Down

    Emergence of order from chaos and anarchy rather than applying hierarchy and order from the top.

  25. Nick Marcus says:

    Thank you for this insight. I hope I can take it into my psyche and embrace it.

  26. Clifford Ward says:

    This speaks the truth, either you get off your butt and give it a try, or forever wonder if it would have worked. My favorite investments (and those that turned out the best products) were by men and women who tried and failed many times, but never gave up. I love this blogg.

  27. Kristen says:

    How right you both are Jonathan. Yesterday I had dinner with a friend and we discussed how much fun it is to travel in a country where you don’t know the language or only know the essentials. It feels great to be proficient in a foreign language but it’s so much fun getting to that stage, all the confused faces, the laughter, the miming…Avoiding that would be avoiding the heart-warming incidents that make learning what it is.

  28. Solid stuff! Sounds like Bob and you are channeling Thomas Edison (“I have not failed, I have successfully found 1000 ways that will not work”). Thanks for sharing this.

  29. Jonathan, love this. Yesterday we went to the beach and my son had his first skim board and a new boogie board. The had used a boogie board last summer (not well), but after a few frolicks in the waves, he figured out how to ride a small wave all the way into the beach. He was thrilled.
    Then he picked up the skim board and the task of skimming on a thin film of water on the beach was harder. He’d either go too deep and sink the board, or too shallow and come to a dead stop. But he didn’t let his difficulties deter him. He kept at it over and over and over again. When he got frustrated, he’s switch back to the boogie board so he could feel mastery. Then switch back to skimming to practice. He went on like this for HOURS. I had to stop him to eat and drink, so as not to keel over from dehydration! : )

    My son taught me a lot about learning yesterday – especially the part that learning can be complete joy if you’re doing something you love….

  30. Markus says:

    I play a Telecaster and plan to upgrade the pickups soon. I can’t imagine building a guitar. It would be a fun hobby but I doubt I would be able to get a guitar that sounds and plays as well as a Fender or Gibson.

  31. Kit Dunsmore says:

    I’ve been thinking about this (as I struggle with my second weaving project ever), and my only modification to the many excellent points you have made is that you need to be willing to make bad stuff because there’s no telling what you will actually make. As long as you are willing to risk disaster, you are ready to try, learn, and produce something. It is definitely the attitude needed to keep from getting frozen in place by perfectionism.

  32. Jonathan, this is a great post and very timely for me. Yesterday I was configuring my first blog after way too long of an analysis and planning period. Your post was inspirational and I launched the blog along with my first post last night. In my daily work life, I promote the concept of “fail early, and often”. Somehow, we don’t always apply our own philosophies across all aspects of life. Thanks for the help!

    I’m looking forward to the release of “Uncertainty”. Congratulations on the new book, and good luck with the guitar kit.

  33. TomC says:

    Tough to make mistakes when they cost money to make. I, at times, am petrified into complete inaction because I know that the $10 or $20 or $500 is money I cannot afford to lose. Right now, I am trying to buy a domain name. Simple right? Well, first there is the $10 for the name and then the hosting and then the time to create the site and then the time to promote the sight and try to get a top ranking… but what if the name that I choose isn’t the right name? And this applies to a lot of stuff… like what if the copy I write is wrong for this product? Do I still order the brochures… or booklets.

    When you don’t have a dime, making mistakes can completely crush you. Then you have to somehow pick yourself up and do it again. It’s a panic attack waiting to happen, all because the $100 you spent on something means that now you have a late payment fee on your credit card which bumped you over your limit… now the mistake has cost you $70 in fees plus the $100 a week of lost work and NO income… and now your wife is furious because you keep trying.

    If you can afford to make them, make them… if you can’t afford to make them… What? Wait until you can? Or make them anyway and be prepared for the consequences?

    I have the same trouble with self help gurus telling me that the most successful people make fast decisions… I assume that leads to a lot of mistakes. I can’t afford to make fast decisions either… and then the self help guru says coyly… “You can’t afford NOT to fast decisions”. Ughhh

    Perhaps writing this was a mistake.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Tom – It’s actually a really powerful question.

      And I agree, there’s a lot of bad platitude driven advice around how to do this, or even whether it’s really even possible when you’re struggling to cover your basic survival needs.

      So I’m going to circle back and share some thoughts in a full post on the blog.

      • TomC says:

        Hi Jonathan,

        Once I hit submit, I instantly regretted it… the tone. Thank you for seeing through the frustration and finding something of merit in my post.

        Since I’m knee deep in “struggling to financially survive” I will be very interested to hear your thoughts.

  34. Mary Jane says:

    OMG awesome–‘the accelerant to genius is a flaming trail of crap’. What else to say–you nailed it, again, as always. Profound and amusing all at once. I feel much better about quite a few things now :-). Thank you.

    Can hardly wait for your new book.

  35. Mary G Malia says:

    Wow, how do children learn, but not fearing failure but believing if they just keep trying they will get it eventually. I LOVED this post. Powerful lessons for us perfectionists. Life passes us by while we wait to do and be perfect. Embrace less than perfect and find joy!
    Thanks Jonathan.

  36. Jen Young says:

    Ira Glass has a brilliant video about this very subject in the context that it’s because we have good taste that we have trouble making bad stuff but we need to do it @

  37. John Sherry says:

    Amen brother! The only way to get it awesomely right is to first get it stunningly wrong…then less wrong, then better…You can’t ride a lift to success, you gotta climb the stairs.

  38. […] his post, Make More Bad Stuff, Jonathan Fields sings the praise of making mistakes. As he says, “There’s no greater […]

  39. Mary is right. We need to be more like children, learn, fail without judgement, and start again without forgetting to have fun along the way.
    We have become obsessed with results and goals at the expense of the process. Thanks for making it clear to all of us.

  40. David A. Jones says:

    Once again, a very insightful prospectus in our pursuits. Jonathon, I admit the empowerment of words and phrases are a keyhole to my motivation to interpit – I then react,
    “Mine is not the question Why, BUT HOW’S COME”

  41. Jen says:

    What a gorgeous and living-affirming post! It totally flies in the face of the conventional approach of doing it “right”. I’ve encountered so many people who feel like failures because they didn’t get their thing “right” the first time and that self-perception creates it’s own cycle. Hopefully with this post, more people will go out and build some bad guitars en route to the pretty sweet one 🙂

  42. Jonathon
    Great linking of real life to a life lesson. I agree with the observations above, we need to try things like a child, but with the experience of an adult. I’m with Sara: I’m going to go engage in some unrestrained creativity.
    Cheers all.

  43. […] came across this blog post with the title Make More Bad Stuff by Johnathan Fields.  Wow!  I realized that he best way for me to get unstuck is to write and […]

  44. Hi Jonathan,

    So have you bought your guitar kit yet? I enjoyed your post and agree with you. Sometimes you have to make your own mistakes. I have never advocated for following only one person’s path to success. I think a better way is to look at a few successful people and pick out the steps that suit your unique situation.

    We all have to start somewhere, and the funny thing about waiting for someday, is that someday often does not come because life happens.

    Avil Beckford

  45. Chuck Smith says:

    What a great post! And very true. Time to work on my crappy novel again…

  46. […] in order to innovate, to grow, to change the world–we need to be willing to take risks and make some bad stuff.  This is worth sitting with for a while, to really let the challenge of that idea sink […]

  47. Jim Vickers says:

    What a great revelation for a PERFECTIONIST like me! Don’t strive for perfection on your first or second effort. “Just Do It” as the saying goes!

  48. […] Author and entrepreneur Jonathan Fields encourages you to make more bad stuff. […]

  49. […] Indecision cripples your business.  Instead of wasting countless more days waiting for the ‘right moment’, you need to stop deliberating and simply Make More Bad Stuff. […]

  50. […] it needed to be done differently that led to their success.” — Jonathan Fields, “This is your life dammit! And it is going to be a WILD, INSANE, CRAZY, ride! If it is […]

  51. I absolutely LOVE this article — a LOT! And I thank you immensely for being a “still small voice” in the midst of the cacophony of lots of loud voices offering just the opposite. And you said it so respectfully.

    Thank you so much for the huge gift of this message!


  52. […] Make More Bad Stuff – A reminder that sometimes the key to creating great stuff is to get started on making more bad stuff. […]

  53. […] wrote about an experience I had with Bob Taylor that reminded me of the importance of diving in and making more bad stuff in the name of figuring out how to make good stuff faster.A lot of heads nodded along in the […]

  54. […] Fields had a breakthrough moment recently, which he shared in his post Make More Bad Stuff: I learn best by doing, so I figured I’d jump into a 2-week course that looked very cool. That […]

  55. […] of my favorite bloggers, Jonathan Fields, wrote a post about just that recently entitled Make More Bad Stuff.  He interviewed an accomplished guitar maker and confided that he had long thought about making […]

  56. […] And that is perfectly ok. I’ve recently been reminded by Seth Godin (and here and here), Jonathan Fields and Steve Kamb – that you need to practice sucking and failing often. Because you need to […]

  57. […] Jonathan Fields recently wrote an excellent piece on how the key to getting better at something is to make more bad stuff. […]

  58. Samuel says:

    A must reading for people and entrepreneurs to succeed. I specially love your sentence that says begin the process of building any X. What a valuable and common sense truth! Congrats Jonathan and thx for this post!

  59. […] with risk is failure. No one wants to fail. Unfortunately, very few successes happen without following a massive trail of failure. It’s easy to say that, but statements without examples end up being simply empty words. […]

  60. […] How?  By learning to suck less and less each time.  Like Jonathan Fields and his crappy guitars. […]

  61. […] How?  By learning to suck less and less each time.  Like Jonathan Fields and his crappy guitars. […]

  62. […] the challenges of a start-up business.  Start businesses have the greatest chance of failing (ask Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars) and I’m under the belief that failure is the best way to learn and develop.  […]

  63. […] Jonathan Fields wrote in a great post on his blog, you’re better off building bad stuff quickly than building the same, average stuff slowly. In […]

  64. […] Spend all day researching how to build something, and then try to make it TODAY (even if it turns out sh**ty) […]

  65. Jenny says:

    Love the article! very inspiring. and I love the idea that all the rediculous $$ we spend in Big Education may not be the best route to learning the material.

  66. […] a fantastic BLOG by Jonathan Fields where he interviews Bob Taylor, founder of Taylor Guitars. In essense Jonathan is wanting to make a guitar and asks […]

  67. […] it’s good enough, perfect enough, profitable enough or…whatever. Everyone starts by making bad stuff. Many artists are eternally discontent. Bottom line: You’re getting in your own way. Embrace […]

  68. […] As Bob Taylor, the legendary founder of Taylor Guitars once shared with me, the fastest way to build beautiful guitars is to build more really bad ones. […]

  69. […] As Bob Taylor, the legendary founder of Taylor Guitars once shared with me, the fastest way to build beautiful guitars is to build more really bad ones. […]

  70. […] you took a different approach? What if, like Taylor Guitars founder, Bob Taylor, you committed to making more bad stuff in the name of getting to the good stuff faster? What if, gulp, instead of iterating from junk to […]

  71. […] to that: This article isn’t new, but this past week I re-read “Make More Bad Stuff” on Jonathan Fields’ blog, and it really resonated with me. Like, it made me want to go […]