The big picture: How to Experiment

By Kelly Jones.

[Ed. Note: we recently profiled Kelly Jones of Wraptillion and loved her spirit of experimentation and discovery. She mentioned she'd been working on a piece on experimentation, and of course, we jumped at it. We're glad we did. Read on.] 

Whatever it is you long to make, whether it’s a tweak of a different design or something that only exists in your quietest thoughts, you’re probably going to need to experiment; the chance of getting it perfect the first try is so slim. But fear of this process keeps us from even trying. That’s a shame: what’s to be gained from a loss of new ideas?

Experimentation holds two tricky concepts for the average person in the United States: specialized scientific discipline, and potential for failure. We’re pretty sure we don’t know how to experiment — we don’t remember all the steps of the scientific method, we aren’t licensed, we haven’t got a lab coat or those goggles that make the line on your forehead we remember from high school. We don’t know how to start.

And, we hate the potential for failure. We know failure is expensive, dangerous, and bad for our self-esteem. Why even try? Surely that faintest glimpse of what could be isn’t worth all that.

Failure can be all those things. Don’t start out with forks in electrical sockets, or building your own space shuttle replacement (unless those are your chosen fields). But experiments needn’t be complex or dangerous or expensive. Often, they don’t need to be replicated by peers in a scientific environment. They could just be…fun.

If you don’t have a predetermined expectation — if you don’t need particular results, on a deadline — can you really fail at an experiment? Only by deciding not to try. Otherwise, it’s all about the adventure, finding out what happens next.

If this is speaking to you, but you’re still nervous: Start small. Tweak a recipe. Take a different route home. Buy some Silly Putty and stick it to newsprint — remember that? Then try magazines, and laser printouts, and photos… So what if it doesn’t work like you think it might? Don’t forget how Silly Putty was invented.

Tried that? Now you can sew a tote bag without a pattern and you made a step stool your granddaughter loves, from an idea you had, just because you thought it would be neat. But what’s the point? You aren’t making a career of this, after all. So, don’t quit your job, but don’t give up on those ideas that whisper to you, either. Make time to try things out. Buy a drill press. Learn to solder. Get a library card. Ask questions, and remember you aren’t supposed to know the answers yet. And if you get a wild idea to blend your own cologne, why not try?

Advanced folks: try everything you can, try something every day, if possible, in every field that appeals. You are stretching your brains to imagine new ways. Believe in the base you’ve created — no matter how many times something unexpected occurs, don’t fail to examine it for new possibilities before chalking it up as a “failure”, and don’t stop trying things out. Learn from science, if you think you might want to replicate what you’ve done.

Find the experiment that makes you smile. Then give it to your world.

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One Response to The big picture: How to Experiment

  1. Terry Jones says:

    Loved the article—-by one of my favorite authors and jewelry makers :) Shared the link on our library blog and Facebook. Glad to know about Handful of Salt and happy to share—-hope more folks will find their way to your excellent site!