“I don’t have time to learn everything about that” is a common lament from people when they’re thinking about taking on a DIY project. Ultimately, that’s a pointless excuse. You don’t need to know how to do something to make it — you just need to know what you want to make.
Photo by Windell Oskay.
It’s no secret that the best way to learn is by doing. In some cases this might mean giving yourself permission to suck, while at other times it’s about tracking your mistakes to learn from them. But the point remains: if you want to learn a new DIY skill, you have to physically do it.
That’s a daunting task on its own. Learning a new skill isn’t easy. If you’re looking to perfect a skill, that’s great, but it will take time. But here’s the thing. If you just want to make something? You only need the idea itself and the basic know-how to make it happen. You don’t need to become an expert.
In a recent episode of the Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Podcast, the Mythbusters host explains his thoughts on autodidacticism:
To me, the most key aspect is the project. You’re not going to complete something unless you give yourself something to be invested in. For me, that’s the end product… A lot of people get stopped along the line of wanting to learn a skill because it’s daunting to figure out the parameters. If you don’t have [an end product] you really want to learn that skill for, learn a different skill… [for example] really good welding is really hard to do, but welding a coat rack for your house is genuinely easy.
Savage’s point is that all that matters is the end product. You don’t need to worry about being an expert welder if the project only requires the welding skills of a high school shop student. His comments reminded me a lot of a recent image illustrator Olly Moss posted on Twitter:
Moss fielded a lot of comments that day from people, but a key takeaway from what he was saying wasn’t that you need to be good at art to make something, but just that you need the idea, and the patience to get there.
That’s exactly what makes the idea of shooting just for the end product so interesting. You only need the (limited) skills to get you there, and that removes a lot of the barrier of entry most of us face when we’re looking to tackle a creative project. To build a table, you only need to understand how to screw everything together. You can build a desk suited to you without knowing the ins-and-outs of furniture design. You can learn a few great dishes and drinks without becoming a chef. As long as you have the project in mind, it’s worth pursuing how to do it even if you’re not an expert on the methods.
Of course, you’re going to learn new skills as you go along. As you do, you can apply those to other projects, and within a few years you’ll become a generalist. That’s not a bad thing, and as 99U points out, being an “expert generalist” is a great boon to creativity in general. Being a DIY polymath who’s a novice at several skills means you’ll consistently be able to take an idea to execution.
In the end, the comments from Savage and Moss are a good reminder that no project is outside your skill set. If you have a vision for a final product, you can make it somehow.