Thinking with your hands

In the design and product development world, there is a debate. Some folks believe that you shouldn’t build anything until you’ve done your research. Because once you do your research, you’ll likely discover that you have built the wrong thing and all of that building that you have done will have been a waste.

Other folks believe that they have to build things in order to think. It’s just how their mind works. They think with their hands and through trial and error, they answer a lot of questions that they didn’t even know they had, questions that they couldn’t find any other way.

Thinking with your hands only gets you into trouble if you fall into these traps: you fall in love with what you have built OR you’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time and money building something that is super detailed and refined before you’ve validated it. Both of these traps are traps that beginners fall into. Yes, it’s a waste of time and money. But on the other hand, some things you have to learn the hard way.

It’s common for a professional writer to write a thousand pages only to edit them down to three hundred for a book. It’s common for documentary filmmakers to shoot sixty hours of film only to edit it down to two hours for a movie. The generative process is part of the creative process. The pro knows that they need to think with their hands, that they will build a lot of ideas, and throw most of them out. And it won’t feel like a waste at all.