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The Tinkered Mind
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March 2nd, 2021
Kids are natural at tinkering. Observe a kid quietly clicking legos together and you have a perfect image of what tinkering is all about. There’s some easy and valuable observations about tinkering that we can pull from simply imagining that kid with the legos.
First off, is the kid pressed for time?
Almost certainly not. A kid at play is a being in a timeless and eternal world. Play is something you’re always trying to get back to as a kid, and more and more as we grow up it gets harder and harder to return, and eventually it becomes a kind of fabled Neverland. We end up replacing play with pleasure and other feeble pursuits.
Second, is the kid tied to a specific outcome?
Perhaps. But not necessarily. Tinkering, especially in the case of a child is more about just exploring what something can do, what it can become rather than trying to force something into a particular configuration. Imagined configurations are often just casual tests to explore what is possible. Notice again how at odds this mode of exploration is with the adult world. We aren’t paid to explore what’s possible, we’re paid with a specific agreed upon end in mind - you get paid to make it happen.
Now the tinkering situation of the child and that of the adult seem at total odds with one another, but conflict rarely precludes cooperation of some kind. Kids rarely if ever achieve anything grand on their own because they aren’t capable of giving themselves constraints in the ways adults can. Constraints, like a deadline and a specific vision are ultimately what get things done.
The idea here is to eschew the world of either-or and think about how these conflicting states can be merged.
Instead of all the time in the world, plan on more time than needed. Instead of an ironclad vision, think of branching possibilities that all functionally achieve the same thing.
The way to incorporate the mindset of tinkering is to ultimately create the conditions necessary for curiosity to naturally arise. Chronic stress and a packed schedule probably create the most potent form of kryptonite for curiosity. Which means it requires the two most sought after things in the world: time and a relaxed state of mind. Fortunately, the time aspect can be scheduled but we just simply never think to schedule in time for curiosity or to tinker with something. Such considerations are usually relegated to the realm of pet hobbies which always get the short end of the stick when it comes to our most valuable resources: time and energy.
To tinker is, in some sense, to return to those absorbed moments of childhood. It’s how we learn, or at least, it’s how we used to learn before some adults got it in their head that we could be taught.