Practice, Routine, Habit, Skill, Discovery, Invention

The other day, I quoted something about the literati during the time between the two world wars. My dad commented that the revolutionaries used to be educated, and that it didn’t seem like that anymore. My first response was that we have more free time than ever before, and yet, we see that (primarily, as a Nation) as leisure time, time for television, time for wasting, time for watching people play sports rather than playing them ourselves, time for sitting and staring. And simultaneously, we feel we have no time.

It is a crazy paradox. The histories I enjoy reading, are filled with accomplishments; people doing amazing things. They had less time-saving devices than we do. Many had no time-saving devices. Everything they did for their everyday survival took enormous amounts of time. They washed clothes by hand, made their own candles for light, and still had time to invent, discover and engineer great, amazing things. Our modern conveniences have crippled us, perhaps.

Tonight is Science Night, and this week we are celebrating Thomas Edison’s 166th birthday. I love his outlook:

I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that will not work.

The idea of trying something over and over again, with slightly different variables, to get to a point where there is eventual success is tremendous.

The steps of the scientific method are to:

  • Ask a Question
  • Do Background Research
  • Construct a Hypothesis
  • Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
  • Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
  • Communicate Your Results

Similarly, the steps of the engineering design process are to:

  • Define the Problem
  • Do Background Research
  • Specify Requirements
  • Create Alternative Solutions
  • Choose the Best Solution
  • Do Development Work
  • Build a Prototype
  • Test and Redesign

Each of these methods involve the final step of – And Repeat.

My boys build and design, create, invent, discover and learn on their own using paper and tape, metal, wood, construction paper, cardboard, you name it. I have to buy tape in bulk, because they will run through a roll of tape in an hour sometimes.

What I want to instill in them from an early age is to keep trying. If there is something in our heads, that seems like it should work, and we keep running into obstacles in the implementation of it, we should keep trying. The answer is there. If we keep at it, we will get there.

Already, I am noticing tendencies of perfectionism where if the first attempt doesn’t work, there is a sense of failure and worthlessness, and give up, this was stupid in the first place. I want to make sure they see that the great discoveries and inventions came at the ends of many years, sometimes, going in the same direction, going after the same outcome, and finally getting there.

If I can help them see that the entire process is adventure, fun, play and wonder – rather than time after time trying to get it right and being frustrated… the difference in outlook is astounding.

The routines and habits we help them form as children – the time we spend practicing something until the raw talent develops into true skill, and that skill enables them to make the discoveries they are envisioning, and come to conclusions, and invent solutions to problems – these habits can be game changers. It all builds on the ability to see the time we are spending in noodling around, tinkering, and playing as vastly and enormously productive.

It also reminds me to check myself, and look at where I spend my time. What are my habits and routines creating for me? Where will my next discovery happen?

Photo from here. Many more Edison quotes here. And the Scientific Method outline is from here.

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2 thoughts on “Practice, Routine, Habit, Skill, Discovery, Invention

  1. Great post, much to think about here. We do seem to be crippled by the notion that it’s okay to waste our non-work time. On the other hand, daydreaming and thinking is a necessary first step for invention and discovery. It’s hard to daydream in front of a screen, though …

    • I may be on a bit of a soap-box about it. We just cancelled our cable at the beginning of the year. The boys only really watch a Friday Night Movie night. The rest of the time, they are too busy building things, or riding bikes. My husband and I realized that the TV was for us, after the kids went to bed, so we could vege out. Well, we don’t really need to “Lay Like Broccoli” because we feel better when we are doing something.

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