“If you don’t make mistakes you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.” – Frank Wilczek, Theoretical Physicist and Nobel Laureate
I recently received an email to my inbox that made me do a complete double-take.
I was completely shocked.
The content of the email was not inherently shocking. To anyone else it would have been just another email, but to me it was like being punched in the stomach.
The email I received was from a design website that I had joined only a week before. I had received notifications from them everyday highlighting the newest products to be featured on their website, anything from clever posters to super high-tech gadgets.
I briefly scrolled down through the email glancing over the ten or twelve various products to see if anything sparked my interest. I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see.
Sitting there, beautifully photographed, in the very last image, was a product that I had designed only a couple of weeks previously!
I quickly clicked the link and it sent me through to the product’s website. Nope, I wasn’t imagining things. There was my product being sold at $15 a pop.
“What the hell is going on?” I was thinking to myself. I never sent my designs to any manufacturing company. I hardly told anyone about this side project that I was working on.
Did they rob my idea? I had started up a website but had never actually published it so there was no way they could have seen my plans.
It was at that point when I realized that I’d been beaten to it.
My first reaction was; Shit!
But as I browsed around the website I began to feel a sort of vindication. Sure I’d been beaten to it. I’d left this design on the back burner because I’d felt it was slightly trivial. But these guys had the same idea, followed it through and were now making some serious cash.
Maybe I was on the right path after all.
I was now in the very rare position of being able to observe a product that “I” had designed and see how it was marketed, sold and preformed without a single ounce of risk.
Sure I’m not going to make any money from it but I’m not the one who got this thing to market, they did and that’s more than half the battle.
So you’re probably wondering what the hell is this product!?
Well it turned out pretty simple but it certainly didn’t start out that way.
I was playing my guitar one day and picked up my brother’s iPhone to tune it in. I started thinking; why has the design of the guitar remained the same for so long? Why aren’t companies like Fender and Gibson packing their guitars full of computing power?
I did some research and as it turned out Gibson have begun to dip their toes in the water of intelligent guitars, but man are they expensive!
Why not connect the iPhone to guitars? There are already tons of apps out there designed to be used with your guitar and they can produce some awesome effects. So why don’t we have docks in our guitars for our iPhones?
Yeah yeah the purists out there are probably shooting at the screen, “You can’t stick an iPhone in a guitar. That’s sacrilege!!”
I beg to differ.
And so I went to work on creating a guitar with an iPhone dock in it. However, it soon dawned on me that I had no experience in the crafting of guitars and that maybe this was an area I should be weary of getting involved in, despite the apparent niche in the market for such a product.
I decided instead to create a mount to allow the iPhone to become part of the guitar, allowing you to use the phone’s brilliant interface to add to the guitar’s playability.
I spent about two weeks weighing up the pros and cons of various different designs, from beautiful machined aluminum pieces, to much simpler and more temporary versions designed to affix themselves via suction cups.
This lead to a shift in my thinking. Sure I’d seen lots of iPhone holders with suction cups on them, like ones you might stick to the windscreen of your car, but none of them seemed to take in to account the fact that the iPhone itself was also made of glass!
Why hadn’t I seen a double sided suction cup designed to hold the iPhone?
Maybe because nobody had thought of if yet?
I bought the only suction cups that I could find (I had to tear them off a pack of roller blinds for car windows) and created a simple prototype by cutting the tops off them and gluing two together back-to-back.
In fact it worked REALLY well. I was able to stick my phone to almost anything, and the best part was you couldn’t even see the mount. The phone looked like it was floating. I was on to something here. I started using it everywhere. In the car, on my guitar and around the house.
It was really handy!
I contacted manufacturing companies in China and they were able to make generic units for 50c a pop. This seemed like a good start. They could easily be sold for €5-€10 with some smart packaging and clever marketing.
Then came my big mistake; for whatever reason, be it lack of confidence or experience, I began doubting the idea. I questioned it’s validity and wondered whether it was worth continuing at all.
I put the idea on hiatus and it was not until last week when I had a conversation with a friend from college that I actually began thinking of pursuing it again.
Little did I know that an email I would receive just two days later would put an end to that!
So what can you learn from this epic saga?
Mistakes are not BAD. I can’t stress this enough. In fact they are ESSENTIAL to learning and creativity. We are taught from a very early age to try and avoid making mistakes at all costs. We are constantly made take tests and are penalised for making errors.
I once heard a very interesting question that really makes you think about the importance of making mistakes; “How long would you give your average baby to walk? 1 month? 2 months?” Most people respond by saying “WHAT!? You give them as long as they need!”
Maybe that’s why almost everyone in the world can walk! (baring people with certain disabilities of course)
Making mistakes is human nature’s way of learning. Don’t avoid making mistakes. If anything become a child again and keep making mistakes until you reach the point at which you are able to walk! We did it intuitively as children, but somewhere along the way it was beaten out of us.
Whether it’s in business, design or even in your day to day life, don’t resign yourself to mediocrity. Cultivate the art of screwing up.
http://www.yofo.com/ = The guys who beat me to it! (By the way congrats to these guys, they’ve done a great job with the product and the website and I wish them every success.)
If you have any comments or thoughts please post them below.