A software engineer and lifelong tinkerer, Gever Tulley founded The Tinkering School in 2005 with the belief that kids can build anything—and through building, learn anything. In this TED Talk, he walks through the valuable lessons his students have learned as they greet daily challenges and try to build things with little guidance and few rules. While he may be talking about elementary and middle school students, Tulley's talk is relevant for adults, too—demonstrating the power of imagination and the importance of cultivating moments of boundless creativity in today's workplace.
Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from his talk.
"You can figure things out by fooling around."
When kids arrive at Tinkering School, they enter a six-day immersive experience with a diversity of materials and unstructured time on their hands. The camp is a total diversion from most kids' over-scheduled lives and, perhaps most importantly, there's no clear end goal. As Tulley says, "We're not trying to teach anybody any specific thing." Instead, his goal is to help students realize that they can build things with a little creativity and teamwork.
In a workplace that can be similarly over scheduled (employees spend 15 percent of their collective time in meetings, yet executives think 67 percent of meetings are failures), HR leaders can take a cue from Tinkering School and create time for unstructured brainstorming and creativity.
"Success is in the doing."
The ability to "tinker" helps kids appreciate the process and not just the result, says Tulley. He explains that each project goes awry at some point, and students learn that "every step in a project is a step closer to success or gleeful calamity." Relishing in mistakes (and unexpected victories) makes the entire journey more enjoyable.
I've talked before about how failure should always be an option at work—and that's exactly what Tulley's school is teaching. If employees aren't afraid to fail, then they will inherently take greater risks—and probably achieve greater successes.
"All materials are available for use."
Students at Tinkering School have built bridges out of plastic bags and roller coasters out of scrap wood. But there are a lot of projects that simply become drawing boards—literally—for the next idea. Tulley explains that students started the unofficial tradition of decorating and drawing on their projects when faced with a particularly difficult setback. "From these interludes come deep insights and amazing new approaches to solving the problems that had them frustrated just moments before," he says.
At work, HR professionals, managers and executives can teach a similar philosophy: Don't dwell in your mistakes, but don't ignore them either. Part of your worst idea just might be the inspiration for your best one.