For me starting is the hardest part; I pretty frequently have an awful time trying to put pen to paper. I hate trying to do things without having an idea as to what is going to be done, even though I know that often enough it’s the doing that leads you to the what. There’s an activity called the Marshmallow Challenge, where groups of people are given sticks of uncooked spaghetti, some tape, some string, and a single marshmallow. Each group’s goal is to raise the marshmallow as far off the ground as possible, using only the given materials and a limited amount of time. People have done experiments with this activity, testing it out on different types of people, and it turns out that kindergarteners are frequently more successful than adults are. The reason for this is that the adults tend to get bogged down trying to plan the best strategy, and by the time they reach a conclusion a lot of time has already passed and if this first strategy doesn’t work, there’s no time try another. On the other hand, the kindergarteners were more likely to just start trying something, and if it didn’t work there was still time to try something else.
A lot of times I take issue with examples/experiments such as this because there’s no knowing if what works for one specific situation will work in another, even if the lesson seems obvious. In this case, the example describes a process that is both fairly simple and specific. The results of the Marshmallow Challenge could easily have been different if there was more or less time allotted, or if the task was something on a larger scale. In a complicated project there absolutely has to be planning done beforehand, or else things don’t work together nor do they get done on time. There’s a very good reason why managers and producers have the jobs that they do.
All that being said there are most definitely some very good reasons for just trying things out. One of my favorite projects that I’ve done was a project called “Unfolding Narrative,” for a Photoshop class. The idea was to create something that would be physically unfolded in order to tell a story. This was one of the few projects where I actually started early, just by brainstorming and cutting out random shapes to see how they worked in three dimensions. The thing is, my final idea was not at all related to my original prototypes and I no longer have any clue as to where the idea even came from. The final piece is a regular pyramid, each corner of which is hinged and reveals new panels.
Essentially there are two different pyramid “states” and eight different faces, each of which has a slightly different scene.
I cannot for the life of me remember why, but for some reason I ended up thinking about pyramids. I was trying to figure out if a regular pyramid can be broken up into several smaller regular pyramids, but I wasn’t able to really visualize it well enough in three dimensions. The answer, for the record, is no — if each corner of a regular pyramid is cut in such a way that it creates smaller regular pyramids with a side length equal to one-third of the original, the remaining space in the middle is an octahedron. At first I built a couple of small paper pyramids to determine this, and later verified it in Rhino. In any case, it was this single question which had bugged me a couple of days that ultimately led me to this final product, which I’m actually pretty happy with. I still think there’s a lot more that could be done using this mechanism (and what about different shapes? different connection points?) that I just didn’t get to explore seeing as I ended up working until the last minute in order to get what I have.
I’d still consider it to be a decent result and I think the reason is largely because I started sketching and brainstorming and testing early. Granted I didn’t have a whole lot of iteration once I decided on the structure, and thinking out the hinging worked well enough that the first prototype was viable, but there was no other way for me to know that without doing it.
I have a very annoying tendency to overthink things, no matter how much I know that if I just did it everything would be much easier. There are only a few projects where I’ve successfully stopped thinking enough to get something done, although I think (I hope) I’ve gotten better at it. Unfortunately I’ve yet to find a way to make this consistently happen (and suggestions are appreciated) but as far as I can tell it’s going to require practice, not to mention some self-discipline. So yeah, that’s what I’m working on.