Legos are fascinating. The concept that any number of what seem to be a random collection of small plastic pieces can quickly become something quite intricate is really quite awesome. But even Legos have a learning curve. For most of the population, their first introduction to Legos is buying a box based on a final design they really like, and then spending the time mimicking the instructions to come to that final result. Step by step we see how one piece effects the others around it. We see how many small pieces can create a completely new functional part, hopefully having fun the entire way through.
The reason it’s fun, is because deep down we want to know how things are put together, literally and figuratively. It’s something we all have in common. However many things in life have barriers that keep us from exploring how something is constructed. Maybe we don’t have a telescope to see far enough, maybe our funds are limited, maybe the risk of damaging the final product keeps us from opening it up, etc. This is why Legos are a good thing. They have a relatively safe level of risk. They come in all price ranges, have instructions that show us every step of construction, and provide us with every part needed to get the job done. They really require almost no risk on our part.
Risk is a son of a bitch. It’s what separates most of us laymen from the professionals we rely on to take on the risk, we ourselves aren’t willing to take on. However, these professionals aren’t going to work for free. So there you have a very simplified version of why each and every one of us works towards specializing in something that others will pay us for to alleviate their risk. If I know something and you don’t, then you pay me to either learn or complete the task for you.
Before the age of the internet this was the law of the land. If I wanted to learn how to work on my own car, saving me tons in labor costs, then I needed to apprentice with a mechanic or pay the steep introduction price to get manuals and try to learn on my own. Take this concept back to the middle ages and the same system prevails (though even more primitive). An expert blacksmith only became so by apprenticing with a former expert blacksmith, and learning on your own was even more costly. This is now becoming less and less the way of things as the internet has made information more freely available to us laymen.
When I purchased my Jeep Wrangler a year ago I decided that I wanted to understand how it worked. Owning a car is a huge expense with the possibility to become a financial hole in my pocket if I don’t understand how to best fix a problem. Luckily I had the help of a good friend who is very versed in the technical language of Jeeps (a mentor of sorts in the ways of Jeep). I learned by watching him and taking note at first, but now have slowly gravitated towards using the multiple forums and free guides online to taking fixes into my own hands. These guides and forums help to alleviate much of the risk I would normally be too afraid of to have anyone but a licensed Jeep technician handle. Now things like oil changes, checking fluids, spark plugs, manifold gasket replacement, air intakes, tire rotation, brake replacement, stereo installation, belt replacement, differential gear fluid, and most recently removing rust and repainting are all things that I feel no hesitation towards. Look at the price difference alone below. The first price is what a shop would charge, and the second is what I paid to do at home.
Oil Change: $40 - $20
Spark Plugs: $80 - $20
Manifold Gasket Repair: $200+ - $70
Tire Rotation: $20 – Free.
Brake Replacement: $140 - $60
Stereo Install: $150+parts - $110
You get the idea…
By learning how to properly deconstruct and then reconstruct something inside or outside your home, you are removing the labor costs you would need to pay a professional in that field by transferring their charged time to your personal time. A few hours under or inside my Jeep while only paying for parts is time I consider well spent.
Now imagine you buy a Lego set that has a really complicated construction on the box only to find that when you open the box up, there are no instructions. Would you still be able to build it? Maybe, if you put enough time into previous Lego sets learning building concepts by following their instructions. Knowing how Legos go together would definitely make this new instruction-less set easier to conceptualize thus minimizing your risk. Maybe you could build it close to exact with only a small few pieces left over. Outside of being a savant or engineer though, it would be tough to imagine us laymen being able to fully construct it based off one picture on the box.
This is the danger with DIY projects. If you have a lot of money to throw at a problem or project then you may feel the risk is lower for you and that maybe you don’t need instruction, but more often than not you’re going to find yourself throwing money into an endless black hole, while defeating the purpose of learning a new skill and ending up with a broken version of the finished product you hoped to create. Most final constructions or projects come together in a very specific way to perform certain functions for the builder and when you don’t bother learning how to work your way up to the level of the professional you would normally have to pay, you end up damaging the ability of the final product to perform the way you originally wanted. The more you know the better the outcome.
When a DIY project greatly exceeds the cost a professional would charge it no longer serves its purpose other than being a very expensive learning tool. Every project’s pricing is a combination of cost of supplies and cost of labor to the professional. DIY is meant to remove the latter cost. When your lack of skill level bleeds the supply cost over into the cost of the professional’s paid time, you have created a situation where you paid more for a lesser outcome. You can still learn from a costly project and if money isn’t an issue, then maybe you prefer to learn this way, but for most of us on a budget (budgets greatly impact willingness to accept risk) this would no longer serve a purpose for us. It would most likely be a partial or total loss.
How do you avoid these losses? Educate yourself using free tools like online forums, detailed walkthrough videos, and manuals. The greatest tool you have on your side now is the massive amount of communication at your fingertips, via the internet. I learned how to grind, sand, Bondo, primer, paint, and clear coat a terrible rust spot on my Jeep this month. I did it first by reading, watching, and learning the concepts and challenges involved before spending even one cent on supplies. Then I price shopped everything I needed and spent 7 hours of my own free time solving a problem that would have cost me nearly $250-300. I only spent $80. Obviously the more I repeat these concepts the better my physical technique will get even if I know what I’m supposed to do.
If you feel the risk is too high and would rather have a professional do the work for your next project then I applaud that as well. Not everyone has the time or interest in doing their own car work (or insert any project). There’s nothing wrong with that at all and I’m all for professionals making money pursuing their passions. If you think you have all aspects of your next project figured out and think it’s worth the risk to try on your own, then I say go for it! As long as you educate yourself on the risk, techniques, costs, and time, you can do anything.
If you want your new project to most likely fail, cost you a ton of money, or take more time then you have available to throw at it, then spend no time planning it out, don’t research the concepts, and stay away from the wealth of information that is freely available to you online. But I warn you, for every successful innovation/project over the era of mankind’s time on Earth, there have been a few people that have changed the way we do things and construct things, and billions who have failed, gone bankrupt, wasted years being able to produce absolutely nothing but unworkable, faulty, broken knock offs of those very successful few. Success in creating anything is educating yourself on the successes of others who came before you and then improving their ideas.
The most successful type of Lego builder is one who takes the concepts learned from his earlier sets, stares at a box full of random pieces, and now knows how they could fit together. Maybe you try something new and it fails, but it should always be based off solid/rational concepts. You can carry this concept over to any example in any field. A great programmer understands the concepts of programing language before creating anything innovative. A great architect can tell you on paper how strong his building will be before a single beam is raised, because he understands physics. Knowing how to do something before investing in it, leads to the highest chance of personal success and lowers risk. Ignoring the knowledge behind successes before you or around you leaves you in the dark. While you fiddle trying to turn dark to light, everyone else that did their homework is light-years beyond you. You only have so much time on Earth, and so you should consider it very valuable to you. Don’t waste it on feeding an ego that believes it can do anything with no help from anyone. Talk is cheap, results are everything. No one is ever impressed with a half-functional DIY project.
Now go and learn from others, dammit! And start them young by buying your kids some Legos!