How Does Building Useless Things Spark Joy?

Simone Giertz invents useless robots. In her Ted Talk, she shares three lessons on finding joy in failing on purpose.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid of failing? For inventor Simone Giertz, the answer was clear: make something totally useless.

Since 2013, Giertz engineered a helmet that brushes teeth, drones that cut hair, and a machine to help you wake up in the morning, none of which really worked they way they were supposed to.

“My toothbrush helmet is recommended by zero out of 10 dentists, and it definitely did not revolutionize the world of dentistry—but it did completely change my life,” she says.

In this TED Talk, Giertz shares three lessons on how making useless robots led her to discover a deep sense of joy that she shares with over 1 million subscribers on her YouTube channel.

Why You Should Make Useless Things

1. Sometimes, setting yourself up for failure is a winning plan

Growing up, Giertz was an ambitious, straight-A student, but she also suffered from severe performance anxiety. She wanted to teach herself how to build machines, but was worried about failing and looking stupid.

She came up with a foolproof plan: make failure the desired outcome.

“I came up with a setup that would guarantee success 100 percent of the time. With my setup, it would be nearly impossible to fail,” Giertz says. “And that was that instead of trying to succeed, I was going to try to build things that would fail.”

2. When you create space for failure, you create space for other (good) things

While she didn’t realize it at the time, the concept of failing on purpose gave Giertz the freedom to teach herself the basics of building robots without fear of making mistakes. (To perhaps no one’s surprise, Giertz is not an engineer by trade.)

As soon as I removed all pressure and expectations from myself, that pressure quickly got replaced by enthusiasm, and it allowed me to just play.

“As soon as I removed all pressure and expectations from myself, that pressure quickly got replaced by enthusiasm, and it allowed me to just play,” Giertz says.

3. You realize you’re not the only one without answers  

Giertz says that while her inventions may seem silly, they reflect a level of joy that often gets lost when people are too focused on achieving perfection.

Letting go of that pressure allows Giertz and her audience to turn off the critical voice in their heads that often dictates boundaries and fuels negative thoughts. Instead, failing on purpose allows them to see what else can surface—perhaps something new, fun, and completely outside of the box.

“To me that’s the true beauty of making useless things, because it’s this acknowledgment that you don’t always know what the best answer is,” Giertz says. “It turns off that voice in your head that tells you that you know exactly how the world works.”

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  • Nicole Bayes-Fleming
  • July 12, 2018