When working in innovation it’s quite common for a project to get shelved. The amount of initiatives that do make it out to the real world is simply very small. But often you get valuable learnings from trying.
It’s very much the same for personal projects, they stall for various reasons. But I’ve never taken the time to reflect on what I learned from them, and what the best time is to stop working on them.
It all started seeing a video of a high-speed CNC steel wire bender. I imagined being able to easily design steel wire frames I could use in my lamp designs. I sourced 90% of the parts for it, but never made it to a working prototype. There was a massive power supply, a super heavy stepper motor that could probably lift a car, and a bunch of other parts. I designed all the other basic parts I needed and had them laser-cut out of stainless steel.
The biggest thing remaining here was the wire feed mechanism and hooking up the electronics. But I never did. I eventually gave the parts away.
The complexity vs possible payoff was just too big.
We were so lucky to find a studio space in an old (decaf!) coffee factory on the outskirts of Amsterdam. It was 80m2 with 7m high ceilings. Insane. We spent a lot of time and money on renovating it. We fixed the flooring. We painted the walls. We built a kitchen. I installed a toilet and many more things to make this into our second home.
And then there was the workshop I dreamt up. I had built a CNC router the year before, which was a project in itself. I never really used the machine as it required quite some time to prepare parts and test ideal settings to make something.
And the times I did get the machine running, there was sawdust everywhere, especially when using MDF. So this thing needed its own enclosed space (yes, and proper dust extraction). I designed a workshop that would fit within the space we had (box-in-a-box!). It featured massive glass windows, tons of workbenches, and storage. I took a MIG/MAG welding class and learned to properly weld. I also purchased a welding machine.
I sourced the steel profile, welded the steel construction, and installed it in the space. I then built the ceiling out of plywood.
And then during a rainy day when I tried to divert the flow of water leaking out of our ceiling during some heavy rain, I fell off a ladder from about 3.5m high. I hurt my back severely and was unable to continue the build of the workshop.
Time passed by and we had to move out of the space. The factory had to make room for – you guessed it – a new apartment block.
I loved my CNC router (even though I’d only used it a couple of times). I decided I wanted to build a bigger machine that I could also use for other purposes. Ideally, one I could use with a CNC-controlled tangential knife. Instead of milling, I’d be able to cut all the things.
So I ended up ordering a ShapeOko2 kit, the XXL version. I figured it was going to be great, there was this massive community around it (as opposed to my previous CNC router), and it seemed relatively quick and easy to assemble.
But I also experienced that getting a machine squared and properly set up to make the highly precise cuts I was looking for was a very hard thing to do. So I subconsciously decided not to start the work on this one. I gave the kit away.
I really wanted to build a flip dot display. I found a company in Poland that still produced those low-power neon yellow painted flip dot displays. I ordered two big boxes of them. I did some prototyping to flip dots (magic!). I looked into the hardware architecture, needed tons of shift registers to drive the thing, and decided I did not want to spend the time on it.
Sometimes when the work gets really low level I have to justify the time investment. And the cost/benefit didn’t add up. I held on to these boxes with pretty neon yellow flip dots. Years later, I gave these away too.
The interior design/vintage finds webshop we planned to build. The name was a clever play on my web development work, as the archetypical website always had a Home and About page. We had a name, a logo, a domain name, a landing page, a modest collection of unique (vintage) items to sell, and some limited artwork even. And a rubber stamp with our logo. But none of us had the motivation to get out there and become a digital store owner. I guess the prospect of running the thing was much less appealing than building the thing.
I used to feel bad for not spending time on projects I once was excited about. But it’s okay to abandon something. Pivoting is a good thing. I could have decided to stop wanting to work on it earlier though.
These projects were left in various stages of completion. Looking back I think I was in it for the exploration, to learn. And if I had made that a goal in itself I may have gotten more enjoyment out of it. Today I’m much more about doing a quick and scrappy first version and iterating from there rather than trying to build ‘the real thing’. This provides you with a quick feedback loop and keeps you motivated.
I ended up with tons of hardware and tools I never got to use. So I stopped those initial buying frenzies that happened in the initial excitement of a new project.
Most of these projects were tools, and a big part of the excitement was in envisioning the things I would be able to build if only I’d built this initial tool first.
Life happens! I got injured, I got flooded with project work, there’s always many things that can affect your ability to work on side projects. Knowing this, focus on doing short stints of work, and appreciate what you get out of these.
I have fond memories of the initial excitement, the research, the grand plans, and even my reasons for abandoning these side-projects.
I definitely could have had an earlier go/no-go moment for each of these, and that would have saved me some head space. The best time to have this conversation with yourself is when your initial excitement fades. Is this still worth spending time on? Make a decision and move on, no regrets! You simply can’t do them all.
Do take the time to document what you made and learned, and share the joy with others!