Serendipity has been described as looking for a needle in a haystack and getting out of it with the farmer’s daughter. What the heck does this have to do with model airplanes?
The Myth of Invention
Many inventors downplay the role that chance plays in their breakthroughs. The truth is that almost no discoveries come from design and planning. Pharmaceutical companies make a living by inventing new drugs. Even though they employ armies of experts, the process is dominated by tediously trying out thousands of compounds alone and in combination.
Model airplane pilots love to tinker. They make “improvements” to kits as they build them. They come up with unique remedies after they crash them, and ultimately they combine parts from more than one kit after they’ve crashed them. The more adventurous build from plans or even design their own parts, often to replace parts broken in a crash. Some of us pursue the ultimate thrill by designing a complete airplane from scratch.
A secret wish that most of us have is to come up with a better model airplane design when we do our tinkering. This is harder than it looks, but not for the reason that you are thinking.
Luck Is Not Enough
There’s an old saying “I’d rather be lucky than smart.” In reality, you need both. You need luck to come across the novel idea. But just as importantly, you need smarts to notice that you’ve come across something special.
Problem is, million of years of human evolution have put a premium on reacting, not careful study of situations. The caveman that survived was the first one that started running when he saw a lion. It’s extremely hard to see facts on their own without jumping to conclusions to explain them away. Numerous research studies have confirmed this.
Make Your Own Luck
Want to be known as a talented model airplane designer? Then you need to make your own luck.
Have fun and tinker around, but keep your eyes wide open so you can recognize potential breakthroughs when you see them. This is far easier said than done. In fact, that is really the challenge—knowing when you’ve across an interesting discovery so you can study it and use it again in your next design.
A useful tip is to look for patterns, though it is very hard for human brains to do so. Our brains are wired to learn specifics, not generalize into the abstract.
Be Smart About It
When I was doing the research for my ModiFly book and airplane design, I was not afraid to try out “dumb” ideas. I estimate that I test flew over 100 design changes. If you think that was a lot of hard work, you’d be right. Most of the ideas turned out to be just as dumb when implemented as I feared they might be when I first thought them up. But some worked amazingly well, such as building the motor mount out of a tongue depressor (a flat stick).
When you are tinkering with a design, don’t be afraid to try out “silly” ideas and keep your eyes wide open. What works? What doesn’t? Why? With some luck and some brains, you just might come up with the next model airplane design breakthrough.