A Tinker by Any Other Name

Once upon a time, a tinker was a tinsmith who travelled from town to town making a living mending metal utensils. Today, we would say it’s someone who repairs machinery or appliances. That is, unless you’re British, in which case you might think of it as a less-than-complimentary label for itinerants.

There is also a common notion that “to tinker” refers to a desultory attempt to repair or improve something by fiddling and adjusting, with little or no useful effect. As the self-styled Critical Tinkerer, I have to say something in my defence. My tinkering is far from desultory and seldom without useful effect.

The clue is my use of critical, by which I mean critical thinking or of critical importance. Tinkerers certainly fiddle and adjust, but the purpose is to incrementally improve or refine things. Tinkering is what inventors do to get the kinks out of their prototypes. It is what scientists do to get their experiments to produce results. It’s what Internet entrepreneurs do to improve the performance or their sales funnels, PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns or SEO (search engine optimisation). Tinkering is what chefs do to create great recipes. Shall I go on?

I have been a fixer of broken things since high school, when I had a nice little business fixing the neighbours’ toasters, radios and televisions. For years I made my living fixing things, first with high-tech analogue electronics and then computers.

Eventually I moved on to fixing business logic and workflows. It all requires critical thinking and it’s all tinkering.

My assertion is that, to be an effective tinkerer, one has to be a critical thinker as well. Tinkering is all about problem solving. It’s about paying attention. When you are a tinkerer, there is no problem that doesn’t have a solution. Any time you are incrementally improving something, you are creating value. So I wear my tinkerer’s badge with pride.

As an incessant tinkerer, I intend—though this blog—to share some anecdotes and ideas, many of them related to my own life experiences as an entrepreneur.

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