Break things and live life by trial and error

Start breaking stuff as early as possible

Did you break your toys when you were little? I did. Richard Feynman too, and he has a Nobel Price in physics. I too have received a (minor) physics prize from the hands of the King of Sweden.

The opposite of pampering

This article advocates fearless investigation, exploration, trial and error, and learning from just doing, and dealing with the consequences.

It’s a good thing to move fast and break things when you’re little. It’s even better as an adult to let your young ones do it, as long as they pay attention and learn from it. Start early, make it a habit, a natural part of life to explore and learn (and deal with loss).

When I was 7 or 8 I got an electric racetrack for christmas. Oh the joy…

Until five minutes later, when I had assembled the track, put the cars at the starting line and plugged in the bare electric cords in the power outlet. There was a loud pop, the cars jumped off the track and a burnt smell spread in the living room. Everything was beyond repair, melted, short circuited, utterly destroyed.

I had forgot to assemble the power adapter – not that I knew what it was, or how I should know I was supposed to do that. I learned that day what 220 volts instead of 9 can do to a precious toy racetrack.

And the stores were closed…

Eventually, a couple of days later when the stores opened after christmas, I reluctantly emptied my bank account, about a year’s worth of saved weekly allowances, to replace the broken racetrack set. It took me very long to stop reading manuals from cover to cover after that. Lesson learned.


Nobody died from mild electrical shocks

As a 6-year old I found electricity fascinating. Once I took a broken inductor in one hand and plugged in the electric cords in the power socket. My small hand cramped around the inductor by the electric shock, but as I fell backwards, paralyzed by being electrocuted, the cords pulled out of the outlet and broke the current. I survived.

Since then, I’ve kept experimenting with ‘spark generators’, licking on batteries, taking things apart and trying to put them back together again (with mixed results). Later in life I could always tell the difference between life threatening and harmless electricity. I’ve also repaired my own computers, adapters, radios, electronic fat caliper and TV sets.

Whatever it is, I just pick it apart, look for anomalies, burnt pieces, loose wires, corrosion and just replace, fasten or scratch a little – learning a little more every time. When I was a teenager I even built my own joystick from a hockey puck, a golf ball, an aluminum pipe and lots of tinfoil, tape and glue. Why? Because I could. I’ve of course made a lot of mistakes over the years…

My latest and and most serious electrocution occurred only 10 years ago, when I was dismantling an old fuse box in my apartment. The explosion from short circuiting 207 Amperes (!), not to mention taking out the entire building’s electricity for hours, made me part deaf and fully blind for several minutes. Even my girlfriend who was in another room was blinded.

The repairman later said I was lucky to be alive, considering I had tampered with what amounted to a “minor nuclear power plant“.


Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman

I recently learned that Richard Feynman (the Nobel Prize winning physicist who came up with the idea of nanotechnology) did similar things – progressively learning more and more about the radios he investigated, and soon became the de facto radio repairman in his neighborhood at a very young age (from the book “Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman“).

Feynman on nanotech (an idea he put forward in 1959) 

Feynman wasn’t afraid of the consequences of opening malfunctioning devices and neither was I. Just like Feynman I simply didn’t give up either. I kept tinkering, letting the hours or days flow by, trying just one more thing until I won over the machine. I’ve never been interested in competing with people, but I could never leave a broken machine alone. I just had to “beat this thing” no matter how long it took – just like Feynman.

Feynman and I share another similarity. He wanted to understand everything he learned. Actually, both he and I hardly could do rote learning at all. We had to understand in order to learn. It took longer, but went deeper and stuck for life.


Life by trial and error

I encourage you to live your life like Mr Feynman, and let your children live their lives the same way; constantly and fearlessly (albeit adequately respectfully) exploring and investigating all aspects of their surroundings. However, everybody doesn’t have to go through 8 (!) concussions as I did.

If you are interested in more of my trial and errors, leading up to receiving the award for HFR’s European Hedge Fund Of The Decade, subscribe and (soon) receive my e-book The Retarded Hedge Fund Manager (currently 115 pages) for free.



  1. Hi there, you’re using the exploding radio image without my consent. Please remove it or at least give the proper credits for it.


    Rutger Prins

    • Hi

      I had no idea. I’m sorry. I got it via a friend.

      Which do you prefer? Credit or removal?

      I’ll remove it.

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