Rubber bands

Back in middle school, my friend and I entered a science fair competition. The objective was for teams of 2 students to design, build, and use a catapult to launch a given object as far as possible. (I’m pretty sure it was a ping pong ball, but I don’t quite remember that detail.)

Every team got really fancy with it. They’d be making all these calculations with mathematical formulas, considering things like air resistance, how to maximize the amount of force produced to launch the object, and who knows what else. They consulted the science teachers, wrote things down on paper, and were being really productive.

Meanwhile, my friend and I just loved to launch stuff. The only reason we wanted to enter this thing was to make a propulsion device because we were middle schoolers and that sounded awesome. Looking around and seeing all these teams get so serious with this was honestly kind of anxiety-inducing. Were we not smart enough for this?

We ended up winning this competition.

Our solution? Three blocks of wood, some shoddily put together contraption that would hold a ball steady, and a ton of rubber bands.

I thought about this today because it was just so ridiculous. We didn’t think one second about any numbers or consulted any teachers. We just went, “Rubber bands should work because they launch things. Let’s just use as many as we can.” The school paper interviewed us after the competition and I felt bad we didn’t really have anything super science-y to say. Our big, beaming smiles were in our local paper later that month.

Sometimes, development can be like this. Not always, but sometimes. Most of the time, we should be thinking about things like:

  • Is it easy for others to understand this?
  • Is it an efficient use of resources?
  • How easy is it to make changes to this in the future?

But sometimes, just use rubber bands, which are already easy to understand, super accessible, and pretty easy to manipulate later.

Don’t over-engineer.