About half way through my last sentence, I stopped abruptly and apologized for wasting his time. I knew what was wrong and how to fix it. He laughed and asked me if I had ever heard of Rubber Ducky Debugging. Needless to say, I had not.
“Rubber Ducky Debugging” also known as “Rubber Ducky Trouble Shooting” and “Rubber Ducking” is a simple notion: sometimes explaining an idea aloud will help you reach a solution. I’ve seen lots of technical types keep rubber duckies on their desks and figured it was just some inside joke I wasn’t privy to. But, I think they were probably on to a very good idea that metal clay artisans can apply when dealing with the challenges of design, construction, heat, and metal.
So, next time you can’t figure out why your mixed metal piece cracked, or your silver was sintered, or your patina isn’t working, give it a try:
Get some object - I’m partial to rubber duckies - and place it in the area where you will be doing your problem solving. You may want to consider whether others will see you talking to the rubber ducky and whether they are the types who will ask you what you are doing with a smile or just quietly call a mental facility on your behalf.
Explain the problem to the rubber ducky. Step-by-step. Speak as if you are talking to a fellow artist or teacher. Speak in complete sentences and organize your thoughts just like you would if you were having a real conversation. Do not rush and don't skip any details.
If you haven’t had an epiphany yet, turn the table on Mr. Duck and pretend he is the one with the problem. Ask all of the questions you would ask if your colleague or student called you with the same problem. Again, speak in complete sentences, don’t skip things, slow down and let your brain work.
Why does it work? I think the biggest reason is that it forces you to slow down and to step methodically through the bits of information you have. Staring at a problem, scratching your head, with all of your thoughts and frustrations swirling around in your mind creates a chaotic environment for the problem-solving parts of your brain to work in. When you slow down enough to take one idea at a time and say it aloud, the wheels start turning.
It also makes you aware of asking the important questions and gathering the right information. When something goes wrong, we have a tendency to get stuck on the outcome instead of the many factors that led to the problem. It’s OK to get angry and blow off a little steam when you have a technical failure of an otherwise beautiful piece. But, if you want to avoid having a repeat experience, you must tackle the problem in a logical mindset. For some biological reason, going through the analysis aloud to a third, if inanimate, party works more often than going through it in your head.
by Jennifer Roberts