Biased & Predisposed
The older I get, the more I realize what a tremendous gift and responsibility I was given by my parents. From an early age they provided an environment in which learning was the norm. Not studying, not grades, learning – that incredible process of discovering and retaining information. It has served me well, allowing me to adapt and grow as life takes its inevitable course of change.
I have a habit of throwing myself into things that I don’t know how to do 110% and acquiring new skill sets on the fly. This is most probably not the best way to learn how to do things, but it has kept me from the paralyzation of pre-determined incompetence. I don’t know what I can’t do until I fail while trying.
While I would never make this method of learning prescriptive, I do think there are some principles that nearly everyone can work with in order to keep themselves flexible and growing in a lifestyle of ‘never stop learning.’
Best of the 20th Century
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Amusing Ourselves to Death
by Neil Postman
There is a lot of free information out there. Between books and the internet, there is more information available than can be consumed in 10,000 lifetimes (depending, of course, on the speed at which you read).
At first brush that statement can seem overwhelming. Deep breath. Let it be an invitation to never be bored. Those times when you’re sitting on the couch staring at the ceiling bemoaning the fact that reality TV is a reality could instead be spent coming to a clearer understanding of the broader realities of our world and universe.
For others it can be difficult to block off time for reading because it seems like a luxury. I typically find myself in this crowd. Learning is an important balance between the information you are acquiring, and the experiences you are having. Many times the sense of reading as a luxury is an imbalance towards the doing side of things. It’s definitely not an easy thing to strike that balance, but it is a valuable thing to work towards, and disciplining yourself to slow down and read can be an important piece.
Simply stating that there is a universe full of accessible information certainly doesn’t make it easier to find the good or best information. I often rely on the recommendations and libraries of others when it comes to reading. To the right is a list of recommendations, both for books and websites. Check them out, and share additional resources in the comments section of this post.
Do Something Else
Stop whatever you’re doing. Okay, not yet. When you’re finished reading this article, take some time to assess what it is you are doing, and then intentionally try something that is different. It can be something small. Let’s say you’re a designer – go bowling. I know, it sounds silly, but doing something other than what you are skilled at that takes you away from usual boundaries often pushes you to be better within your discipline.
I like doing this in big kinds of ways. I took a summer and built a porch. It was an incredible learning experience on multiple levels. Moving away from knowing what you’re doing inherently pushes you into a space of learning; often it is a space of challenge and humility. If there is something that has proved true over time it’s that there is no such thing as bad work experience.
Allow your past experiences to inform your current work, and actively seek out exposure to new ways of doing things, whether they are cutting edge or simply new to you. You don’t have to adopt every practice you come across, but seeing alternative options will allow you to think with greater breadth and creativity.
Pretty straightforward – write down or document your own ideas and things that inspire you. I do this several ways, the most obvious being my notebooks. I have several, but at least one is with me at all times. This article started from some thoughts I scribbled down on a legal pad while working on something else. I additionally keep a sketchbook, and a journal so that I catch as many ideas as I can in ways I can refer to later.
Another way of doing this is via a blog format. I’ve found Tumblr and Posterous to be the most helpful platforms for me to do this digital documenting. I will often shoot and upload pictures on my phone or send myself a quote via e-mail, or call and leave myself an audio clip. The great part about this is that it’s stored in a way that I can’t lose and can access from anywhere there is internet connection.
Get A Mentor
One thing that concerns me about current trends toward newer and younger is the perceived irrelevance of anyone over 35, consciously or subconsciously. This applies, I believe, to a broad spectrum of areas, but I’ll speak to the field I know best of creative work. I have two mentors that I meet with regularly who have over 30 years of experience in the creative world. Neither of them twitter or blog. Neither of them work in mediums that will be economically viable as sole income sources within ten years. So why would I seek their input? Because they have excellence is more than relevance and experience extends beyond current trends.
To put it differently, if Robert Motherwell (or insert the name of your favorite dead creative here) was around to spend a day with me, I would jump at the opportunity. But they’re old, right? No. Being current has limited value – there is a timelessness to great work. So go out and find someone whose work you admire, and ask if you can trapse around with them. Ask lots of questions and learn from experiences, successes and failures, that you couldn’t have on your own.