“When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. This is great. People who know what they are doing, know the rules and they know what is possible and what is impossible. You do not, and you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts are made by poeple who have not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible, its easier to do. And because no nobody has done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that particular thing again.”
- Neil Gaiman, 2012 Commencement Speech at the University of the Arts
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There has been a theme of learning and creativity in my last couple of posts, and I thought I would sit down and share the way that I have been approaching the topics as I go through the process of understanding how I learn and changing the way I think about thinking. The process for the last couple of months has largely been very unstructured, full of trial and error, experimentational, and gut-driven. However, what I have come to understand about my own learning and thinking process can be synthesized in the followed illustration:
Let me break it down for you. When I embarked on this journey at the beginning of 2012, I set out with the intent of breaking my linear process of learning. Along the way, I came across three concepts, of which I drew best practices from and found a happy in-between the three as illustrated above.
Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking
When I was trying to understand a problem, I was going about it in a convergent way. I would look at my possible options and from there, converge my options into a conclusive solution. I could attest that my background in accounting and finance really honed this type of thinking and learning over years. However, what happened is that I started tackling problems with a limited amount of tools in my toolkit.
I then came across a design-thinking concept by Tim Brown in his book, Change by Design on divergent and convergent thinking. I found that I lacked the ability to think divergently, to create choice, to uncover new insights, to think laterally and to see multiple answers. This approach meant that whenever I approached a problem, I now starting my process by asking: “What if”? I realized that in order to ask this question, I had to expand my learning into other fields, be unrelentingly curious about best practices and continue to build up my toolkit. I currently find myself in learning furiously at the intersection of technology, design and development. Ultimately, the optional process would be to navigate the tension and exchange between these two ways of thinking, through continuously making choices and eliminating them as needed.
Fixed Vs. Growth Mindsets
‘Two Mindsets,’ Stanford, magazine article, 2007
Data Source: Carol Dweck: ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’, 2006. Design: Nigel Holmes
I stumbled across this infographic in one of Brain Picking’s early May posts and related to both sides of the infographic. On one side, a Fixed Mindset leads to a deterministic view of the world, and on the side, a Growth Mindset that leads to a greater sense of free will. I’m not a fan on how the Fixed Mindset is portrayed with rather negative connotation, but I do like the breakdown of categories, which is more important to me at the moment. In this approach, I would argue that simplification of the mindsets should instead be a spectrum instead of a split path, as the continuous movement between understanding effort, challenge, criticism constantly changes. My main takeaway from Mindsets, is really honing in on the categories on which I felt needed improvement to improve my motivation and productivity.
The biggest breakthrough for me in the last couple of months is in the category of Effort. I discovered that I never saw effort on a path to mastery as I used to believe that people were naturally talented/ inclined to be better in certain areas than others. I have come to realize though, that talent is overrated. When people ask me how I have been learning so much these days, I tell them: I hustle. Alot.
In order to properly extract lessons from the two concepts I mentioned above, I found notion of the “opposable mind” extremely helpful in understanding how to create a balance in my thinking/learning. I first discovered this book on Acumen Fund’s Fellows reading list and picked up a copy myself. The book presents the concept of an “integrative thinker”, someone who has “the predisposition and capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads. And then without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they’re able to produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.” The above graphic is the gist of the book, starting with the question of thinking how you think.
My biggest takeaway from this book is an understanding of how I nurture my own imagination and how I create balance to turn my curiosity into tangible outcomes. This understanding then links back full circle into the original two concepts of Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking as well as Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets.
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
- Shakespeare, The Tempest. Act III Scene II