Monthly Archives: July 2013

Learning new things

I’ve now had a couple of months off writing blog posts.  As I mentioned in my last post, I was invited to help with editing a novel, which took a lot longer than I expected.  I’m now finished, and I learned a lot, not least giving me a real respect for professional book editors!

Just because I wasn’t writing blog posts, doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking, reading and talking with friends about some of the issues that are important to me.  But it is great to have the opportunity again to put my thoughts into writing – to see where they make sense, or more typically, to see where they self-contradict or make no sense at all.

Editing the novel was a good example of learning a new skill, and gaining new knowledge.   I know (as I’m sure everyone else who reads this blog does) that developing and maintaining an ability to learn new things is crucial to our ability to survive in today’s rapidly changing world.  And it is extremely satisfying.  But, my track record on learning things is pretty mixed.

When I think about the things I’ve learned, and the things I haven’t learned, I come to one overwhelming conclusion.  If I care about something, if I’m motivated, I can learn just about anything.  But if I don’t care or see the point, the information isn’t absorbed into my brain, and I give up very easily.

This isn’t unusual.  There’s a joke amongst mathematicians and engineers, that if you ask them to solve a problem, they’ll give up in minutes.  But tell them it can’t be done, and they’ll use all the hours of the day and all the power of their brain to prove you wrong.

So, I am aware that I only learn when I want to learn.  And over the years, I have responded to this in two ways:

  • Most easily, I take advantage of the opportunity to learn whatever I currently feel motivated to learn.  I spend extra time, dig a bit deeper, read a bit more and talk a bit more to people that understand it.  Maybe that knowledge will prove useful in the future and maybe it won’t, but if nothing else I’ll have improved my ability to learn.
  • If there’s something I need to learn but am not motivated, I try to find situations that will motivate me to learn it.  Maybe a friend or one of my colleagues needs help with that, maybe there’s a cool application of it, maybe I can get a job where the knowledge will be useful.

There’s so much knowledge out there, so many great resources freely available on the internet, so many smart people who would love to help you learn.  The real challenge is in getting the motivation.