CoolData blog

30 May 2012

Learning the hard way

Filed under: Off on a tangent, Training / Professional Development — kevinmacdonell @ 11:43 am

Ten years ago, my wife and I created and co-hosted a jazz music program at a local radio station. (It was called Stop Time — yikes, hard to believe that website is still live.) One year, we attended a festival featuring all kinds of cool drummers from every conceivable genre of music, mainly to interview jazz drummer Paul Wertico. The keynote speaker was a highly energetic guy named Dom Famularo, and he delivered his address from behind (where else) a drum kit. The main thing that stuck with me was his message about achieving creativity and flexibility by intentionally making things harder for yourself.

There are two basic ways to grip a pair of drumsticks: The matched grip and the traditional grip. Normally a drummer picks one and uses that all the time. I forget which grip Dom grew up using, but for this performance he decided to change grips. It came at a cost — it was non-intutive for him to play this way, and he dropped a stick at least once. Like the stumbling, uncomfortable process of learning a new language, changing grips forced him to be mindful of his playing and probably gave his brain a thorough workout.

Often my advice, and my own modus operandi, is to work smarter, not harder — to seek efficiencies or, if you prefer, to be creatively lazy. But the way to get there isn’t always choosing the option that is easiest right now.

  • Developing a new process to automate a task that you perform over and over again is harder to do than simply go through the familiar motions, particularly if the task is an easy one — but doing so will free you to pursue more creative work.
  • Taking the time to document a new process you are developing is not easy, and threatens to interrupt your flow — but it will greatly aid your learning, allow you to drop your work and pick it up again anytime from where you left off, and entails long-term benefits that you can’t anticipate now.
  • Going to the front of the room to give a presentation is harder than sitting in the back row nursing critical thoughts. But you will have a lot more success spreading your ideas. In a related vein, it’s easier to nit-pick and criticize the ideas of others than to risk putting a few ideas of your own out there. But life rewards those who are always ready to take “safe” risks and learn from failure.

Try deliberately sabotaging your comfort once in a while, like Dom Famularo did, and see where it takes you.


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