When I was in college studying to be a teacher (that lasted a year), the cliché phrase everyone batted around was “be a lifelong learner.”
Passion for knowledge is what makes you a great teacher, but being teachable comes from self-awareness and the humility to grow as a person. They’re not necessarily correlated.
Stagnant water, after a period of time, begins to attract bugs and decay. So it’s no wonder that when we stop learning, we stop finding ideas. They hide from us in the depths of the shadows, like a horrible game of cat and mouse.
Historically, where do ideas come from? (You should totally watch this video from Steven Johnson.) Most often through cross-pollination and/or collaboration.
“Allowing yourself to cross-pollinate will make your ideas stronger. And it gets you out of the tired ‘same old’ marketing all of your competitors are doing.” Sonia Simone of CopyBlogger in “Five Marketing Lessons You Can Learn from a Weird ‘Real World’ Business“
Don’t stop learning.
“I’m not an expert and I aspire never to be one. As Frank Lloyd Wright rightly put it, “An expert is a man who has stopped thinking because ‘he knows.’”. Brain Pickings began as my record of what I was learning, and it remains a record of what I continue to learn – the writing is just the vehicle for recording, for making sense.” Maria Popova as interviewed by Copyblogger
For most people this means reading. My attention span likes 300-500 word blogs and whatever books I do read are non-fiction, but it’s rare. If you’re like me, you need other ways to learn that don’t require a library card.
In this day and age, there are hundreds of documentaries to watch on PBS, The Learning Channel, The History Channel, Discovery, and the lot. Stream a video from Netflix. Personally, I love the Ken Burns documentaries. He has a way of using sound – both in his placement of music and direction of the narration – that seems to enrapture me. My favorite of his documentaries is Lewis & Clark, closely followed by The Brooklyn Bridge. Challenge yourself to learn something new.
Many colleges have classes for alumni or those you can audit. There are thousands of podcasts, both video and audio, to stimulate any area of curiosity you can imagine. Look up a TED Talk. They’re a low-level commitment since most of them are 3-20 minutes long. My three favorite talks are “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” by Amy J. Cuddy, and “The 5 C’s of Connection” by Bobby Umar. But there are great ones about the oceans, how to tie your shoes, robots, and anything else you can dream of.
Take a day trip to an aquarium, museum, library, zoo, or botanical park. There are so many of these places near us and many of them have low entrance fees. Take a tour, read the signs, take notes and photos. Enjoy being out in nature or looking at art. This stimulates your brain in different ways which you may not be conscious of at the time.
The Mr. and I recently went to Sherman Library & Gardens, just two towns north of us. The entrance fee is only $3 a person and they have a variety of gardens to enjoy including a rose garden, shade garden, tropical area with orchids and a koi pond, and a sun garden with a turtle pond. It was nice to stroll and sit and take photos and enjoy each other’s company.
If you’re a vocabulary geek, do the Times Crossword. If numbers are your thing, do Sudoku. The more you challenge yourself, the more neural pathways you create. Essentially, the more you learn, the more you can learn. I do word searches and play Scrabble with my husband (he beats me by 200 point margins every game).
The truly curious mind never stops asking questions. Ask your friends what they’re reading, doing, visiting. Let them tell you. Don’t worry about them using up “your time” in the conversation. Spend time with mentors or colleagues brainstorming with them to solve their problems. Carol Stephen and I brainstorm on Twitter (or Pinterest or Facebook) a lot! It’s actually why I resurrected this post from the draft folder.
To What End?
The result will be, if you are earnest in your pursuit, that you will be able to think with a different perspective. This will make you a better writer, a more interesting person, and, quite possibly, give you the edge in social circles both offline and on.