May 18, 2016

Sophophobia is the fear of learning. I suffer from this syndrome.

At one point in my life I sucked in so much information from books, speakers, blogs, events, etc., that I went into data overload and honestly became massively confused.

Everyone seems to be saying something different, so who can I trust?

Also, if I want to be original, shouldn’t I not listen to experts or others’ opinions and do what feels right in my gut? Ditch the rule book and start something from scratch?

I can’t say that I still don’t struggle with these questions on a daily basis.

To do creative work means to do something that’s never been done in that way before. So how could I get a map from someone else to do it?

And since my career, marriage and health are all such important aspects of my life, and no one knows me better than me, shouldn’t I just figure things out for myself?

Well, not quite. According to this article on Scientific American, deliberate practice and the 10,000 hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell (originally developed by Anders Ericsson) only accounts for a minority percentage of the factors associated with expertise.

So this means no matter how much you practice by yourself, the isolated practice itself is only contributing a maximum of around 26% of your success, leaving a big chunk of the pie for all of the other factors that contribute to success. Oftentimes, suggested by much research as well as by Anders Ericsson himself, this involves having a teacher or mentor.

I tend to agree with Seth Godin that a mentor doesn’t have to be the typical one-on-one relationship you have with someone successful in your field, but can be a hero that you learn from without ever having met them.

Almost all of the information you need to develop a given skill is being disseminated online from some of the most successful people on the planet. Why not use this to our advantage? It doesn’t mean we have to copy them, but we can certainly learn from them.

Technology is the most obvious example. No one reinvents the smart phone every year. They take existing technology, learn it, and improve it.

Why should music, writing, engineering, sales or education be any different? Although I have a fear of copying and learning from others, I’m going to support this cliche: “Don’t reinvent the wheel.”

So the best synthesis that I have gathered from what seems to constitute the research on learning and becoming a master in your field, as well as from the seemingly contradicting anecdotes of successful creatives, is to learn as much as possible, and then try creative ways to improve it.

Of course there is no map for innovation, but there is a map upon which innovation can build. So let’s cherish our existing knowledge, experts and teachers and learn as much as we can from them.

But let’s not stop with our current knowledge and keep things stagnant. Let’s take the foundation and build something amazing, risky and creative on top of it.