How to fit more learning into an overstuffed brain (Column)

'Making the most of our digital world requires mastery... That takes time and practice'

Some days I wake up and wish I didn’t have to look at my smartphone. I feel like reading about marcom changes is just too much. AI. AR. VR. It’s exhausting hearing about the latest API. My brain is operating at overcapacity. I know because I see that colourful Apple pinwheel whenever I open my eyes.

I yearn for a simpler time when, after learning how to do your job, you could just do it. And when you got really good – a little bored, maybe – you’d seize the opportunity to try something new.

A promotion – that’s what they called it. And with it came prestige, more money, and the excitement knowing you had a curve to learn on. And you could go home around 5.

I just mastered Pokemon Go – can I get a raise?

Of course, that ethos ended with social media and the rapid pace of change that seemingly won’t ever go away – or slow down.

Not a week goes by when there isn’t a new application, platform, algorithm or viral livestream video to consume. And, in addition to our day job, our night job is to figure these out.

This goes beyond paying lip service. We need to look under the hood and understand what makes the platform better or why it’s not so good, what its bugs are and whether or not it will work for our clients or brand.

In reality all this learning is a good thing. It’s exhilarating when you realize how much more you understand and know.

But, to get there you need to embrace dualities: being open, yet critical; creative, yet analytic.

Making the most of our digital world – or anything for that matter – requires mastery. That takes time and a lot of practice. And, once the shininess of the experience wears off, this can feel like a slog.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell, writes about the 10,000 hours rule and all the effort we need to spend before we become truly proficient at anything.

But, in a world where time is a limited resource, how can we stay open to fresh ideas?

Adopt a student’s state of mind

Here are three changes we can make:

Leave your preconceptions at the door. We’re so used to doing things the way they’ve always been done. But that philosophy breeds complacency and should be nipped in the bud. Instead, we should adopt what Gartner Research calls ‘unstable business processes,’ become ‘supermaneuverable’ and ready to adapt.

Stop thin slicing. Apologies for the second Malcolm Gladwell reference. But, we’ve become too proficient at thin-slicing, that is, making fast decisions based on the sum total of our knowledge. Instead, when we encounter something new, we should turn our personal slicer off, and try to see it as it is, not as we assume it should be.

Accept that you’ll never be caught up again. You can come close and feel like you’re almost there. But, most of the time, your to-learn list will be an infinite scroll. That means you will continually be surprised and a bit overwhelmed by what you discover. But, imagine the serendipitous connections you’ll make.

Many of us think that since social media is fast, mastery will be quicker too. We want to learn, but don’t have the patience. So we get frustrated because we expect instant gratification 24/7.

Maybe we should stop drawing a line between student life and work life and opt for perennial state of work-study. One that’s filled with more aha experiences than student debt.

How do you stay on top of all the changes?

Martin Waxman is president of Martin Waxman Communications and teaches digital strategy at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. You can find him on Twitter @martinwaxman


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