Note: This was one of the earliest posts on this blog, written almost four years ago. I think it is still relevant and useful, so I’ve moved it up to the top. -gf
In the early 90s, I was a flight instructor at Watsonville, CA (WVI), teaching primary students how to get an airplane off the ground, take it somewhere else and land again without bending anything important. For the students, this took a fair amount of effort, not to mention a sizable investment of time and money.
One of the things that I realized after a while was that very little learning was done in the airplane. It’s a high stress environment, in which (at least by the end of their training) the student needed to aviate, navigate and communicate simultaneously and there was no pulling off to the side of the road to sort things out. Because they were operating at full mental capacity most of the time, there was simply no space to absorb new information. So my mantra became: you learn on the ground, you practice in the air.
In my current life as a web developer and adviser to many people on all things Internet, I often find myself in mental overload and I know that at those times, my ability to learn and think creatively is diminished. I don’t have a solution to this, other than to recognize it and know that at those times all I can do is practice what I already know.
It’s clear to me that we need time away from our daily chores to create, generate new ideas, take the long view, to learn. A few things that I find help facilitate this process:
- Spend some time focusing your attention on one thing, while not actually working on it. I often spend 15 or 20 minutes doing this before getting out of bed in the morning.
- Spend time in the presence of something that inspires you. For me, this almost always involves music but it could be just about anything.
- Talk with other people about Big Ideas. They don’t need to be put into action but who’s to say that they won’t be.
Of course, in most cases we want our learning to have a practical outcome. It seems to take a lot of switching back and forth between learning and practicing before we can produce something of value, especially something new. I’m very interested to know how you go about about finding the balance. Please leave your thoughts and ideas in comments.
Piper Tomahawk Photo by Simon Schoeters. [Note: I’ve spent a lot of time in Tomahawks, including during my own primary training at Santa Monica (SMO), where there was a tower controller who insisted on calling them “Tommyhawks”. Good times.]