Bill Buxton’s recent BusinessWeek article How To Keep Innovating got me thinking again about art. More about that later. Buxton recommends worrying a lot less about mastering a particular skill and instead embracing your passions. Specifically, he recommends:
- Always be bad at something that you are passionate about.
- You can be everything in your life—just not all at once.
- When you get good at one skill, drop another in which you have achieved competence in order to make room for a new passion at which you are—yet again—bad.
- Life is too short to waste on bad teachers and inefficient learning.
- Remember: You can learn from anyone.
I may be a mild-mannered technologist by day and, unfortunately for my family, many nights too, but an artist lurks beneath my geeky exterior. I own a few art pieces, and I’d love to have more. But what I’d really like to do is take a welding class and do some sculpture of my own. I have some pictures in my head, but I don’t have the skills to put them into physical form.
It’s a lot more comfortable to stick with what you know. Are we encouraging students to take academic risks, or has GPA pressure squeezed out some of their passion? How about teachers? Have we designed our appraisal systems to encourage teachers to try new techniques or learn new skills?
For all of the irrational exuberance that has come out of Silicon Valley over the years, I’ve always admired the way that the entrepreneurs there overcame the stigma of failure. I think that’s a big reason that the U.S. tech industry is so innovative. Of course, none of those entrepreneurs are accountable to local tax payers either. Finding a way to take the risks necessary to really innovate in the context of a public school system seems like a big challenge to me.