The other day, while surfing on the web, I stumbled upon a fckng* great post in the Wired magazine web site. It was a transcription of an interview made to Steve Jobs (big Jobs fan here) a couple of years ago - 1996. I was amazed. The whole interview is truly a masterpiece and I recommend you read all of it, but today, I want to write about a specific topic that he mentioned at the very end of the interview: inspiration.
I've always been very attracted to this concept. When I read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, I felt like I had discovered something new. He pitches the idea that you need to spend 10,000 hours practicing something before you are an expert. I thought: fine, let's get to work. But soon after, I discovered another book that contradicts this theory: Range by David Epstein.
He argues that range - defined as more diverse experience across multiple fields - is more relevant in today's society than specialization because the wicked problems of the modern world require bridging experience and knowledge from multiple fields to foster solutions.
It got me thinking a whole week. In the past, I supported Malcom Gladwell's idea. I was a believer that you needed to specialize in something at a young age to have time to practice it and eventually master it. But at the same time, I've always had the problem that I want to try everything! Since I was young, I was always switching interests (this got me into programming): at one point while studying my major I wanted to build robots and I signed up for robotics courses. Then I wanted to be an automotive mechanic - so I signed up for an extra course where we disassembled and reassembled a whole engine. It was the same for sports: I practiced football (I shouldn't need to specify, but yeah, soccer), box, weight lifting, yoga and now I'm into mountain biking. So thinking about specializing stressed me out a lot, because I knew that I needed to settle on something, but when and what?
Here is when I quote Steve Jobs on the interview I mentioned earlier:
Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they've had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that's too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.
Did it blow your mind as well? I found it amazing. Jobs talks about design but I think that we can apply it to every problem that we are trying to solve. We need to collect dots, be mindful of those dots and finally connect them.
I recently picked up a new hobby along with a friend: we started woodworking. We enjoy making wood furniture. We connected some dots that we collected on our web development journey. We implemented Kanban boards to keep track of our projects and a Quality Assurance process. Also some lean manufacturing learned from our major. We managed to do that thanks to previous lived experiences. Woodworking also boosts our creativity because we need to think of creative solutions for any number of problems that we bump into. Like how to clamp two big wood pieces or how to make your cuts be squared. It also teaches us the importance of finishing a project rather than just having it there taking up space in the wood shop, half built.
Another curious example is video games. I've always been interested in this topic. I found this article that quotes several studies made by researchers that state that playing video games enhances several skills like: attention span, team work, memory, problem solving and even decision making. While studying my major (Mechatronics engineering) I noticed something funny: most of the students used to play video games, and usually the students that were better at popular games (MOBA or fighting games) had better grades than the ones that were not as good at them. Also they would often have very clever or creative solutions to the problems that we were exposed to by our professors. For me, this is another representation of collecting experiences, processing them and applying them in your daily life.
The last example that I have: technologic inventions. I particularly like the story of Velcro, it was created by George de Mestral inspired by the burs he found on himself and on his dog. There are lots of examples in robotics: did you know that Robotic arms were inspired by a seahorse tail? One of the most famous robots, Cheetah Robot developed by the MIT, was inspired by quadrupedalism. Scalybot is inspired by snakes. All this was achieved thanks to George de Mestral and his dog going on a hike or scientists that carefully observed their surroundings and later used those experiences to solve complex problems that were presented to them.
So take the leap, find that inspiration. Go and collect experiences: practice that hobby that has been demanding your attention, open a YouTube Channel, start journaling, write blog posts (we can publish them on the cool Maniak's blog), speak your mind on a podcast, go hiking, train your dog, watch that movie. I'm sure that you are going to learn lots of things when doing or practicing something new that are going to be very very useful at some point in your life. Why are you still looking at the screen? Go fetch the dots!