How Do You Justify Learning Anything New?


Wednesday, 9.16pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. – Zora Neale Hurston

When you first try learning something new everything slows down, you know nothing and each element seems to take forever to learn. I think that’s what stops most of us from even bothering to try – that initial learning curve that’s so steep it seems like we’ll never master it. Or even get decent at it. Or better.

At the moment, for example, I’m trying to figure out what the purpose of the research that I’m planning on doing might be. So that’s one question – how do I articulate this in a way that’s going to make sense when I don’t really know how to do research yet.

What I do know is that I’m interested in this space where drawings and text and speech bump into each other. The idea of bumping into things was something that I picked up from the YouTube videos of Christina Merkley. She has an approach to classifying work as studio work – which is the kind of thing you do in the privacy of your studio with time to get it right and live work which you do in real time. I think you could overlay this with another axis that’s about doing the work either as an individual or in a group setting, which has a resonance with the work of Brandy Agerbeck whose books The Graphic Facilitator’s Guide and The Idea Shapers I’m currently going through.

The thing that happens when you read something new is that you want to experiment with different methods and that creates a challenge – because you want to be good but the chances are that you’re going to be more than a little rubbish. For example, I’ve been quite relaxed about drawing on the computer because it’s a bit different and people don’t really notice it because most of what I’m trying to think through is in the words. The graphic helps me to think about what I’m going to write but it doesn’t have to do any heavy lifting of its own.

I’m shifting my interest this year, however, to seeing if the graphics can carry more of the load – rebalancing the text and image usage. So then the pictures I draw have to make sense, they have to stand alone in their frames and make something of themselves. And that gets hard quickly. For example, do you draw and colour something entirely in analog or do you sketch it on paper, get the lines right, then scan it and do the colouring on the computer? What’s the right workflow?

Well, the obvious answer is that there isn’t a “right” workflow – there is the right one for you and what you’re trying to do and the best feedback you’ll get is how your customers respond to you when you put your new thing in front of them. If you are your own customer then fine – there’s nothing to worry about but if you’re putting something into the world that you’re hoping other people will use then you have to get this working well.

The good news is that it comes down to time. If you spend enough time working on the problem you’ll start to figure out what to do. If you give up too early that’s okay too – it just means that this thing didn’t matter enough to you. It’s okay to want something but not to want to do the work to get it. There’s plenty of other work to do as well.

The reality is that there is only so much energy you have that you can give to your projects. So focus that energy on the projects that mean the most to you. Even better, choose your projects so that they all support each other and make it easier for you to build on the things you’re doing.

Here’s the thing. Learning anything is hard. If it’s new – that’s even harder. And the first time you have a go is the hardest it’s going to be – except for the next hardest bit. Anything (sensible) that makes your life easier is worth trying out.


Karthik Suresh

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