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Here to learn


This is the first post in a new regular series. We’re delighted to have Aran Rees join our blogging team – we hope you enjoy his fortnightly musings on creativity, innovation and whatever else happens to pop into his head at any given time.

I like to think of myself as a student of creativity, innovation, collaboration and problem solving, with a minor in all things interesting. But there’s a problem with the word ‘student’; it implies engagement with a formal learning process; enrolment in a college or university, attending classes, taking exams! Grades…

I want to be clear, while formal, academic learning is all well and good, if it makes up more than 10% of the learning in your life and you’re over the age of 16, with very few exceptions, you’re doing it wrong.

The hope is that these posts will begin to coalesce around a set of themes, and the above mini-rant brings me to my first which can be summed up in one word: [highlight]autodidact[/highlight].

It’s a great word, isn’t it? It means someone who is self taught. It’s one of my favourite words (along with pronking, nipperkin, memetic, niblings and qualm) because, a) it’s fun to say and b) the concept is at the same time anachronistic and absolutely of the moment.

It’s like an internet enabled washboard that tweets how much laundry you’re doing…Patent pending…

It’s an idea which was once seen as the pinnacle of self fulfilment; an autodidact was a great thinker who followed his own intellectual path, not meekly treading the paths worn smooth by generations past. These days great stock is placed in collecting certificates and diplomas, learning yesterday’s lessons. Autodidacts are amateurs, tinkerers, craftsmen and traders, and they’re entrepreneurs; no longer the intellectual elite according to modern values. Which is a shame, because we need more of them and you need to become one.

Creativity is a learning process. When we engage in creativity we are attempting to bring about change in an environment of uncertainty and we can’t achieve that without learning – you bring about a change only by changing yourself.

(I’m really deep).

Like all forms of learning creativity requires fun, humour, absurdity, provocations and constructive confrontation, as well as curiosity for its own sake and it follows that any creativity which is dependent on directed learning, formal learning, can only lead to inauthentic and unoriginal ideas. After all, how can you expect to arrive at a different destination if you’re following the same road? So if you aim to be creative in a way which is valuable, wherein your output contains some degree of newness, you must become an autodidact!

This is where the minor comes in. I said above that I study a minor in all things interesting (please excuse the Americanism but I don’t know a more English equivalent) and I didn’t do that entirely to appear more well rounded, that’s just a bonus. Whatever you do, if you’re a teacher, a doctor, a mechanic, a sports coach or a wedding caterer, you’ll only be able to break out of the obvious by following what interests you and directing your own learning towards it. If you’re so narrowly specialised, even specialising in the act of creativity, you’ll never find new connections. You’ll be an expert in a dead subject.

And this is why I’m here. My hope is that these posts will be a learning experience for me and, in the best of all possible worlds, for those who read them too.

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