Stop Thinking, Start Doing – Else Your Career/Skills/Network Will Fade Away …

Hugh Pickens posted an interesting comment on Slashdot last week … pulling ideas out of an excellent NY Times article

“I have a DVD remote control with 52 buttons on it, and every one of them is there because some engineer along the line knew how to use that button and believed I would want to use it, too,” says David Heath, co-author of “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.” The “curse of knowledge,” is the paradox that as our knowledge and expertise increase, our creativity and ability to innovate tend to taper off because the walls of the box we think inside of thicken along with our experience. An article in the NY Times proposes a solution to the curse: bring outsiders with no experience onto teams to keep creativity and innovation on track. When experts have to slow down and go back to basics to bring an outsider up to speed, “it forces them to look at their world differently and, as a result, they come up with new solutions to old problems.” Another solution is to force yourself to become a beginner again like making yourself shoot basketball left-handed.”

I really like the idea of regressing to beginner status: get completely out of your comfort zone, and try something new (technical or otherwise).

It’s that time of year – killing a little free time over the Christmas / New Year’s holidays, catching up on small technology projects, culling old bookmarks, and hacking code fragments that promise to lead to the next Killer App. It’s a fun type of frustration, googling for answers on arcane technology combinations as you try your personal mash-ups: for example, I’ve switched to Google Calendar for aggregating family, work, public and personal schedules. I stumbled upon Google Sync, but couldn’t find any help configuring it on my Blackberry Pearl to synchronize with Lotus Notes.

Well, at least I thought I was missing something – until I scanned the comments in this post and decided to let things sit for a while. My patience paid off; I noticed that GSync would only synchronize newly added meetings / appointments from Notes. In the end, not much effort was spent, but I did get caught up in [my perception of] “the way things always work”; I wonder if I wasn’t on extended holiday weekend, I would have just given up.

I think a critical, recurring New Year’s resolution for folks in IT should be to jump aggressively out of your technology comfort zone, and invest some time experimenting in new technology. Open-source is a wonderful thing; trying stuff out is cheaper, faster, and more value-adding than trying to decide how I might adapt my favorite hammer to this particular nail.

That calendar stuff is small potatoes; my current Big Idea will manifest itself as a reasonably interesting PHP application. I’ve done some Eclipse / PHP in the past, and I also caught sight of Epic‘s beautiful debugging environment for Perl. Now I want the same for PHP, as I hack away at the Google API with the Zend Framework and get ready to architect/build my first real MVC application.

Sounds impressive (pretentious?), but talk about feeling like a beginner! It’s not the code, but the struggle to grasp how all the pieces work together; configuration details, new programming paradigms, and a new language syntax (well, I only spent about six months doing anything remotely interesting in PHP).

Still – I’m having a ton of fun, and I know that I’m stretching my systems design and application architecture muscles which is the whole point. With apologies to Berkun (it’s a bit of a buzzword), but innovation, and the ability to design and develop business solutions that leverage technology correctly (not just the “flavor of the month”) is one of the basic assumptions that business makes about their IT department.

It’s not quite reinventing yourself – but you need to keep expanding your knowledge base (and experience) before you get trapped behind thick walls of inflexible best practices.

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.