28 July 2010

Playing catch-up

The world is changing all the time, which implies the requirement of constant learning to keep current. In other words, you are always behind.

If you accept the fact that you are always going to be behind, in one way or another, the problem then becomes more tractable. How, in a limited amount of time, can you bootstrap yourself into a learning environment where you can catch up enough to get something working?

The core questions are:
  1. What to learn? (because of the limited time, you know you have to be selective)
  2. How to go about it? (because of the limited time, and the constant churn, you have to be a quick learner/applier)

Andy Hunt wrote a book about pragmatic learning. Clayton Christensen wrote several books about disruptive innovation. The Wikipedia contributors wrote an article about the term "learning curve". The ideas in these books can be instructive.

I have my own opinion about the matter.

My answers to the core questions are:
  1. Look around and get creative about how you can apply about-to-be-stable newer technology to the software problem at hand.
  2. Climb the dynamic learning curve by becoming an "early adopter".

Being an "early adopter" is a productive approach to bootstrapping yourself into a rich learning environment. The key to quality learning is keeping it real & experiential. And trying new technology out and trying to apply it to the task at hand is certainly real & experiential.

The part that makes this whole learning equation possible is that the "innovators" actually need the "early adopters" in order to gain traction and stability. In an open world, that means that you can use early adoption as a means by which it is always possible to inject yourself into a rich and productive learning environment.

After I play this game for a while and become skilled at it, I'm guessing there will be a point at which I will want to have a talk with Paul Graham about a startup. Or maybe I will care about being an innovator in my family more than being famous in a technical sphere. Who knows.


Donald Knuth is the classic example of someone whose life mission specifically excludes playing month-to-month catch-up. Oh, and by the way, that page returns the following HTTP header (in 2010):
Last-Modified: Fri, 23 Sep 2005 04:39:22 GMT

Even the innovation-encouraging Paul Graham wrote an article about addiction that cautions about blanket acceptance of technical improvements.

No comments:

Post a Comment