Social entrepreneur. Engagement consultant.
We’re all susceptible to skill plateaus after dedicating a significant amount of time to any profession. But why?
Year after year, we learn through experience which practices deliver the best results. Our work improves with the introduction of a lot of shorthand creative solutions: doing “X” will save time and get the job done, so you dismiss “Y” or “Z”. These ready-made, battle-tested solutions for common problems in your workflow allow you to focus on polishing your work to a fine point — and avoid making rookie mistakes that highlight inexperience.
But is thinking like a rookie really such a bad thing? For those of us who do experience a skill plateau at some point, maybe it’s worth reconsidering those inefficient or bad ideas that history has taught us to dismiss. What creative doors can we open when we start thinking like a rookie? Is it possible to reclaim that sense of unlimited potential for growth we had at the beginning of our careers?
Take a Step Back
The first step in increasing your potential is assessing what you currently do. Imagine you’re sitting down for coffee with someone completely foreign to your field and they want to learn about everything you do to take a project from concept to completion. Looking at each step of your process from an outsider’s perspective will likely provide you with some insight about where you’re falling short: it makes you question where your shorthand might be falling short.
Chances are, you already know where you’re mistaking lazy choices for efficient ones. You know the things you wish you could try if you only had the time and motivation. It’s easy to become casually apathetic about the small decisions you make day-in and day-out, especially if you’re juggling multiple clients and a wide array of projects. But it doesn’t have to be like that. If you can isolate a handful of areas you’d like to improve, then you’re one step further in an ongoing action plan to evolve.
If It Works, Throw It Out
In a touching tribute to legendary comedian George Carlin, his self-proclaimed acolyte and modern-day comic superstar Louis CK praised Carlin’s skill for developing new and better work. Each year, CK described, Carlin would discard his previous material and dig deeper to develop new jokes or biting observations about the world around him. Nothing was held over, no matter how successful it was. Considering the enormous body of work Carlin produced over his lifetime, that’s a powerful lesson in what can be achieved when you trust in your own creativity.
Designers, writers, and artists of all kinds can introduce this self-imposed reinvention into their world without jeopardizing professionalism. It’s all about adjusting the scale of change to match your appetite for risk. You could start with trying something totally new in the part of your workflow that only you see — something like brainstorming or outlining the work necessary for a new project. The challenge here is in committing to trying something new when you know your old method was satisfying the other stakeholders you work with. It’s a scary prospect, but reinvention is key to evolving into a better creative. And risk is an inseparable part of that.
Feast on Rookies
It’s not uncommon for fresh graduates and hotshot amateurs to seek out ways to network with established creatives in hopes of finding work. But what if we reversed the relationship? What if we considered these rookies as something more than wannabes looking for advice or favours? In a larger sense, these young men and women are the proverbial carriers of “the fire” — that energetic determination to succeed no matter what. Most of us had that quality at one time or another, and the lucky among us still do. Rookies have it in spades.
People with little-to-no experience in what you do can be a fountain of enthusiasm and a helpful kind of naïveté. They have yet to experience the highs and lows of working as a professional creative or sink into the same habits. This can and should be a symbiotic relationship — they feast on your experience and you soak up their enthusiasm. Even the most naïve question or suggestion can give you new ideas about how to improve your craft. The sooner you start doing this, the easier it will be.
Thinking like a rookie means fighting to keep a fresh perspective on your creative life. If you dedicate part of your time to looking for ways to gain perspective on your work, try risky solutions, and rediscover the benefits of inexperience, your potential will be unlimited.
— Sean Minogue