I love coming across good stuff. It makes me wish that I had come up with it. But I am also content with sharing it. I am here to promote the pursuit of interdisciplinary knowledge and to convince you to branch out. This is also shameless self-promotion (take my class at the Provo Rec Center!), but one backed with good results!
Srinivas Rao writes in his article The Power of Creative Cross-training: How Experimentation Creates Possibility about the benefit of pursuing new creative endeavors in order to stimulate productivity in our chosen field. He asks us think outside of our professional labels, a territory that is difficult to leave without the promise of a paycheck, and embark on a new endeavor. This endeavor isn't meant for monetary profit, which is why what he calls the "byproducts" of such an endeavor can prove so significant in our growth. Think of that! Pursuing something that won't lead to profit. In the creative field, that could take the form of a painter who might feel stuck in his work until, upon trying photography, he suddenly finds a new method of dealing with light. Consider what this cross-training could mean in an interdisciplinary sense. How could I, as an artist, better communicate my ideas, or communicate better ideas for that matter? Get better acquainted with science. Learn a language. Study web design.
I should say that I am going to do just that. This website is a token of my failed attempt to learn web design. While seemingly unsuccessful, the byproduct of my effort was my resignation to use a platform, and thus finally get a website!
What is needed to make this branching out exercise beneficial? Focus. Find what Rao calls a "keystone creative habit," which is a consistent effort that is tracked and yields results. This can be something as simple as cooking a good breakfast every morning. The input is cooking, the product is food, and the result is health. Keep a journal while your at it.
My latest interdisciplinary project has stemmed from my pregnancy. I am fascinated by birth. My keystone habit is casual, just a booklist, but the information gleaned from those books has led to new material for my art, a greater knowledge of my own body which has prepared me to make informed decisions, and a tentative ten year plan to change the world of women's health.
It can be argued that to focus on a new endeavor would take away from the real task at hand (see my prospective career change above), whatever that may be. Jason Fried of Basecamp writes how aiming for profit, which often takes to role of the antagonist in my posts (mostly because I have yet to achieve it) has helped to make their company successful. "It helps us shed things beyond the scope, it helps us keep the company fit, without accumulated layers of fat from chasing a thousand potential directions at once." They don't focus on the things they can't accomplish, or don't need to, and are therefore able to maintain a tight, successful business.
I suffer from thousands-of-potential-directions syndrome. It's resulted in dispersed piles of unfinished projects that drive the co-inhabitants crazy. But a focused pursuit of a new skill is a worthwhile thing. Can you take my word for it? It's possible to fit it in. Laura Vanderkam of 99u writes:
I’ve found that many of us have space to lean deeper into our careers if we like. The good news? We don’t even need to work around the clock. We simply need to allocate the hours we choose to work to our highest value activities, rather than filling hours with things that just expand to fill the available space.
Now is an appropriate place to lament how much time is wasted in all manner of ways. Maybe I'll post about it. But what's important here I think is that without taking too much time away from primary obligations, there is time for other things. What is needed is time management, and a bit of follow-through. My unfinished projects have all sorts of potential, but I lacked the discipline to make it happen. I have the unfortunate need of formal structure to get things done, which inevitably leads to bigger bills. Groupon, however, is a great resource for those like me who need the social structure of a class to succeed.
To lean deeper into a variety of worthy projects is to lean deeper into our careers. With growth, profit, and status constantly on our minds, we get pigeon-holed into one method of working that yields one type of result. Liberate yourself, challenge yourself, to do something with the sole purpose of expanding yourself, and bask in the wealth of results.