Bill Buxton on How to Keep Innovating

In BusinessWeek, Bill Buxton discusses how to keep innovating, with the main idea being that you can continue to cultivate creativity and innovation by finding new things that you have a passion for. He suggests that when you get good enough at a thing, you should find something else to be passionate about, and commit and throw yourself into learning how to do it. You'll be bad at it at first, but the experience of learning something new, no matter how bad you are at it at first, may affect your creativity in positive ways that you won't realize until you experience it. In some cases, they may inform what you are already expert at, and in others lead you in entirely new and surprising directions.

The discussion reminds me of Paula Scher's talk focussing on serious versus solemn design at TED. Scher spoke about the different times in her career where she was able to be most innovative in her craft, and the thing that was common in each case was that she was doing something new--something she didn't know much about when she started that particular project. The fact that one has no reference point or bearing can lead to innovative thinking.

This is the same argument Buxton is making. I think Buxton is saying that the continued pursuit of new endeavors itself, is what can help cultivate one's creativity and create the pre-conditions for innovation. I'm sure a lot of people who take up new hobbies and have the continuing need to learn see the obvious in this. This is one of the reasons I feel at home in a city where it is easy for me to start investigating and learning something new all the time. Being in a city isn't necessary, per se, but being able to get inspired and start doing something new is a hell of a lot easier for me here. This coupled with the fact that my wife and I homeschool our 8 year old son, which has lead me to dive deep on countless topics and project that I would never have held my interest in the past. If you read my personal blog, you know about my forays into toy making, game design, character creation and storytelling.

In any case, the story is not new, but is a reminder for me that being well-rounded and having many interests is a good thing. In fact it's one of the top criteria I've used when participating in the hiring of people.