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Over the last three years, I have realized that there were key things I want to learn more about. The first topic was business. Although I didn’t see it this way at first, I quickly realized that as we launched a blogging platform, we were also launching a company. For the first time ever, I wanted to go out and get an MBA.

The second topic was creativity. It’s a broad topic, I know. On a theoretical level, I wanted to think in-depth about Design Thinking (a process I had been using for about five years), Flow Theory, and what makes creativity work. On a more practical level, I wanted to learn how to create better books, podcasts, videos, and content.

Neither of these topics fit within my employment and neither of them connect to licensure. However, I had considered going back to college and getting a graduate degree in either of those topics. I know college isn’t for everyone, but there were things I loved about getting a degree: having a cohort to interact with, having access to experts in the field, having a systematic process of learning while also having an informal, messy, connective experience.

Given my teacher salary, I knew I couldn’t drop thousands of dollars just for the fun of it on another master’s degree. So, I basically told myself, “I’m going to work on my own make-believe master’s degree in creative business. It will combine design, marketing, business, creativity, and workflow theory.”

From there, I began essentially creating mini-units. I essentially said, “What is it I want to learn in this season and how does it connect to what I am making?” So, I read books and listened to podcasts and asked a ton of entrepreneurs about design, testing, and market research. I asked for recommendations. I worked through many of the books listed in my fifty favorite books on creativity and design thinking. I kept project journals where I wrote down goals, asked questions, and sketched out ideas. I sought out criticism from trusted peers.

Crafting Your Own “Degree”

I don’t pretend that I have earned a real, accredited degree. I realize that there are gaps in my self-created MBA in Creative Design. However, I feel like this experience has been valuable for me and I thought I would share some strategies that have worked along the way:

  1. Make Something: This is probably the most important concept. It’s essentially the idea that you can learn best when you are actually designing something on your own. I recently listened to an episode of the Tim Ferriss show where he interviewed Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. I was fascinated by the fact that they learned the craft of screenwriting by writing a ton together starting at a young age.
  2. Listen to Podcasts: Currently, I’m able to walk to work and in the twenty minutes it takes me, I listen to podcasts that connect to these geeky interests. Unlike the books I’m reading (which are chosen systematically) the podcasts are often random insights that I hadn’t considered before.
  3. Read Books: Start with experts and ask them what books they recommend. Read the most cited books within books. Read the three-star reviews for intelligent criticism of those books.
  4. Read Articles: Check out the best blogs in your field of interest. Add those blogs to a reader and check them out each day. If you have any access to journals, see if you can find research quoted within the books you’ve read and read in-depth research.
  5. Curate What You’re Learning: I recently wrote about the power of content curation. It’s a powerful way to synthesize information and make connections.
  6. Join a Mastermind Group: Here’s where the community piece comes in. I am part of two different Mastermind Groups. Sometimes we talk about strategy or ideas. Sometimes we share frustrations and offer potential solutions. More than anything else, though, these groups exist as a sort-of soft accountability that says, “We want to see you keep trying even when things get difficult.”
  7. Volunteer: Sometimes the best way you can learn a particular skill is through volunteering for something connected to it. So maybe you’re learning to code and it’s a bit of a struggle. There are many non-profits who would love help with their sites. Maybe you want to learn how Flow Theory looks in action. Volunteer with sports and integrate Flow Theory into your approach.
  8. Network: This is the hardest one for me. It’s basically the idea that you specifically set out to meet people in a particular field who share your interests. In education, this can be an Ed Camp or a conference. One of the best strategies I’ve found here is to ask questions when you’re at a large gathering. Get other people talking and learn from them.
  9. Share What You’re Learning: When I first got into Flow Theory, I started doing conference sessions on the topic. I would say, “Hey guys, I’m still learning this. Let’s talk through it together.” The fact that I was open in my journey allowed me to learn from the audience and articulate what I had been learning as well. This sharing element could be a blog, a set of sessions, a workshop, a resource you give away, or a podcast you make.
  10. Make More Stuff: The last eight ideas are fine but, really, the best way to learn something is by making stuff.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me

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