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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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