Unexpected Benefits from Reading

August 4, 2015 at 10:35 am (Innovation, Rant, Thinking) (, , , , )

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading (a LOT of reading). I’ve been making a point of visiting my local library once a week this year and I can’t seem to leave the building without two or three new books. It has helped to sate my need to learn about different things, but it has also provided me with some unexpected benefits.

A couple of the topics that I’ve been reading about are leaf cutter ants and map making. These aren’t exactly topics that directly impact my daily life, however, they’ve been helping me expand my ideas to beyond just what has already been done. If you think about it, how can you be innovative and expand your field if your field is all that you study?

the benefit of reading isn’t necessarily learning about a topic;
it’s gaining perspective about the world of things you don’t know about.

At this point, it isn’t a secret that I prefer to do things a little different. I frequently file patents through the company I work for, and I’m always on the hunt for ways to improve the world around me in ways nobody has considered. I’ve been finding more and more that there is almost always some sort of alternate takeaway from even the most obscure subjects. They help to change the brain’s neural pathways to generate new combinations of ideas and make better contributions.

More importantly however, I believe the largest benefit is that it helps me see what I don’t know. Frequently, we only ever play in areas we’re good at: we read books and articles where we’re already familiar with the field, we cook foods that we know how to cook, and I bet over the years you’ve probably gotten good at your job. There’s rarely a chance to see just how much we don’t know.

In my opinion, the benefit of reading isn’t necessarily learning about a topic; it’s gaining perspective about the world of things you don’t know about. I’d like to go as far as to say that you can attempt to shrink that world, but perspective is the best we can do; you can’t shrink the infinite.

So, go forth and read something that is outside of your sphere of expertise; you might be surprised with the results.

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Update on Activities: June 8, 2015

June 8, 2015 at 2:58 pm (Computer Science, Programming, Rant, Thinking) (, , , , )

So I had somebody remind me that I haven’t posted anything in a while here. It hit me that it’s been months since I’ve posted an update on what I’ve been up to so I might as well write a few things down. I’ve actually been keeping myself very busy with a number of non-programming projects, so I’ll post a few things.

One of the main things that’s been taking up my time lately is that I’ve been trying to improve my brain. To do this, I’ve been using some software on and off to try and improve my working memory. It’s based on some research called the “dual n-back” test; essentially you’re testes on how many previous numbers you can remember as well as where the numbers were displayed on a 3×3 grid. I believe there has been mixed feedback in the reproducibility of this work as well as its transference to other areas of activity. This means that people aren’t 100% sure that doing well at this test will help you do other things.

In addition to this, I’ve been reading a ton of books from my local library. I believe a week or two ago I hit a point where I had 22 books signed out at one time on a wide variety of subjects. Part of my strategy of being able to read all of these books is that 3-4 of them are books on speed reading. I honestly still can’t believe how much faster it has made me while being able to consciously remember everything I’m reading. I’ve traditionally had attention problems while reading and have gotten used to the lines of text moving around on the page. These techniques have definitely helped me worth this problem.

My last update for today is that I’ve been taking a bigger interest in my career. This has been a theme of the past year as I’ve turned my “normal” job into half of the things I do at work. I’ve been taking on new responsibilities and being more proactive about what I do. For example, this past week I started writing a newsletter for my product’s team to keep them informed on big sales and customer use-cases. This is somewhat of a small thing, but as I keep my ear to the ground at my company for useful information, I saw a need that wasn’t being met by anybody else and opted to fill it.

On a final note, I’ve been keeping better track of all of the interesting things I’ve been doing voluntarily. So I hope to remember to post here more often on what I can (I’m sure there are some things I can’t share for confidentiality reasons).

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