The key skill that opens the door for everything else

One of the key skills required for you to become an invaluable designer is in your ability to problem solve your way out of various situations. Your ability to be adaptable and your ability to solve for ‘X’. Whatever ‘X’ may be. Designing a better user experience. Getting better conversions. Boosting user engagement. Making yourself more money. Making the client more money. Getting clients to trust you. Being a great leader. Presenting well in meetings etc. These are all ‘X’. This applies if you are a Creative Director, Art Director or UI/UX designer, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned veteran.When you can go into the design process at any of its various phases and help coordinate and solve key problems that businesses have, you will become immensely valuable and have a ton of leverage. So how do we get there?

Design by definition is a plan that is used for solving problems - business problems, visual problems or UX problems, and then executing on that plan. And one of the best, if not the best skill I’ve learnt in the last 10+ years as a designer is…..drumroll…..learning how to learn. Wtf? So meta right? But hear me out. In order to expand our skill-sets and to master the ones we currently have requires us to constantly learn. The moment you rest on your laurels it’s game over.

Everyone knows that we need to learn and sharpen our skills, so I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you that. But what we ‘know’ to be true and what we ‘do’ are two separate things. Truth be told I wasn’t always an avid learner. But the more problems I faced throughout my career the more I had to learn in reaction to the constant change I was facing- like designing a button for the first time, to being a better leader, to being a better speaker and so on. I began investing heavily towards learning these skills and honing in on them over time. Repetition and exercise builds mastery.

My ability to solve for ‘X’ greatly improved and no matter the situation I’d figure out a way to do it. Designing an app. Designing an interactive kiosk. Planning user flows. Building a profitable business. Gaining client trust in meetings. This resourcefulness and ability to consistently solve for ‘X’ has turned me into a very valuable designer for many organisations over the years and now my own business. It wasn’t all ‘perfect’ though. There were many failures along the way. Not every meeting was great. Not every design was awesome. But I was willing to learn, endure and keep going even in the face failure. I focused on the process and over time the by product of that was promotions, awards, opportunities and pay rises that came.

So learning is all well and good but what are actionable things we can do to become great learners. So I want to share them with you here, in hopes that it will spark your curiosity and to sharpen your own learning abilities.

1. The first step for growth and your ability to learn is to expand your mindset. “Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success—a simple idea that makes all the difference. Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports.”

Mindset shifts are huge towards what we can achieve and learn. To take the training wheels off of our true potential. According to Carols’ work there are 2 types of mindsets. The growth mindset and the fixed mindset. Compare the two in the diagram below.

Reference – https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/Impact .

What do you think Elon Musk's mindset is when he tackles something that no one has done before, delcares that he is going to take the human race to Mars. He has the confidence to believe that he is capable of realising that vision. He then assembles the team required, the capital required and reverse engineers the results needed despite the astronomical task that is in front of him. That is a growth mindset. Yet most of us are afraid to ask our boss for a pay-rise. To speak in public. Let alone have the belief that we can achieve our dreams. It’s these limiting factors that we set upon ourselves that hold us back from our full potential.

So the first step in being a successful and an avid learner is to adopt a growth mindset.

To find out what mindset you currently have you can take this test here. http://blog.mindsetworks.com/what-s-my-mindset?view=quiz If you have a fixed mindset research the steps you need to expand your thinking.

2. Everyone's learning capacity is different. We internalise information differently. Some prefer books, some prefer videos, some courses, some podcasts, some prefer direct mentors, or a combination of all of these. The key is to understand yourself and to understand how you learn best. Find the mediums that suit you. I like reading and videos. And using mentors as benchmarks and possibilities. When I need to figure something out or internalise information these are the mediums that work best for me. So you need to find and understand the mediums that work best for you. That is how you can maximise your learning capacity. 

3. Learning can be reactionary – you need to do something and so you then research how to do it. Or it can be proactive. Learning constantly is about creating positive habit loops. How often do you brush your teeth? Day in and day out we will brush our teeth like clockwork. Yet this is not natural behaviour but a habit that has been formed and ingrained in us since a young age. That's the power of a habit. There is a cue/trigger, action then a reward. In the same way we can set habits to prioritise our learning. For example: I’ve set a very simple task of reading 1 book a month and try to finish a total of 12 a year. I try to set a cue, when the month starts I begin reading a book. I then gain new insights and serves as the reward to read more. I take a ton of notes as I read so I can go back and reference these books again. You can create more habits like this that prioritise your learning. 

4. Action and repetition. Learning also relates to when I open up photoshop and sketch to just experiment and noodle around. Everyone want's quick wins, but it's this openness to experimentation and constantly putting in the reps, to create, to think, to design that we become masters of our craft. It takes years of work to be able to connect the dots and to see and create things that other people can not. Find the masters and learn from them. 

5. Execution. Hoarding information is useless in and of itself. Every piece of information I gain I try to take action on immediately. If I am learning about setting type, or about product launches, I get into execution mode and become a practitioner rather than just a theorist. This is the best way to internalise information as it makes you tackle live variables that you have to work your way around. You learn best by doing. And in doing so the results will begin to manifest themselves. 

Education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think

ALBERT EINSTEIN

 

So these are the 5 things that I use to constantly learn and adapt to various problems.The act of learning itself like any skill or ability, sharpens the more your practice it. Once you have the means to do this, the potential on what you can do becomes almost limitless. You are one piece of knowledge away from doing what you want to do. These are the techniques and thinking I use to do what I do. I am only a small touch point in your life. Go forth and do great things, don’t use me as a bench mark, I’m just some guy from Melbourne, Australia. Aim for the stars, armed with curiosity and knowledge you are capable of doing so much. Start learning and start doing incredible things, I know you have the talent.