Category Archives: General Geekery

Peaks and Troughs

I was talking to my wife the other night and she was telling me about an article she was reading. At one point in this article she had learned something that blew her mind, and she was surprised further when she discovered the target audience of the publication was for “beginners”.

This put me in mind of something I’ve always felt with respect to my own education, that is to say I like taking beginner classes and reading beginner articles. But I have had trouble putting the reason into words.

Chances are you’ve had a lot of teachers. Stop and think about it. I have been to one junior high, three high schools, two colleges, and two universities and would not care to estimate the total number of teachers because odds are the estimate would be too low.

Right from the time you left grade school and entered junior high it has been a different teacher/educator/mentor/guru/wikipedia editor/your title here, for everything you have undertaken to learn and at every level of expertise. Each one of these educators has spoken from a different base of experience.

Last night it occurred to me that this broad variety of input we receive can be thought of as being somewhat like a frequency graph. Everything in the x axis of this graph is an area of experience and the y axis is your level of expertise.

That x axis is your collection of jedi powers that you use to sell yourself to potential employers, colleagues, friends and lovers. Many of us tend to put all our effort into pushing these skills further into the Y and wanting to push those peaks and achieve that higher level of proficiency is not a bad thing, but we tend to get a little myopic.

You are going to get a lot of reinforcement in certain areas of that x axis. When you put all your attention into pushing that skill further your eyes are going to start to glaze the second you hear/see/read something that is familiar. So stop focusing so much on proficiency.

Stop assuming you know everything. You and your teachers have probably had some of the same teachers so you are going to get that reinforcement. But the breadth of their experience means that some of what may sound familiar but is different in subtle and very important ways and you don’t want to miss that.

Those troughs are the low hanging fruit in your tool kit and the smallest thing learned can have profound effects on the peaks next to it. So don’t dismiss that class with 60% overlap, read chapter one or that beginners article, you may learn something. At worse, you learn that you did in fact know what you thought you knew.