Timothy Kenny is the author of “Accelerated Learning for Entrepreneurs.” and has taught at the Harvard Innovation lab, The Tufts University Entrepreneurs Society, General Assembly in Boston, and has been a featured teacher on Skillshare, among others. He interviewed me for his book and I enjoyed answering his questions.
Which skills are you most developed in? I assume it is design?
I’ve always had a natural affinity to all things regarding the visual arts. I’ve been learning about photography since I was 8 and I first opened a graphic design software when I was about 11. Since then, I’ve developed strongly in graphic design, particularly applied to web and user interface.
What is your general process for teaching yourself something?
- Step 1: First find out why.
It all starts with garnering the interest to learn something new, which is something that in large doesn’t depend on me at all. Don’t get me wrong, I often times can’t wait to open new software I have no idea how to use or search for tutorials all over the net until I finally get something I can understand. But to learn something new, I must first know why I’m learning it. Either because I read an article that inspired me to learn HTML or saw a report about how big a thing code illiteracy would mean in the future.
Either because I was left amazed by a 12 year old pianist playing Yann Tiersen on Youtube or because I met a friend who loved eating and always cooked with a smile on her face. The things out there in the world that make me think that’s cool, or that’s beautiful or that’s useful or that’s amazing are the things that allow me to take the first step into becoming an autodidact.
If I can’t feel why I’m learning it, I’m just not going to learn it. And if you try to teach it to me against my will, I’ll probably end up hating you or the system that’s making you do it. I could go on about this all day, but schools and the passive learning they enforce on students is one of the big reasons I think they fail to educate anything at all. There’s a reason why people end up hating math you know?
- Step 2: Get a teacher.
My number one biggest fight in my life has been the continuous struggle I’ve had with people who think learning only happens as a result of being taught. This would only be true if they were not referring to being taught by a person inside an institution for a pre-defined period of time in a pre-defined manner. In my universe, ‘teachers’ as in something that teaches you something else are everywhere in the world. Forget about humans in front of a bored-out classroom. Teachers come in all sizes, shapes and colors.
Wikipedia, a good book, Youtube, a nice walk, Kahn Academy, an interesting conversation, yourself and beyond. Once I accepted the idea that I could learn from anything in the world, finding the best fit for me was simply a matter of finding the one I enjoy the most. Nowadays, the diversity is infinite. If I’m going to learn something technical (e.g. like final cut), I want hands-on and a straight dive into the deep end to randomly push buttons and see what they do. If I’m going to learn about something more critical, I want to be surrounded with people who can discuss and throw in different perspectives. Sometimes a classroom is a great idea and sometimes it’s a terrible one.
Everyone has their own way of learning. One size fits all models just don’t work, and its another reason why I think our education system is bust.
- Step 3: keep on it.
If I know why and I have something I can genuinely enjoy extracting from, learning from here on is just a process of time and escalation.
What are the biggest wastes of time when learning design?
Finding a good teacher is sometimes a hard and time-consuming task. If I get a bad one whether it be a person or an online tutorial, chances are I’ll end up frustrated and lose my why along with all my interest to learn that specific thing. This is especially true if what I’m trying to learn something that doesn’t resonate with my stronger passions. It’s happened to me countless times when trying to learn code for example. We’ve seen an enormous amount of growth in the diversity of learning resources in the last decade that I think will only continue to grow exponentially. Organization tools that allow me to browse and discover all of them is what I think we’ll be needing the most in the near future. This is something I’d like to work on.
Can Creativity be learned? How have you learned/developed it?
I think creativity is something that is more remembered as opposed to created. I’ve got nothing to support this, but I genuinely believe everyone in the world is born a creative genius. The hard part is remaining one as you become older. It’s only as we grow up in a society overly-fixated on social inclusion and acceptance that creativity ends up being just a mere deja vu coming out at unsuspecting times we call inspiring.
Creativity survives just as it comes back in settings that bring us back to when we were kids. Where the mind is open to all sorts of new and crazy ideas and where we don’t hold on to the absolute truths that only serve to limit out creative capacity. Stay young, try not to grow up and remain open to absolutely everything.
How should entrepreneurs who have no experience in graphic design approach learning the basics quickly and easily? If they had one hour to spend, what would you tell them to do?
It’s only a handful of us who are writers in a world full of people who can write, and while we can all memorize dictionaries and learn the grammatical rules of language, to become a writer you must be able to do more than write.
This same principle applies to graphic design. You can be a master of photoshop and at the same time be design illiterate or aesthetically unconscious. You can have brilliant ideas and a fantastic taste, yet without the tools to execute them, you just have ideas.
Graphic design is an art and it takes time to master. Never the less, here’s how you might design without becoming a graphic designer:
A) With one hour to spare, I would first ask you to prioritize your needs. If as an entrepreneur you have a budget to hire a graphic designer, I would tell you to learn not how to design but rather how to read design. This will help you distinct good design from bad design and will help you greatly when hiring creatives. Study and learn what the elements and principles of design are. Browse for great examples of their use in communities such as behance.net or dribble. The books specified below will help.
B) If you don’t have the budget to hire a graphic designer and must take on the task yourself, you can skim throughout the different tools you can use to execute design. An hour will only get you an introduction, but if you find yourself a good resource (I would suggest video tutorials), you’ll cover the basics that’ll then allow you to explore the tools by yourself. Find designs you like and try to copy them, this will allow you to skip the creative process and learn quicker how to execute. Once you’re feeling able to be original, the hard part comes in, start designing new things.
C) Despair. Buy a template.
What are your favorite phone apps, computer apps, and physical tools (pen, binder, moleskine, ect) for learning?
Photoshop is my main tool, but for simpler things you can try out Pixelmator. The rest of Adobe’s creative suite is useful too, particularly Illustrator when working with vector based graphics or print.
On mobile or tablet, Adobe Ideas, Fontbook and Autodesk’s sketchbook are useful for on-the-go brainstorming. Outside the digital realm pen and paper are all the physical tools I use. I also love Apple’s magic trackpad.
I don’t know any apps for learning, but I suggest going straight into the apps you’ll actually use as a designer and find tutorials, online courses, or mentors that’ll help you understand them. Most of them have fairly intuitive user interfaces, so you can just dive in and start pressing buttons if you’re feeling brave.
What are your most important daily learning rituals and success habits?
I don’t feel like I have any daily rituals consciously intended for learning or success. If anything, being open and flexible is something I try to practice everyday. Combine that with surrounding yourself with new things and you’ll be a sponge to whatever the universe has to offer.
How do you stay organized and save/remember all the things you learn in blog posts, books, ect?
There’s a reason we sometimes forget things. And my theory after countless failed high-school tests is that we just don’t care about them. If you really want to remember something, find a way you can care about it. But then again if you don’t care about it, why are you trying to save it in the first place?
I think learning should be a natural and organic experience that brings us closer to the things that fascinate and astound us. And while I understand the pressures of a world that sometimes demands of us to be multi-skilled jack of all trades, only those who undistractedly pursue their strongest passions actually get to do the greatest things.
Point is, if it’s hard for me to digest, I like to stop and think before I eat it. Otherwise, learning is unorganized, sporadic, enjoyable and easy.
What (uncommon in biz circles) strategies for learning and executing do people in the art world use that entrepreneurs could adopt?
The corporate world has a culture renowned for being full of formalities that sometimes get in the way of individuality and freedom. In this, it contrasts strongly with the creative world where boundaries are often of little use. As both a struggling entrepreneur and graphic designer myself, I’ve found that the most important thing business can learn from art is that business is just another medium FOR art. As such, I think entrepreneurs should often strive to be artists.
- A) Profit shouldn’t be your priority.
Try to create something beautiful, original, useful, inventive, incredible or amazing. You might starve at first, all artists do. But just remember Debussy’s Claire de Lune or Van Gogh’s Starry Night was never about the money. Truly great companies begin with great visions, not great business plans.
- B) Lose the suit and tie, literally and figuratively.
Artists strive for individuality as the source of their originality, so if you want to have what your competition lacks, be different. Literally and figuratively.
- C) Above anything, be open.
Art benefits from creative freedom. As an entrepreneur, don’t think you’re creatively free because nobody is telling you what to do. A lot creative imprisonment comes from within our closed-off minds too. Try to be open to anything, it’s the gateway of both knowledge and creativity.