I was 28 when I graduated from Berkeley. 30 when I left Wired (and San Francisco).
I bring that up because 10 years later (or 8 years later if you’re doing the math), I don’t feel particularly smarter than I was back then. I do feel more well-rounded. Which I guess is a way of saying that I know more about what I know. I’ve been able to see around the knowledge I have, understand it for what it is, and see where it’s not quite right.
I get, today, that most of what I’ve learn in a book needs to be honed and shaped by the life, bits and pieces rubbed off and re-shaped in ways that only experience can tell you. I’m smarter today, I think, because I’ve gone through that chiseling process. I’ve been around the world, had the chance to play with the knowledge and craft it.
Which doesn’t mean I’ve turned off the knowledge spout. I still try to learn every day. But I spend more time on the things I am learning, trying to figure out what I know I’ll take the time to shape.
This flashed through my mind on Friday as I spoke with an executive from Sprint and another member of their communication team about promotion.
I’d just finished my talk on Read/Write Stories and Participatory Culture. We were discussing how this might play out in a corporate setting. I showed them some examples of what I meant. And laid out, briefly, how and why they might approach these ideas.
We have a meeting lined up in a few weeks to discuss this more.
This is not particularly unique, this situation I described. You reach a certain age and, in your field, people want to know what you think. This happens to my friends on a regular basis. Far more than it happens with me.
When I was younger, I ascribed the phenomenon that I observed to some “network” or “club” that everyone – but me – seemed to be in. I was an outsider, observing.
As I’ve gotten older, I realize it’s something else entirely.
I spend most of my day working with and around people who don’t understand what I do. (I recognize, of course, the same is likely true of them. I am not them, though, so I have to speak just of me.) I have been, for some time, an outlier in my field. Podcasts in 2000. Blog-like entries at Wired (short, notebook items). Pictures and images with stories. Shooting video.
These were things I tinkered with a decade ago. And my bosses at Wired News, some of them, were reticent to let me do such things.
The point is that I’m used to feeling on the outside. (And having people who don’t understand the skill behind the emerging technology try to explain to me how these things work.) So when I find someone who speaks the same language as me – generally someone who has that same outliers experience – I gravitate to them. Immediately.
From the outside, I imagine there are those who want to be in this club. Who stand around, like I did, I want to be on the inside. Because they think there is an inside.
And don’t yet realize the inside is made up of people who are simply on the outside the rest of their lives.
I tell my dad regularly: I have to watch what I say now because 10 years ago, people would argue back. Now, people nod and start doing. I don’t always appreciate the weight of that.
This isn’t, as I’ve suggested, a function of being smarter today than I was 10 years ago. It’s a function of honing and shaping. Because I’ve had the chance to fiddle with this knowledge for a decade, examining it from many angles. It’s not an idea now. It’s a part of my DNA.
I don’t speak, publicly, about the things I don’t know because I’ve been on the receiving end of that conversation too many times in my life.
So we’ll meet to discuss some the ideas I’ve discussed in my talk. We’ll kick ideas around about how Sprint might approach participatory culture. How they might seek to change their image (at least in the technology world), an image that took a hit a few years back.
We’ll talk because we’re outliers.