Always learning, always teaching

April 2013 · 1 minute read

A professor of mine used to often quote Bob Dylan:

"He not busy being born is busy dying"

It's a philosophy of life.

Some are comfortable making the same thing the same way their entire career. If you're good enough, and the product you provide is timeless — say a great whiskey from a recipe honed by generations — you might make it. You'd be fragile, and susceptible to unexpected events, but you might make it, happy and able to care for your family and employees.

Yet, if there's one lesson I learned from the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it's that even masters in their craft are constantly learning, constantly looking to improve, always challenging their own assumptions. In Jiro's case, at age 86 and beyond. Relentlessly.

A tried-and-true way to experience rebirth is to teach. Not necessarily in academia, but by giving away your knowledge and techniques to the world. To teach is first to distill what you know. You are forced to understand the theory of what you may have learned by instinct and practice.

By teaching you will know what you know better than you did, and by giving away your techniques you will empower your peers and competitors. You will be forced to compete creatively and to open new doors for yourself.

It's a bit like running from a pack of wild dogs while dropping behind you a trail of fresh meat. Scary, but the only sure way to keep on your toes and thrive.

The examples are endless, and extend across crafts and lines of business. Steve Jobs' second tenure at Apple is a good example. Apple taught the technology industry, and the business world, that designing for the end-user is important. It taught us that owning the product end-to-end is a powerful way to create cohesive, well-designed experiences that makes customers happy and keeps them coming back. Today, its competitors have learned. Samsung, Google, Microsoft, and others have improved their design sensibility, they've adopted vertically-integrated business models, but all they've done is caught up. Apple has known this for years, and if there's an optimistic outlook for the company it's that while everyone is busy catching up, they are busy being born.

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