The other day I wrote about a job interview I screwed up. Well, I was not just complaining. I also took some time to consider what went wrong and how I could perform better next time. One of the questions I handled like a complete jerk was: How do you keep track of developments in your field?
For me, sucking in information is like breathing. On the contrary, I always wonder how people manage NOT to stay informed. Hence, I have never thought about how I do it. It’s just so normal that I couldn’t explain. Which sometimes happens when people ask me something I take for granted. It’s called ‘unconscious competence’. A skill you have but are not aware of because for you it’s no effort. Like walking over a bridge without falling down. You only struggle when you start thinking about it. But next time, I will know exactly what to answer.
Staying informed in my field(s) of expertise has three components:
- A broad interest in developments going on the world which may or may not be related to my field
- Keeping track of the professional area in general
- Looking for specific information required to solve a problem or deal with requests
And this is how I do it (and so can you):
I am addicted to twitter. I follow all kinds of media, journalists, scholars or interesting people and try to make sure I include people whose approach differs from mine. I read at least three different newspapers, although not daily. I watch the news daily and switch between channels to make sure I’m not too biased. I read everything I can get my eyes on and I watch documentaries on various topics. I find that having a good understanding of basic cultural and scientific principles makes it a lot easier to understand how things unfold, and that makes it easier also to stay tuned to
Related social media accounts or interest groups are easy ways to follow the industry and / or profession you work in. I also read. A lot. Like, one book per week minimum. Of course that includes several books on my subjects. I teach. That is not as such making sure I teach current information, but I get a lot of feedback from my students which forces me to constantly work on my lecture and adapt it, e.g. to changes in law or developments in an industry. I try to attend gatherings or fairs, but only every now and then. And I constantly talk about things I’m interested in, so I get a lot of information from listening to other people, especially colleagues. I attend classes and workshops on a regular basis. There are also countless magazines and studies published, although I rarely use them for general track keeping but rather when I look for
As a lecturer, it happens that students, especially part-time students with proper jobs, have better or more current information on something. Even with all the activities to stay informed, you simply cannot know everything. The most important learning factor for me is appreciating other peoples’ exertise and being relaxed about not knowing everything. Some people see that as a flaw (as did my interview partners last Saturday), but I think they are deluded and / or insecure. As Stephen Hawking put it: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”.
A lot of information is available when you need it. When a customer has a problem I put together all the information required from various sources, my brain being only one of them. When a student writes a paper about a topic I never came across before, he / she educates me along the way. When someone asks me a question I can’t answer I look up the information. Next time you ask me, I will be able to answer. BTW: If you want to trigger me badly, you reply to a question with: ‘Oh, you already are the third person asking me that this week. I don’t know it.’
And now it’s you turn. What are your resources and strategies?