The learning curve: a psychological hurdle to creativity

In our second installment from a podcast by Ira Glass, we learn about the steep learning curve in becoming a professional storyteller. One consequence is that you learn to recognize good work sooner than you learn to do good work.

This is a huge insight into one of the great banes of graduate student existence. You are a grad student because someone has recognized your raw talent, because you have a latent barometer for distinguishing good science from bad, and because you have a passion to do good work. Yet unless you are extraordinarily lucky, your first efforts, your second efforts, your third efforts, will be pretty bad. And the painful fact is that you will recognize it as not very good because, as Glass points out, you have good taste.

Remember that this is a common dilemma in mastering any creative skill. If you don’t have the tenacity and the work habits, it will grind you up.

But if you fight through it, and resolve to apprentice yourself to the task, you will move forward. As Gideon said in some earlier comments, you have to immerse yourself in grad school, absolutely drown in it.

Also, note Glass’s little diversion on how you speak to your audience. You don’t underline every third word for its emphasis (i.e., the “BBC voice”). Speak with the tones and inflections as if you were telling a story to friends around the table.


2 Responses to The learning curve: a psychological hurdle to creativity

  1. ariew says:

    Mike Kaspari,

    Your blog entries are mandatory readings for my graduate students in philosophy of science. Most of the time I just have them substitute “science” for “philosophy” and the point carries over.

    I think yours is the best GTD-type blog out there. Thanks for this incredible service to the community.


    André Ariew
    Department of Philosophy
    University of Missouri, Columbia

  2. Rue says:

    OK, This is old, but I have to say that the best thing I’ve done recently as a grad student is to agree to review for the upcoming conference in my field. It has honed my ability to tell good writing/work from bad and made my own writing better!

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