Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mind the Gap

This is a brilliant piece by Ira Glass, the host and producer of "This American Life," about a crucial aspect of the creative life that is important for beginners to hear: how to deal with the gap between what we would like to be able to do, and what we can, at first.

I have experienced, and still continue to, experience this in my academic work. I feel quite embarrassed about many of my early papers. How shallow they were! How utterly lacking in novelty, in significance, in rigor!  But over time measured in years, I found, at first to my surprise, that the quality of the papers I am working on is growing, slowly but steadily. This gives me confidence that I'm improving, and feeds the hope that I may yet meet at least my own standards some day (though they are also creeping up in their own sneaky way).

Here is a poster version of the same piece that has been circulating around the web (please tell me if you know who to credit for this):


Marc said...

One thing that I would add is the value of mentoring and collaboration in briding the gap. Great feedback and exposure to new ideas from others are worth their weight in gold.

Of course, taken to the extreme, this can lead to perpetual hand-holding, which is no good. But, we can only develop so far in a vacuum, regardless of how much effort we put in ourselves.

Marc said...

(That'd be bridging, not briding. :-)

Bhaskar Krishnamachari said...

You're absolutely right when you say "we can only develop so far in a vacuum..." There is a nice article by Atul Gawande in the latest New Yorker titled "Personal Best" that is exactly about this. He suggests that even when you have crossed the gap, having a mentor/coach, someone to observe and give you feedback, is really helpful.