Liberal Arts

The theme of the last few days has seemed to revolve around higher education and the liberal arts. I have been entertaining the idea of finishing the degree I started at Trinity Western University back in 1992-1994. At the time, I was working towards a BA in Communications with a minor in Fine Arts, but I didn’t finish, as financial independence became a higher priority and I started work at Force Four.

For the past couple years, Trinity Western University has been offering an Adult Degree Completion program, which can be completed in as little as 18 months. Students graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Leadership. The courses are taken one at a time, and each course is about 6 weeks long. Classes are three hours, once a week. Homework is estimated to be around 8 to 12 hours a week.

It’s not inexpensive, but because the timeline is relatively short in comparison to other alternatives, it would seem to be a good investment of time and money, given the potential increase in earnings. However, that potential may not necessarily be realized within my line of work, since experience and portfolio can often count for much more in the design field than a degree. The real benefit would be the opportunity to develop leadership skills and to do this in the context of a group of highly motivated adult students. The experience might possibly be something akin to Morgan Spurlock’s idea of a failure club. I have also wanted to reestablish connections in the area of higher education, because I am insatiably curious. And, according to Frans Johansson in his book, The Medici Effect, the opportunities for innovation are found at the intersection of very different fields of knowledge and expertise. If innovative ideas are what I am after, then I may be limiting myself by hanging around people who are just like me.

On Monday, TWU Extension held an information session about the Adult Degree Completion program. I signed up that night, and today I have received my learning plan. Orientation is next Monday, and I start classes on 21 January. As a life-long learner, my education is definitely about to intensify.

The Age of Reason versus the Age of Innovation

Last night, I watched a movie on Netflix, Liberal Arts. It was more of an exploration of the theme of aging, and the different approaches people take at pivotal moments in their lives to either face the march of time with grace or to desperately try to skip ahead or to reverse time to deal with the discrepancy between desires and reality.

While my decision might seem like a move backwards to relive another time of my life, it actually feels more like an opportunity to forge ahead with a greater sense of identity and purpose than I had 20 years ago. It seems oddly appropriate to bookend my experience in the design industry with explorations of the state of the art of communication at these two pivotal moments in the evolution of the design field. As people are discovering more about creativity and the science of innovation, I want to arm myself with the knowledge and vocabulary to influence the world as a creative individual, especially given an unreasonable bias against creatives as leaders.

Content Creators and Creating Value

I was reading through Paul Boag’s controversial article, The Inconvenient Truth About SEO, and found myself agreeing with him whole-heartedly. I have experienced the headlong rush to implement content management systems in a production-oriented environment, where we were often disappointed to find out that the client often had no content to manage. Clients did not understand the idea that a nicely designed website would not necessarily be the silver bullet to gain exposure for their endeavours on the web without some significant work on their part. A content strategy must be in place to ensure the hard work of designing a site is not wasted on poor marketing. I really like Paul’s to do list for creating content that is useful to real people:

  • Publishing white papers,
  • Writing a blog,
  • Sharing research findings,
  • Producing detailed case studies,
  • Encouraging user-generated content,
  • Creating useful applications or tools,
  • Running a Q&A section,
  • Posting interviews

If content is king, it’s likely that there is a mountain of data trapped in the ivory towers of higher education. Universities have become divided into faculties that may not necessarily interact as much as they could, where once they represented unity in diversity. Creatives are the people who are able to think through the data, structures and processes to find innovative solutions to real world problems by exploring the unexpected intersections between fields of knowledge. And who of us is not inherently creative? These tendencies may have been surpressed by modern education and business, but there is an opportunity to reawaken creativity, and Dan Pink would argue that this will lead to a far greater drive to innovate and create value in an economy that has devolved into the manipulation of abstract monetary values while ignoring the value of being human.