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Untapped Opportunities

Colin Wright
Colin Wright
Aspiring Generalist is part of the Understandary project portfolio.

Untapped Opportunities
I have a rule related to learning new things that I apply fairly consistently, these days.
When I discover I don’t know something that seems like it could be useful or might contain gateway-data leading toward a body of knowledge I lack, I’ll take some time to understand it at a basic level.
The other day, one of my doorknobs came loose and then fell off. I had never seen the inside of a doorknob before, and the entire mechanism looked a little complicated to my untrained eye.
My first inclination was to call my landlord, but after a few minutes of ham-handedly tinkering with it, and then taking a quick look at a one-minute YouTube video on the subject, I was able to whip out a screwdriver and put it back on—more stable than before—myself.
Several years ago, I was putting together a podcast episode on something related to radio waves when I realized, although I understood the concept of radio waves on a very superficial level, I didn’t actually get how radios worked more granularly.
I started looking around, reading some Wikipedia articles, and clicking some links—following them back to their original sources.
After about half-an-hour of this, I realized it was actually a really interesting subject, and decided to get my radio operator’s license—something that isn’t massively difficult, but does take a fair bit of time and attention, compared to (for instance) just reading a Wikipedia article.
I eventually opted not to take the real licensing test (which requires meeting up in person, and the options for doing so in my area at the time were lacking), but I did pass an online version of the test, and the knowledge I acquired during that process served as a learning-segue, leading me to how radios are used by truckers and other freight carrying entities.
From there, I learned that many RVers use radios while driving their rigs, and I realized I didn’t know much of anything about RVs and motorhomes and trailers—or even what the difference was between those things—so I started researching that field, eventually deciding to find and buy and fix up an old motorhome to drive and live in for the duration of a speaking tour I was in the process of setting up.
Sometimes this rule sets me down a very short path: one that only lasts a few minutes and involves a little clicking, a little reading, and maybe a screwdriver.
In other cases, it’s a path that extends for days or weeks or even years.
The ultimate consequence in either case is the filling of some gaps in my general understanding of the world.
Periodically this newly fleshed-out understanding leads me directly to other learning opportunities, but often it remains a tiny, knowledge-tidbit I can incorporate into the larger mass of things-I-know, maybe utilizing it again in the future (reattaching another doorknob), perhaps applying it to another bit of knowledge I decide to pick up at some point (learning more about tools and home repair topics), and possibly forever remaining a tidbit: interesting unto itself, but that’s it.
Whatever the outcome, this rule reminds me to pull on info-threads when I find them, and almost always nudges me toward knowledge I didn’t know existed (and didn’t realize I lacked): encouraging me to pay attention to what’s happening in my environment, lest I miss a thread that would have led me someplace interesting.
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Colin Wright
Colin Wright @colinismyname

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