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Going to the Dogs

Going to the Dogs

What Singing Dogs Can Teach Us About Success

I really like coyotes. They’re tough, adaptable and always themselves, without concern for what anyone else—especially any so-called civilized human being—thinks of them. They’re original, authentic, proud, and expressive. And they can also teach us a lot about being successful in this world.

Where I live, in southeastern Arizona, coyotes are common. I see them often and hear them at night too, joining in one of those impromptu choral gatherings that has won them the nickname of The Song Dog. Like foxes in Europe, coyotes have learned that there are richer pickings to be found around people’s homes than out in the desert. So they live in the arroyos between our homes and on the lush golf courses, set down in the desert by courtesy of many millions of dollars and a year-round supply of recycled water. We’ve stolen their habitat for our master planned communities and malls, so they’ve moved in with us and stolen ours.

Of course, sometimes they’re bad as well. Round here, they have a regrettable tendency to eat people’s small pets (as do our resident bobcats). In Native American lore, Coyote is a sort of deity, but one who is tricky and liable to mess you up if you don’t watch him very closely. But, hey, these singing dogs are also playful and spontaneous, and—best of all—they’re never dull.

I said that those coyotes can teach us something.

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The first coyote lesson is to take a few risks. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a serious purpose in life—even some perfectly pleasant people have one—but too much seriousness and playing by the rules does tend to block any willingness to adapt. What’s made the coyote so successful is adaptability. These coyote guys are realists. Their motto seems to be: “If you can’t change it, exploit it.”

Besides, it’s conventional thinking that has gotten us where we are today. It may have produced some benefits, but it’s produced some really massive problems too. We won’t solve those problems by using the same approaches that created them in the first place. Nor will conventional thinking produce many new ideas, especially if it’s been worked to death by everyone from marketing gurus to media hacks.

Take some risks. Try something new. The coyotes have tried living among people and it’s working for them. The ones I see around town are sleek and well fed. Some I see out in the desert look pretty scruffy in comparison.

Have some fun. Sometimes those little coyote boogers wake me up in the middle of the night having a riotous party somewhere in the wash behind my house. Lots of singing and probably a few beers. They really know how to have fun.

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Corporate America has lost that skill. Most companies aren’t fun to work for. It’s all so damn stressful and heavy. Yet fun is the best source of creativity. Stamp it out and innovation goes along with it.

All intelligent forms of life play. Coyotes seem to play more than most, especially with their cubs. Play is the very best forum for learning and getting new ideas. As children, we play to learn about life and how to deal with it. As adults, we attend training courses instead and sit there, often bored and usually passive, listening to some guru telling us how to behave.

Who would you rather listen to? A guy in a suit or a singing dog under a wild moon? Would you rather attend a lecture, or have some fun playing around with a few ideas?

Always be yourself. Heck, it’s tough to be anyone else, but some of us spend a lifetime trying. As Shania Twain says in her song, “That don’t impress me much.” It don’t impress anyone else much either. You are who you are and you won’t change that. You don’t need to. Just be the best version of who you are and you’ll be fine. You’ll also be authentic instead of a fake.

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It’s okay to be bad sometimes too. Not nasty and vicious, or downright evil, but just a little mischievous and rough around the edges. Who would you trust more? Some person you know is inclined to be a little tricky on occasions, or a city slicker who pretends to be so-o-o honest, but would stab you in the back as soon as look at you?

When I was young in England, the really interesting girls were usually described as “no better than she should be.” That sounds about right to me. Why should anyone be better that they should be, except to create a false image to cover something worse?

Here’s to being just as good as we need to be . . . and not even one tiny bit more!

As this new year starts, spare a thought for forgetting all the serious stuff and enjoying the life that you have. You won’t get another one, so you might as well make the most of what’s there today. Let my friend Coyote be your guide: smart, cunning, adaptable, fun-loving, tricky, playful, creative, and always ready to take a few risks. He’s not respectable and he’s certainly not conventional . . . but he usually has the last laugh.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His new book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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