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Life Lessons You Can Learn From The Joker

Life Lessons You Can Learn From The Joker

    Batman’s most infamous nemesis, the Joker, has been a longstanding archetype for prankish mayhem, and the late Heath Ledger’s masterful performance in The Dark Knight has only elevated the character to new heights. Despite the Joker’s unforgettable acts as a sociopathic murderer, many people are intrigued by him, and even find this Clown Prince of Crime to be maddeningly charismatic.

    So what’s there to love? A lot, and here’s why:

    Storytelling matters!

    In “ye olde days”, humankind had myths and fables. Today, we have comic books and graphic novels. A central part of the human condition will always be an interest in motivation: whether it’s why someone killed another person or how someone came to be the deranged maniac they are today — that someone for the purposes of this illustration being the Joker — knowing the “roots of the tree” is a persuasive, compelling hook. Even if the person telling the story is a lying psycho, if they’re convincing, you can’t help but want to believe. Clearly, this can be used for nefarious as well as positive purposes.

    A central thrust of successful marketing, emphasized by everyone from guerilla pioneer Jay Conrad Levinson to newer mavericks like Seth Godin, is that people love to be told stories. They don’t necessarily have to be nice stories, but they must be memorable. Whether you’re babysitting kids or closing a big deal, telling a story that’ll stick with your audience is key: a story is a soft shell that seals in the facts and livens up hard data.

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    And even if the “facts” are subject to reinterpretation as we’ll see, it doesn’t change that people love a good yarn. And always will.

    Reimage yourself while keeping your core!

    This is also known as “reinventing your image”, but I figured that was too long: plus, since the Joker is our example and his origins are birthed in visuals, it makes sense to say reimage.

    Changing your mind too often is a bad thing and would result in more flip-flopping than Two-Face in a penny fountain. But spaced out over time after people have gotten used to change, reimaging — or even reimagining — keep things sparklingly fresh, as long as the core of who you are is consistent and earnest.

    The Joker’s origin story has changed many times over decades, and portrayals of him range from zany to disturbing (or a mix of both). But he’s most commonly recognized as having a pale or white skin, an impossibly wide grin, green hair, and a mostly-purple suit. Those visual aspects combine with his characteristics as a crazy killer clown. If we were to reinvent him as, say, a kindly fireman and not set it up as a trick, the readers would feel betrayed and all manner of YouTube-quality comments would erupt.

    The same is true for all popular characters who’ve been reimaged, from Sun Wukong (the trickster Chinese “Monkey King” now being featured in Olympics ads) to, well, Batman’s other villains. And it’s true for you too: whether you have a personal reputation to uphold or are representing a company, your focuses can change over time, but your core values cannot — the Joker wouldn’t be the Joker without a demented sense of what’s funny.

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    Use wild humor and capture it!

    By “wild”, I don’t mean “disgusting” or “death-inducing” as the Joker tends to do, but I do mean these attributes which the Joker flaunts: visceral, raw, spontaneous, and passionate.

    Here’s the problem: I’ve often heard people improvise something brilliant and wickedly humorous mid-conversation, and then I egg them on to write it down for later. They don’t, and that gem gets lost. This saddens me, because maybe you’ve heard a friend say something like: “I’ll get around to it someday?” but never does? Same emptiness here.

    The people who do end up recording their flashes of brilliance are able to expand on them later: witness the tide of Internet phenomena, on “tape” for the whole world to see. And even on a personal level, you can work through life’s problems more effectively with a sense of perspective, and there’s no more reliable way than keeping a journal — so you can clearly refer to adversity you dealt with before, and stay on track with ambitions you’ve got up ahead.

    So why is “humor” important here? Because jokes ease idea transmission; you’re more likely to remember amusing conversations than boring ones. Most people get more impact out of 30-secnd prank videos than 2-hour C-SPAN snorefests.

    The Joker knows the value of capturing his ideas: for example, he takes cruel pictures to taunt Commissioner Gordon in The Killing Joke. And while I certainly don’t recommend going down that dark path, having tools to document your genius will lead to your future self thanking the present you. It can be as simple as a paper notepad, or a PDA. In fact, our own Dustin Wax wrote a great article recently, “Back to Basics: Capture Your Ideas“.

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    Pick a strong color scheme!

    Quick, what colors do you think of when the Joker comes to mind? Chances are it’s predominantly green and purple. (Incidentally, my fave colors are green and pink like a neon watermelon, and it’s helped me many times.)

      If the Joker was, say, orange and yellow, you might as well blurt out, “That’s not the Joker!” This principle is true of superheroes and world flags — colors are associated with certain things, and also help ease idea transmission.

      Here, “Pick a strong color scheme!” means to apply this whenever appropriate. If you’re setting up a new blog to capture your ideas, consider the tones and tints used your theme. If you’re organizing files in folders, color-coding can help you distinguish between them faster. If you’re dressing up for a night at the club, colors again come into play. Be coordinated — but don’t take every color of the rainbow: 2-4 solid colors will do.

      For further exploration on this path, see my personal scheme as featured on Kuler and COLOURlovers. The latter even has a list of Joker-inspired schemes — colors, not ways to rob a bank.

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      Catchphrases count!

      I covered this last week, and it’s important to bring up again: people have finite time, attention, and memory. If you can easily embed yourself into someone’s head (and pleasantly, I’m hoping), you can have a better relationship because they remember you. You’d rather be called upon by name than thought of as, “Uh… who’s that guy/girl again?”.

      The Joker has many notable quotables. Just about every incarnation has a catchy saying. Some of them, like the meme-birthing “Why so serious?” (currently with almost 1.3 million Google hits and a Facebook app), have been used to market The Dark Knight and accelerate the film’s popularity. Others are much longer and not fit for printing in a single dialog bubble, but are unmistakably part of the Joker’s identity.

      Don’t use catchphrases as a cheap joke: do use them to extend your identity and build interest in the rest of you. Like the Joker’s calling cards left at crime scenes, catchphrases create curiosity.

      HA HA HA… I hope that’s given you something to laugh and learn about — now, tell me, what otherwise deplorable, fictional characters have you learned life lessons from?

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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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