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Keep an Open Mind: Detention Without Amanda Jones Isn't Necessarily Bad

by Tom Johnson on Apr 8, 2008
categories: creativity technical-writingwordpress

This post is part of Jane's Blog Carnival. The theme this week is the movie Some Kind of Wonderful, a classic 80s high-school movie that my wife quotes from daily.

In one scene, the main character, Keith, intentionally sets off a fire alarm to land in detention, hoping to sit near his daydream love, Amanda Jones. It turns out Amanda -- unbeknownst to Keith -- sprung herself from detention through her flirtatiousness with a teacher, leaving Keith to endure detention alone, with all the other deadheads.But it's during the time in detention that Keith becomes friends with Duncan, an outspoken deadhead who initially seemed his enemy. Through his friendship with Duncan, Keith is able to take Amanda to a private art gallery and later, at the movie's climax, escapes from Hardy's planned pounding because Duncan and his friends fortuitously arrive at Hardy's party to crash it.

Although Keith initially thought detention without Amanda Jones would be a big waste of time, and that associating with Duncan would bring nothing but misery, it turns out that detention allows Keith and Duncan to become friends, and Duncan later saves Keith in his moment of greatest need.

In general, I try to look at the Duncans I meet and the detentions I have to serve as possibly beneficial experiences. Many times undesirable experiences turn out to be beneficial in hindsight. This is why I don't mind trying new things, attending new events, and keeping an open mind. You never know what may come of it.

Keith arrives at detention, surprised not to see Amanda Jones

In the above image, Keith arrives at detention, surprised not to see Amanda Jones.

Below are some experiences where I opened my mind to something new and had a good experience because of it.

Experience #1: SLC Bloggers

Last month I attended my first ever blogger dinner. Kind of nerdy, and I was reluctant to go. I had no idea that two months later I would still be keeping up with the blogs and tweets of people I met there. The same people let me know about Podcamp SLC, which was tremendously beneficial. And now Wordcamp SLC is in the planning. It's nice to have a group of bloggers nearby that I can find camaraderie with.

Experience #2: Podcasting

Podcasting is another unexpected experience. I first started listening to podcasts in 2006 as part of a New Year's Resolution strategy to exercise more. That morphed into listening to podcasts everywhere, recording local chapter presenters and publishing them as podcasts, and then becoming a regular podcaster. Today I was IMing with a guy from Malaysia who regularly listens to my podcasts.

Experience #3: WordPress

How did I get into WordPress? One day I saw an e-mail request for someone to be a webmaster (outdated term) for my local STC chapter. I volunteered, and while exploring the web host's cPanel, I installed WordPress. A little while later, I converted the STC site to WordPress, and then finally created my own blog using WordPress. Now blogging has become a significant activity for me.

Experience #4: Technical Writing

I fell into technical writing in a circumstantial way as well. As a writing instructor in Egypt, I became good friends with a former technical writer who told me several times that I would make a "perfect technical writer." Through his encouragement, I later steered my career in that direction. Despite my previous bias that technical writing was too boring, I was open to his suggestion, and after my first job as a technical writer, I knew it was for me.

Experience #5: Community

Some experiences don't work out so well. One person I interviewed for a podcast invited me to become a regular columnist for his community site, Elephant. I thought hmmm, okay, I'll try it, because you never know what may come of it. However, I didn't get much traffic, feedback, or other knowledge from participating in this group. It started to become a chore. Finally, I said I wasn't interested in posting on that site anymore.

You never know what may happen as you walk down a new path. Sometimes it turns out to be worthwhile, other times not.

The Challenge of Keeping an Open Mind

Most of the experiences I mentioned involve embracing an open mind for new ideas and technologies. It's not difficult to keep an open mind in these instances, because you can't know the end from the beginning. But how do you keep an open mind about things you already experienced?

As we get older, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain an open mind because all previous experiences harden us towards certain views. For example, if I later receive another invitation to start a column in an online community that I'm not a part of, I might say, no thanks. And yet this other opportunity may provide entirely different results from Elephant.

The challenge to keeping an open mind is figuring out how to prevent previous experiences from locking you into the same perspective.

Two Major CEOs Warn About the Value of Experience

At least two major CEOs (of MySpace and MySQL) both caution that people with experience in an outdated marketplace may be at a disadvantage today. A successful business strategy in 1970 probably doesn't apply to 2007's marketplace, where open source technologies, globalization, search engine optimization, and Web 2.0 are factors.

Someone highly successful 30 years ago may look at a product and think, we can't do open source. We can't do blogs. We'll never survive. That kind of thinking can put that CEO (and other leaders) at a disadvantage.

The Baggage of Past Experiences

As I said, the challenge of keeping an open mind is to figure out how to hold on to your previous experiences without putting too much stock in them. You can't discard them because most of the time, the learning from past experiences works toward your benefit. From an evolutionary point of view, it's stupid to throw away everything you've learned.

Let's return to the example of contributing a column to Elephant. If I were to welcome another opportunity to begin a column somewhere else, and then experience the same result — lack of information return, thinning of my time, poor traffic results, etc — wouldn't I be an idiot? How many times does it take for me to learn my lesson? Wasn't it Einstein who said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

At the same time, dismissing a new opportunity for community involvement due to one experience may be a close-minded action.

Obviously this is a topic for a larger discussion, but in short, I think the way to maintain open-mindedness is to note the details of how situations, environments, and contexts vary from the previous. A few details of difference can lead to widely different results.

I learned this weekend that in navigation, if you veer off course one degree and circumnavigate the world, when you return to your original latitude, you'll be 500 miles off course.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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