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Learn 1 Thing from Everyone You Meet

File this under ‘weird things Colin does for fun at parties.’

In addition to playing the Meet New People game (which I’ll cover in the near-future), I make it a point to learn at least one completely new fact from each person I talk to when I’m out networking (also: at a friend’s birthday party, attending a museum opening, or really anything else where I come into contact with people).

The facts don’t have to relate to anything in particular and can run the gamut from something you’d learn in a textbook to something you’d learn on prime time television to something you’d learn on the streets.

There are three main reasons why you would want to start doing this immediately:

1. Practice good conversation skills

Good conversationalists are adept at steering a conversation with questions and answers that communicate effectively and concisely, while at the same time encouraging the other person to do the same. If you consistently have goals for your conversations (other than ‘learn their name and don’t spill your wine on them’), you will get better and better at both participating in conversations and meeting the goals you set for yourself. Using an artificial (and quite easy to achieve) goal supports this habit.

2. Expand your knowledge

You may be an absolute wizard when it comes to PHP programming or bio-mechanics, but what do you know about basketball? Or estheticians? Or The Hills? It’s okay to have a focus, but it’s important to know as much as possible about as many fields as possible if you intend to be a well-rounded individual. Not only does taking in tidbits of info from all across the board allow you to be a less ego-centric individual (being able to look at the world from other people’s perspective), but you might even learn something that helps you with your chosen focus (who knew that learning something about Game Theory would help you with your sociology thesis?).

3. It’s entertaining

Let’s be honest, no matter how good you know something is for you, it’s difficult to keep it up unless there are explosions or breasts or dancing celebrities involved. Fortunately for all of us, the ‘Learn 1 Thing from Everyone You Meet’ habit is easy to adopt and even easier to keep up (you won’t even realize you’re doing it after the first few weeks, and neither will anyone else). It also has the potential to be crazy interesting; I personally have learned a ridiculous amount about subjects I didn’t even know existed simply because I asked the right questions.

Because of these conversations, I could tell you all about historical military tactics, the correct way to fold clothing (by situation), what to look for in a legit precious stone, how authors are treated by various book publishers, the difference between fission and fusion (and how acoustic cavitation relates to them both), who won the latest season of Top Chef, what shoes are currently in style in Spain, how to make a coin disappear through a kitchen table, and thousands of others things that have kept me amused, amazed, and infinitely interested in what other people have to say.

In order to get the most from this conversation, you should make sure to ask guiding questions (which lead people toward talking about what they are interested in). Good questions include ‘What do you do for a living?,’ ‘Where did you get that?’, and ‘Oh yeah?’ (I get the best results from that last one, since it leaves things very open ended while at the same time encouraging the other person to continue speaking along whatever vein they choose).

It’s also important to weed out the clutter, which includes unsubstantiated opinions, filler phrases, pleasantries, and anything quoted from a movie with high school and college students as a target audience.

Try it out just once and I guarantee you’ll be hooked (and more knowledgeable)!

Let me know how it goes in the comment section below!

Update: April 23, 2016

Holy hell, I absolutely still do this, but I haven’t thought about it in these terms — as a game — for ages. Now it’s just something that I do because I’ve embraced my tendency to be naturally curious in things that other people are excited about and interested in.

I’m so glad I wrote this down at some point.

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Nostalgia for Fun and Profit

One of my favorite assignments in design school involved going through my old class work and re-appropriating something I had done before into something new. I took old photographs and turned them into new album covers. A once-glorious illustration became a newly-glorious social poster. A really-quite-bad infographic became a really-quite-funny t-shirt.

The idea of reaching back into your near- or distant-past for inspiration can be taken beyond scrapping old projects for new raw materials. Case in point: I’m in the process of selling off everything I own, and my trusty old guitar is sitting in the middle of my living room (which has become Purgatory for my items in transition).

I hadn’t played my guitar since I moved nearly a year ago. Pulling it out of the closet brought everything back, however, and before long I was jamming and strumming and plucking and having a grand old time (until the next day, when I realized my old calluses were gone…ouch!).

This happens frequently with my old writings, as well. Every once in a while I’ll come across and old poem or short essay, which reminds me that I was at one time a professional writer and that perhaps I should utilize that skill set more frequently.

Don’t even get me started on the perpetually lost-then-found Frisbee (75 grams…Ultimate Frisbee regulation size…oh yeahhhhh) that floats around my closet space.

The point is that we all have skills and personal effects that at one point were at the center of our universe, but have now been squeezed between the Boyz II Men cassettes and plastic harmonica case for so long that they’ve been all but forgotten.

Take a look around. Go through old drawers, closets, bags, and jacket pockets.

Check in on your old files, archived hard drives, and ancient mix CDs.

Call up a friend from high school, email your preschool teacher, or flip through the pages of a forgotten favorite young adult fiction novel.

These are all things that have contributed to making you who are you, and who you will become. Taking the time to remember them could act as a catalyst for you, make the long path you’ve traveled to get where you are more distinct, or maybe just be a lot of nostalgic fun.

Worst-case scenario: you’ll find some old Beanie Babies to sell on eBay. Score!

Update: April 23, 2016

This is something I haven’t thought about for some time. Re-appropriation of one’s own work, own stuff, own history — it’s a good point. Something to think about.

I don’t have as much stuff in closets and drawers these days, but archived digital goods are definitely available. Might be time to crack open the ol’ Dropbox and see what I can find tucked in the more rural folders.

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Play Tetris to Achieve Your Dreams

A little known fact about me: I hold the high score on 5 Tetris arcade machines.

“Why would Colin waste his time with games, when the game of life is the only one worth playing?” you’re likely asking yourself at this moment. “And aren’t video games for geeks and Wii-bowlers?” Two very good questions. The answer to the latter question is a resounding ‘No.’ The answer to the first question is a bit more involved. Let me lead into it with some interesting facts about Tetris.

Tetris is one of those rare creatures that refuses to stay sequestered within its primary niche. Sure, it’s a video game – a very popular game (the only one that has been translated onto almost every video game system, graphing calculators, and the sides of buildings all over the world) – but it has many properties help it distinguish itself from the rank-and-file Mario flicks of the world.

First, Tetris has been shown to increase brain efficiency in players. The more you play, the more efficient your brain becomes, using less and less glucose to perform the same calculations.

Second, Tetris can help ease the pain of a difficult day at work or a particularly traumatic event. Though the study that was conducted didn’t indicate exactly why this is the case, it’s thought that the stimulating (though repetitive) visuals and calculating game play keep a lot of the stressful flash-back-worthy snippets from sticking around in your long term memory.

Third, Tetris increases hand-eye-coordination. Many (if not most) video games are said to do this to a certain extent, but because of the nature of Tetris’ game play, it tends to be even more effective.

Not bad for a game created in 1984 (speaking of which, happy 25th birthday, Tetris)!

I’ve always enjoyed Tetris for the game play, but I have definitely noticed the other benefits from playing it (I get a kick out of activities that are fun and productive at the same time).

All that in mind, Tetris is not the only practical game you could be playing. Here are a few other examples:

Civilization

The whole Civilization series is fantastic, though number 4 took things to a whole new level. This so-called ‘god game’ puts you in controls of a tribe that slowly evolves into a space-faring civilization. You decide where to build settlements, what technologies to research, what religion (if any) your people will adhere to, how to deal with money, governmental structure, how to interact with your neighbors, etc etc etc. I can’t think of any game that is as complex as Civ 4, and each round is a lot different than the last (there are always new strategies to try out and different ways to win the game). The skills that get the most exercise when I play Civ are my resource management chops. Learning to micromanage and accumulate wealth and knowledge in a game (and having the opportunity to fail over and over with no real-world consequences) is VERY helpful when you try to do the same in your everyday life.

Risk

This isn’t strictly a video game, and in fact I usually learn more when I play the tangible, board game version of it. The idea behind Risk is that every player has a smattering of armies that they place on a board (usually an image of Earth, with national borders present) and use to make a play at global domination. Because combat is calculated by a handful of dice, it’s easy to have your fortune change quite suddenly, which is part of why the game is so much fun. The real value of Risk, though, is that you can hone your interpersonal skills throughout the entire match. Alliances are made and broken, and it’s not unusual for feelings to be hurt and girlfriends to storm off, swearing they’ll never play a board game again (VERY possible). If you play frequently enough, however, you’ll be able to quickly find the right balance between competition, encouragement, sportsmanship, and commiseration in any situation.

Final Fantasy

If you’ve ever played a game from the Final Fantasy series (I haven’t been keeping up, but I’m pretty sure there are over a dozen of them now), you know that it’s a fairly standard role-playing game (RPG). The basic game play in the FF series isn’t very complicated: you move your character around a fantastic world and every so often you are drawn into a battle with bad guys of different flavors. The really addictive (and learny) component of this game series is that as you fight more monsters and complete more objectives you gain levels which in turn give you attribute points to distribute, additional spells to cast, or special attacks to perform. Your characters grow as people as they work harder and smarter. This is an excellent metaphor for the real world, and in fact I find myself looking at my own education and work history in the same way sometimes. This makes it easier to see what I can do more of to get the skills and attributes I want more of (full disclosure: I may have played a lot of RPGs as a kid…you won’t necessarily geek out the same way).

The bottom line is this: if you are looking to improve yourself in any way, it’s likely there are video games out there that might help you achieve your goals. They will do so subtly, and you will have to put effort into them like you would anything else, but in most cases they will be a welcome break from the other, less Nintendo-ish components of your personal development routine.

Don’t agree? Totally agree, but think I left some important games off my list? Let me know by leaving a comment!

Update: April 23, 2016

I don’t play video games very often anymore, aside from a few casual games on my phone, but I do still have Civilization (five, these days) on my computer, and an off-brand Tetris game to play while listening to podcasts or whatnot.

It’s a stellar way to occupy your hands while you mentally process or zone out.

Also, I’m willing to bet gaming will have even higher-impact benefits as the augmented/virtual reality movement goes mainstream.