How to cope with technological change

Continuing the spin off from my conversation with Larry Jordan on the Digital Production BuZZ. Larry continued the conversation:

Everything is easier to learn when you’re younger, because first you’re sort of in a learning mode; and second, you have less baggage associated with whatever you’re working with. But it seems to me that there’s a bigger issue of how do we cope with the technological changes rocking our industry?

I think most people manage technological change fairly badly. It stems from the need to continually learn, as discussed in the last post.

I do agree with Larry that learning – for most people – is easier when we’re young. We’re in the mindset of learning, and have relatively little knowledge to “unlearn”. But what has been happening is that learning stops when we start work. That was fine when an industry changed slowly: you could work at a career and never need to update your knowledge very much.

Not so in this era. Change is constant. The need to learn is constant. Those who continue to learn, continue to learn. When we’re in the habit of learning, learning is easier. It’s when we face change – requiring new learning – and are not in the habit of learning, that it becomes much harder.

Coping with technological change requires constant learning to keep up.  I’ve been racking my brain, how do we do this more positively?

In an ideal world, we’d all be spending four to eight hours a week improving our skills. For example, if you’re in postproduction you would spend that time doing tutorials about parts of applications we know that we don’t use regularly; buying training from people like Larry Jordan & Associates, Ripple Training and others; and continually improving our skills, by doing things that we don’t normally do with the applications we normally use..

I say that and know full well that people have lives outside their work life. They have families – significant others and children – that they want to spend time with in the evenings and at weekends. People have hobbies, they have other interests.

So when do you do this essential training?  I don’t have a great answer for that. I do know it’s essential.

I know that we’ve got to fit it in somewhere, because if you do not continually improve your skills, you are falling backwards.

When we were younger there was also less to know. As an editor you needed to know how to tell a story and manage a tape-to-tape controller. Now you’re expected to know a little bit about color; you’ve got to know how to design a title; you’re expected to be able to do some basic compositing and visual effects; you’re expected to know a bit about audio; and you’ve got to know how to do a whole lot of jib compression technology.

These are skills that we didn’t need five, ten, 15 years ago. You could get a job telling a story and this has changed. I don’t know where you fit learning in, but somehow you’ve got to fit it in because it’s essential to your future.

Michael Horton suggested that change generally involves “buying new stuff” and to some degree he’s right. But buying new stuff is nowhere near as expensive as the time you’ll spend learning how to use it. These days the software itself is inexpensive, and the hardware to back it up is also much less expensive than it was.

Back in the day there was a really great training series for After Effects from Total Training and it was, I think, 40 hours of training: it’s a lot more now.  I worked out that that was probably going to take you 100 hours to get the benefit from that training course. Just to watch it once is a full work week’s worth of time. To watch a second time, and work along with it to re-enforce the learning, another week or two.

If you invest that time into your After Effects skills, there’s no doubt you’ll improve, but that’s a fairly significant portion of a month’s work that you were going to be investing into your future .

So the training for any piece of software is a whole lot more of an investment than the actual software is.

Coping with technological change is challenging. It requires learning, and likely unlearning as well, and that requires a commitment of time that most people feel they simply do not have.

And yet, without committing that time, you are falling behind and becoming less competitive in the marketplace.

4 replies on “How to cope with technological change”

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  1. I personally believe one of the most effective ways to learn something new is to put yourself in a position where you need to teach it to someone else. You could write a blog post, lead a “brown bag” session with your colleagues over lunch, or give a presentation. This forces you to go beyond a superficial understanding of a topic and really learn it inside and out.

    1. That’s an excellent technique Bob. I always find when I teach something it forces me to know it really well. The other (not so recommended) technique I’ve used is to put myself on a deadline using an app or technique I don’t know. Perhaps a better technique when I was younger and working through the night wasn’t such an appalling prospect! Still, install Elastic Reality at 3pm Wednesday to deliver a 30 second spot of morphing faces by middle of the next day, was probably foolish in hindsight. The first morph took 4.5 hours to set up. The last of six, 45 minutes.

      And ultimately I only did one other job with Elastic Reality – to create 2D animation by morphing between drawn states.

      1. “The other (not so recommended) technique I’ve used is to put myself on a deadline using an app or technique I don’t know.”

        LOL, that’s essentially how I finally “got” FCP X. I had some tutorials and had grasped the basic concepts. But what got me to the point of actually feeling comfortable in the app was loading up elements for a real gig I was on and “forcing” myself to finish it on time. X on one screen, the tutorials, application Help, and a google search window on the other. 😉 It was a little hair raising, but it worked.

  2. I remember the Elastic Reality thing. Did just the same. And never used it after that 😉
    As an Adobe ACI I teach a lot of classes. Besides running your own business, you have to stay current, professionally and as a teacher. And that means you need about about one or two hours daily just to do your research, apart from production work. That counts up fast you know…

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