A few days back, I asked my sister if my 9 year old nephew was enjoying his karate classes that he had recently enrolled into. She responded that he most definitely was, but then she credited the novelty factor to having a lion’s share for this enthusiasm. That comment struck home since as a kid I had often been given the same feedback by my parents. The shiny new object syndrome was quite strong for me as I flitted from one interest to the other in short, few month stints. This fascination ranged from learning to play electronic casio keyboard to drama to roller skating or judo karate, with the easy excuse of being bored too quickly.
In contrast, a few days back I heard a quote that stuck with me. I was binge listening to my current favourite podcast – No Stupid Questions – hosted by the dynamic duo Angela Duckworth and Stephen Dubner. In an episode, Angela spouted one of her wisdoms saying – Substitute Nuance for Novelty. Four words with a world of a meaning. In some ways, it answered my question about how do you continue working on something without getting bored with it.
But then, it made me think. Is it really that black and white? Can you only have one or the other – flirting with novelty or sticking to nuance? Especially in this world which rewards multi-disciplinarians. Not just that. As per Edward Bono’s research on lateral thinking, unconnected input opens new line of thinking. To garner more of such unconnected input, you gotta dabble in the pool of novelty, right? And there’s an inimitable joy in being a lifelong learner.
How then do you balance novelty in pursuit of nuance? I tried my favourite approach to answering almost any question that pops up, which is to turn to Google. But, in this particular pursuit, that wasn’t particularly helpful. So, I am going to try and wing this article more by distilling my thoughts and experiences rather than backing it up with solid research.
Why is nuance important?
Most pursuits require a deep dive and years get proficient in, 10,000 hours to be precise if Malcolm Gladwell is to be believed. No wonder we spend years studying something before we make it our profession. So, if we give in to getting bored too easily there is a high probability of just skimming the surface than unravelling any more layers.
Apart from my first love of history, the first thing I voluntarily stuck to for an unusually long time was volleyball. I started learning it in college and was quite consistent showing up on time for practice. Even after three years, I could very well see that I had just about begun to scratch the surface. No wonder I was still mostly on the bench. But with so many nuances still unexplored and a fantastic team that bonded well, it never felt boring even for a minute. So much so that even with an injury, I would go to just watch the practice and imbibe any learnings.
For instance, in my passion of investing every day seems like a new day. It is a highly dynamic field with butterfly effects galore. One little event can set off trends we could only speculate about. Also, meeting different clients also gives a very wide angle view to of the nuances and shades in which people see money. In a way, this field feels more like a magic onion with innumerable layers to peel off and very little tears.
Where does novelty fit in, then?
You might be wondering if I have changed my mind half way through the post and now like Angela leaning all the way to solely nuance. I am happy to inform you that’s not the case.
I believe that most interesting people are multi-faceted. If your interests are single tone, then where is the fun? Most importantly, in my opinion novelty still retains the excitement and the blood rush of encountering something new. It definitely broadens your horizons. Do you recall the feeling of satisfaction at small achievements of the linkages forming in your brain? This could be when you learn a tune or a new language or even finish a new book.
Also, as I said novelty often comes with surprising benefits to nuance as well. For instance, now for the past two years I have been diligently learning German on Duolingo. This year, I thought I would dedicate some time everyday to a little more advanced version of the language in text and video instead of just cramming my brain with a completely different language since German is still at bare bones basic. But then, an opportunity to learn French came up, whereby a highly recommended teacher would take a class in small batches, at a time that worked for me. Impulsively enough I signed up for it. Now, I am loving those classes which is also inspiring new ideas to continue honing my German skills.
So, when you try something new which is especially in an allied subject, you could very well have the most surprising sparks in your brain. In fact, when you try new things, some might even stick that you choose to keep nuancing on. In my opinion, novelty gives that eureka moment of freshness in our lives.
How do you find a balance?
Now this is the tricky part. Nuance has to be the bedrock of our lives. Novelty is the garnishing that refreshes us to go back to nuance or probably even keep enhancing what we choose to nuance. I know this sounds like a tongue twister but if you read through it, I hope it make a little sense.
It is like most investing portfolios, right? The core part of the portfolio remains about continuing to carve out new avenues in existing skills over years. On the side is an ancillary, probably more volatile part in novelty where you try out new things choosing to keep some and letting go of others. For as they say, variety is the spice of life.
Do you try out new things? How do you find that elusive balance between novelty and nuance? Let me know in the comments below.