I had an interesting discussion today where the topic of theory and practice came up. It is so easy to get bogged down in the day to day practice of our jobs that we forget to spend time on research and theory. When we are pressed to meet deadlines and produce results quickly we find ourselves with little time for reading, hypothesizing, and experimentation. I think that is a shame.
I have been fortunate in the last few years to be both working and going to school so I have been able to balance learning and exploration with practical application. In looking for full time employment I’ve discovered that some companies recognize the value of exploring new ideas while others are focused entirely on the here and now. I’ve noticed that the organizations in the former category seem to be coming up with the best products and services, despite their employees spending time on something besides the projects at hand.
I know that I am never satisfied with what I know. It’s not that I think I am hopelessly behind on mastering useful skills or that I can’t get my work done. It’s a matter of curiosity and wanting to learn more, to understand more, to gain deeper insights into the fields I am interested in. As a result I spend hours reading weblogs, and tutorials, and research papers, and whatever else I can get my hands on. I’m also looking for new ways to expand my horizons. I’ve started searching out other people in the fields of usability and web design in user groups and professional organizations. My hope is that by sitting around discussing ideas we can perhaps come up with something new and exciting.
I see finding the time and energy to explore new, novel ideas as more of challenge when you are working full time. So I’m curious, how do others go about finding the right balance? Do you spend your time online, at meetings, reading books? Where do you look for new ideas and inspiration? How do you rise above the day to day work to look at what is happening in the field of usability?