Active thinking verus osmosis

If we’re immersed in an environment, will we learn by default?

It’s easy to think that we can absorb through osmosis, that we’ll hum along and improve simply because we’re present. I think intuition develops from deliberate thinking, not from osmosis.

You can live in France for years, and not speak French fluently (or at all).

You can hang around blacksmiths, and not learn how to work with metal.

You can talk every day with a colleague who’s a great salesperson, and not be able to command a room like she can.

You can hover in your parent’s kitchen, and still not know how to recreate any of the recipes they’ve made over the years.

You can work with a bunch of creatives, and not become more creative yourself.

You’ll of course pick up some nuggets along the way. You’re more familiar with the vibe than a layperson who isn’t immersed.

But when we’re actively thinking, we’re on the hook–if only in our own minds–and that changes everything.

It’s one thing to watch an artist paint on a blank canvas, and imagine you know how the process works. It’s another thing to be the one holding a Winsor & Newton hog bristle brush, deciding which color to dip into first.

If you agree that learning doesn’t happen through osmosis, how can you dial up the active thinking?

The next time you’re in a situation that makes you stop and notice, think about how you could apply that concept to your own work. Think about how you would reverse engineer it. Think about how you would deconstruct it. Think about why it works now and when it wouldn’t work.

You stopped and noticed for a reason.

It could be your gut telling you there was something worth perking up for, and thinking about for an extra beat. Let your mind linger on it a little longer.

If learning by osmosis sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is.

On the bright side, if you think you’re learning a lot just by being exposed, imagine how much further you could go if you actively tried.

To get these emails in your inbox, sign up at: