How I'm Informed With Tom Coates Of Product Club

Apr 25 2014, 11:31am CDT | by

We are all involved in different interests, careers, and aspirations. Keeping informed is an important part of evolving your perspective, but also staying up-to-date. How I’m Informed is a look into the reading and learning habits of people from all walks of life. 

Tom Coates is co-founder of Product Club, a product development and invention company. He tweets @tomcoates, and has been writing about technology since 1999 at Plasticbag.org.

What is your daily reading habit?

My reading habits have changed a lot over the years. I had a ritual of waking up around 8am, spending about an hour on the web reading and writing before heading into work, and then keeping up with various discussions and news sites throughout the day. This escalated even more when RSS readers started to become popular. I’d be trying to keep up with several hundred sites – mostly interesting individuals talking about technology and the web, but I’d also be a member of several online communities where I could stretch my legs in various other areas.

A normal day for me probably starts with checking Twitter to see what my friends are up to, and then I’ll probably have it on in the background pretty much all day. I dip in and out when I’m bored or when something interesting appears to be happening and I probably stumble on most of my news that way. On my way to work I listen to podcasts from the UK like In Our Time. I glance at The Guardian every day, read MacRumours compulsively because I find Apple fascinating, and spend a lot of time on iO9 to satisfy my nerd needs.

How do you learn?

The short answer is I learn too slowly. It’s mostly pretty directed – I like collecting new skills, but I mostly collect them because I have something I want to do with them.

I started off planning to be a humanities academic before I discovered the web and when I had discovered it—like many people of my generation—I sort of had to do everything. I had to get my head around the code side, the design side and what would now be called the ‘product’ side. I spent a lot of time writing for the web, designing sites, building them, and while I’ve had to specialize a lot over the years, I try really hard to be able to talk intelligently to designers, engineers, business people and product people as well as critics and thinkers outside my specific area.

The greatest creative potential can come from trying to see how those things or ideas can connect to each other to make something new. That’s sort of how I understand things right now – that the more things you know, the more connections between them you can generate, and the more amazing stuff happens.

Short directed forays with specific goals into weird areas end up being really, really useful.

Where do you go for inspiration?

I genuinely believe that you pick up weird mental or creative strategies throughout your life, and that a widely read person who is keen to employ some of what they learn will always do more interesting work than someone who is super deep in only one or two areas. Non-tech specific areas that give me some perspective or inspiration include history, literature, graphic design, as well as fantastic TV shows, books and comics. I mentioned In Our Time earlier, but I can’t recommend it enough – forty five minutes each week of a completely different subject, from the arrival of trains into Britain, or Ancient Alexandrian Librarians all the way through to Dark Matter.

The truth is that you never really know what might trigger an idea for you, so exposing yourself to a lot of different things is probably the best strategy.

Any advice for someone who wants to do what you do?

Play a lot, explore lots of things, sketch lots of ideas, learn weird bits of software that interest you and do something with them. Try and work out what it is that you actually enjoy doing, and then to do more of it. If you can find a passion that fulfills you and actually pays the bills, then you’re incredibly lucky. Not everyone gets to find that in their lives. Don’t hold back, jump right in and do as much as you can.

I’m always on the lookout for creative and innovative people doing incredible things. If this is you or someone you know, give me a shout on Twitter (@kaviguppta).

 
 

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