Embracing Chaos with Nate Kadlac
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Embracing Chaos with Nate Kadlac

For any note taking system, there's bad chaos and good chaos. Bad chaos is when we are overwhelmed by TODO's and lose sight of the bigger picture. Good chaos is the unavoidable messiness of ideas that brings inspiration.
 
I talk with Nate Kadlac talks about embracing chaos in your creative process, getting better by copying and putting in the reps, connecting knowledge from different fields and the power of weekly reviews.
 
Connect with Nate Kadlac at twitter.com/kadlac
 
Find out more about Superlearning at https://superlearners.traverse.link/.
 
 
Transcript
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to another interview in the super learning professional series. Today, I'm joined by Nate Kadlac. Nate is a brand and product designer . He has been active for around 15 years. He is currently working on an email newsletter and a design course. And, I know Nate through the course creator fellowship, where he's been a fantastic peer supporter as well, so welcome.
Nice.
Nate Kadlac: [00:00:22] Thanks Dom. For having me. Looking forward to this .
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:00:25] So Nate, I'm very interested in, your journey. So maybe we could tell a bit more about your field. It's mainly design, I suppose, and how knowledge management matters there and how do you keep up with that?
Nate Kadlac: [00:00:35] My background is , I grew up in a very creative household. I was going to go to college to be an architect, but then the internet happened. And so I decided to quit college and learn how to design for the web on my own.  So I worked essentially as an apprentice and I'm a self-taught designer , a brand and product designer for a while now , mainly my think about design just as a practice. That's. Designing from the inside out. And so I tend to come at it a little bit differently than a traditional designer, but I truly believe that we should embody  our personality and the things that make us unique. And so that's how I view design. In terms of, how product knowledge management comes into play. I'm a big roam user. I personally love to take notes using a roam and write my weekly newsletter. Basically I'll read and think about the ideas that I'm going to write about. And then I'll go into roam and try to find little connections between different stories. And so today I was just writing a little thread on how fragrance notes are like design. And so just trying to find unique combinations across domains.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:01:41] That's very interesting to me. Cause I've been using both, roam and notion, and then  I've got my own , learning tool, my platform. And I found roam to become chaotic very quickly to the point where I couldn't get anything useful out of that. So I wondering, are you just extremely disciplined there or do you just cope with the chaos?
Nate Kadlac: [00:01:59] I embrace the chaos. I love sort of this clutter. I think Austin Kleon talks a lot about this. You know, you have messiness for a reason because it sort of brings inspiration. Creativity is not an organized thing. It doesn't appear from an organized desk.  But productivity and creativity are two different things. So to be productive, I do like to use notion when I'm collaborating with people. And I like to have things very organized and my to-do list is organized, but when it comes to the creative process and just writing in general, I might think of a word and search my Roam database for that word and see how it comes up in a bunch of different places. I wrote an article once about the word aspirational and Elon Musk came up, had a number of different stories that I  kind of connect that to. And it was just something that, that was unique. I don't think I would have discovered through my setup and notion.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:02:52] I'd love to hear a bit more about your creative process. Cause you have like this way of  finding associations with tools, but you also have a very personal approach. So like, how did you, what were the things you learned in your journey to arrive at  this very personal creative process that you have now?
Nate Kadlac: [00:03:09] I think a lot of it comes down to being really curious and asking a lot of questions and that's a very cliche answer. However, I do think. When it comes to being creative, it's about trusting your own instincts. It's about trusting your own gut, your own intuition about why things are the way they are and why you like them. And so when you're watching a movie, right, like, think about how it makes you feel and think about the story and write those down, write down those thoughts. I think a lot of the times,  I go through life where I'm maybe not questioning, or maybe not thinking about things at a deeper level and it just kind of like flitters away.  And when you make an intention to be curious, that helps cultivate your creativity.  And so I'm a big proponent of  writing out your core values. Understanding who you are and why you are built the way you are. So , I have story about  my personal brand on my website revolves around three things. It's the sun, the sand and Palm trees.  These are things that just bring me joy. And so I choose my colors. I choose my visual palette from those elements, and those are core to me.  So I have a good starting point whenever I need to make like good creative decision making.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:04:25] So you have like both processes in place, but then you also said that sometimes you have to rely on your intuition and in terms of intuition, is that something that just comes to you or is it something you have to learn and maybe develop over time as well? Maybe how a more technical, not very or less creative person like me. Could,  I develop that kind of intuition as well?
Nate Kadlac: [00:04:45] I think that's a really good point , because a lot of people hear the word creativity and it's a little scary, a lot of people don't feel they identify with being a creative person. And so just the act of trying to be creative is a hurdle.  So what I try to teach in my course and my students as well. Is to write out all,  the things that make you unique.  The process is really about just becoming more confident in who you are and being able to represent yourself,  either in writing or drawing or sketching or note-taking and just listening to  how things make you feel. So , it's hard work. It's not easy, but it is taking the time  to be curious about. Why you like things, like I  take a lot of notes on an iPad. I'm looking around for something , so I have this,  Pomodoro timer that's,  just an hourglass. And , I honestly just love the design of this and I could use a digital timer. I could use an app to do this, but, I like to have this on my desk, , because it's just unique to me and. Just the aesthetic of it. And it's as simple as that, but being really intentional about the decisions you're making is important to cultivating creativity.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:05:53] That's  beautiful . One of the things that you were teaching me in our peer supporter sessions was  very basic principles to  draw  little diagrams or visuals. And what do you think is the best way , to learn those?  How did you learn those personally? Was it a very long journey that started very young? Or do you think you could pick up some basic principles and start really quickly with that.
Nate Kadlac: [00:06:13] What's really interesting about what you do through just understanding and learning any new topic drawing  and creativity are  kind of similar. It's about copying it's about repetition and putting in the reps. So for instance, if you wanted to learn how to draw a tree. I would recommend going on Google images, printing out a picture of a tree or putting it on your iPad or putting on your phone and actually just tracing it and copying things that you want to create. And what happens is that this is the most basic principle of creating something new is just learning the structure of things. And you do that best by copying. Kind of like you do  learning.  And so it's really about, you know, for instance, in my weekly newsletter, what I'll do is my last newsletter was a picture of a laptop with a kind of a Brady bunch looking illustration, acting as a zoom grid. And I literally like these things, I can't draw out of my out of memory. Like it's really hard for me to just freehand. But, I pulled in a couple of images to compose  illustration and I just traced and created it in my own style.  So a lot of it is just remixing and copying ideas that exist already.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:07:26] I think, in order to be creative, you need to know the system first before you can jump out of it and come up , with your own ideas.
Nate Kadlac: [00:07:33] Yeah, it does. But I think sometimes getting hung up too much,  in a certain process or a framework can be kind of detrimental because creativity is all about play. It's all about having fun and you can't. Be creative if you aren't having fun.  That's just the premise.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:07:49] I like that. Cause I mean, that's basically fits into the learning process very well. If you explore what you're curious about and what  and play  with that basically you will be able to learn much faster and more effectively. So you  talked about your creative process and how you use Roam for example, but what about your. Learning process , your lifelong learning, learning new skills, is that a very similar process or do you do something different for that?
Nate Kadlac: [00:08:14] It's evolved over the years. Mainly I will take notes in some fashion.  So I'll revisit those over time, but I read a lot. I think about the things that I'm watching. I have a little hat tip to the fragrance notes that I was discussing earlier. That was in a scene from Halston, which was a Netflix documentary. On the designer, Halston and looking for things  that  connect to other domains is kind of how I learned best through analogy or metaphor. I think a lot about Morgan Housel, who's a financial writer and  he never reads financial books, even though he's writing about business and finance, he's not reading business and finance books. He's actually reading about history, literature, art. And he,  looks for ways to connect the dots back to business and finance, but he doesn't need to improve his knowledge in business and finance. He's already an expert in that area. So when I think about myself, I'm an expert in design. I feel like I'm an expert in creativity. I don't need to keep reading about that. I'm trying to go explore all these other domains to kind of relate it back to my own  base knowledge. Cause that helps me understand the world better.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:09:26] I like that a lot.  We all tend to be very,  specialized, but we could learn so much,  just exploring other fields and making connections to what we are doing ourselves. As a very creative person,  how do you inspire creativity and the people around you as well? Like , your friends, but also us, for example, in the peer supporter sessions  I remember, you taught me some basic principles and it already helped me a lot. So what's your approach to that?
Nate Kadlac: [00:09:49] That's a good question. I think , it's hard to inspire others, but I think that inspiration comes from within and it always comes back to this idea that I talk about it's called inside out design.  You're inspired by different things that I'm inspired by. And so I usually try to help you focus on what inspires you. So whether it's movies, you've seen books, you've read places you've traveled to, you know, where you grew up. And I think we all have this, large amount of inspiration. That's locked up inside of us and I try to help you unlock that. So I usually ask questions back to you to help inspire you about the things you care about.  You don't care about what I care about.  So that's, I think we're all begins is from the inside out.  I guess the other thing I would say is just the things that you buy, the things that you have in your life,  this is like cliche Marie condo stuff, but like the idea that it should bring you joy and you don't need a lot of stuff to do that, but be really intentional  about the things around you, you know, like the artwork behind me, , I have a whiteboard over here. I mean, that's just simple things in my room, but  I use them and I I am inspired by them every day. And so being intentional about , the things that you bring into your life, especially the people.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:11:01] I like that. And it also ties into like, being intentional about what you learn and what you want to explore next, I guess. Cause that's gonna determine a  big part of the course of your life, so in this journey to get to this level of expertise in design, what has been the biggest challenge that you've had to overcome?
Nate Kadlac: [00:11:18] I think the balance between work and play has been the biggest challenge. I think design starts out really fun, but then it can become really serious.  You're solving difficult problems. You're sifting through user research, talking to customers and some of that can be draining because it maybe not as fun. The problems are difficult. You spend a lot of time doing this. You become kind of serious and like really focused on your job, but truly it's a fun thing to do. So the most difficult aspect of that is trying to maintain that playfulness, so I feel my latest decision is to leave my job and that's only. Because I want to continue to chase the playfulness and the fun in what I'm doing,  I'm not sure what's going to happen after that, but truly that's I think for all creative people who are trying to make a living doing it, you're always going to have that weird imbalance. And that's been the most difficult thing for me.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:12:19] I can definitely imagine that. And I guess once you make that jump and  go full for  the creative side, that's is going to be  different imbalance where you still need to make a living. Right. And yeah, and you're doing it, you get creative stuff and hopefully you're going to make enough money, but that's going to be another pressure, I guess
Nate Kadlac: [00:12:36] it's going to introduce new problems for sure.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:12:38] Definitely . So I really like what you said about how can we stay playful and especially in this modern age where we have so much information and it's easy to get overwhelmed and think I need to do this and that in order , to keep up. So. What do you think in the future, do we need to kind of preserve that curiosity and playfulness while also keeping up with,  all the information out there basically, which is growing every day.
Nate Kadlac: [00:13:03] That's a great question. I think about Anne Laure LeCunff, she runs nest labs an online community. And one thing that's really stuck with me is she will, at the beginning of every week, have a moment to reflect, and so she'll reflect back on the previous week, what worked well, what didn't work well and what she needs to improve on. There's so much noise in this world. And what she does is set intention at the beginning of every week, about what she wants to create that week.  So I want my life to be revolving around what can I produce in this world? What can I output? Whether it's writing design art, all of these things. So how do I make sure that the things that I'm taking as inputs, the things that I'm watching, listening to are all feeding into the output.  So you have a very clear line. That everything  that you read or watch is actually leading you towards creating something new in the world. So while that's not perfect, I think that's what my intention needs to be. And I, kind of take that from Anne Laure and.  She writes 200 articles a year, like she's prolific, you know, and she just received her master's.  So like, she's been doing this with a job, running a community, and so I know it's possible, but  that's something that drives me every day and how I think we need to kind of produce.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:14:29] I agree, I only joined Ness labs a couple of weeks ago and  it's really a great  community.  Anne Laure is fantastic. So yeah, I really liked this idea of matching your inputs to  your desired outputs and that  kind of implies fun, right? Cause you're going to have fun creating those outputs.
Nate Kadlac: [00:14:44] I think that trickles down into all the things that you do. So when it's note taking ,really just taking notes on the most important things , that are tracking  to your desired goals, so you're not wasting too much time just reading everything. It's a focused effort.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:15:01] Exactly. Like it's so easy to write everything down. We should think you might need at some point, but I guess you already need to filter it.  What's going to matter at that point. That's been really great. It's a lot of really useful stuff in interview. Who do you think, should I interview next for this series?
Nate Kadlac: [00:15:17] Good question. I wonder if you've already interviewed all my friends, who I think would be great is Jesse Desjardins.  Are you familiar with Jesse?
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:15:27] , No, I don't think so.
Nate Kadlac: [00:15:29] He's a wicked storyteller and he's a head of community and, , he works in the travel industry, so I think he'd be a perfect fit.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:15:37] That sounds great. I'd love to get in touch with him.
Nate Kadlac: [00:15:39] I'll put you in touch.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:15:40] Awesome. Thanks Nate. So Nate, if people want to find out more about you about you, , your work, your course, and everything you work on, what's the best way for them to do so.
Nate Kadlac: [00:15:50] I teach a two day workshop and you can find that @approachabledesign.co and otherwise find me on Twitter under my last name. K a D L a C Kadillac, kind of like the car, but not really.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:16:04] I guess that's a joke. You hear a lot
Nate Kadlac: [00:16:09] All my life.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:16:12] All right. So thank you very much, Nate, for the interview.
Nate Kadlac: [00:16:16] Thanks Dom. I .Had a lot of, fun.
Dominic Zijlstra: [00:16:19] Right.
 
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