“It’s in the doing that the idea comes”

The process with which we learn and acquire knowledge is complex. At different stages of our lives, we learn in different ways. Even among our peers, learning differs from a person to another. Learning involves receiving, processing, and assimilating information. As we come from diverse backgrounds, enjoy different experiences, and possess various abilities; the collection of information we accumulate define who we are.  Therefore, with expanding avenues of disbursed knowledge, there is no size that fits all in terms of conveying knowledge.

For this blog, I wanted to explore an idea regarding how we learn. In my undergraduate studies, I came across a saying by the famous architect Edmund Bacon that goes, “It’s in the doing that the idea comes.” Being an architect and urban planner, it is most likely that Bacon meant that the process of exploring options either by sketching or modeling help ideas to crystallize. In the context of mindful learning, the act of testing alternatives to reach an intended goal is a useful tool for learning.

To me, this is not the same as training to learn a skill until it becomes a second nature. Unlike learning basics, which often does not involve thinking, the ideas the Bacon presents a visceral involvement between the mind and other senses. His idea of exploring (or “doing”) could stimulate triggers in the mind that when collided with other triggers could lead to a breakthrough (or “idea”). Learning in this light is similar to searching for a missing puzzle piece and the journey of finding it defines what is learned.


12 thoughts on ““It’s in the doing that the idea comes”

  1. Hey Ziyad, I really enjoy your post. I especially like your statement (in the context of exploration) that “Learning in this light is similar to searching for a missing puzzle piece and the journey of finding it defines what is learned.” I also agree that training is not the same as mindful learning. I TA’d for a professor who used to tell the students to train for the exams like they would for a sport, by repeating example problems over and over until they became second nature. This used to make me cringe! I am an athlete and I don’t think that mindless repetition is the best way to improve. It’s like you said, it’s the “act of testing alternatives” and exploring new ways of thinking that facilitates learning.


  2. Hi Ziyad,
    I also had experience in implementing ideas through sketching or modeling when I was an undergraduate. Sometimes trying to do something gives people a fear of failure. If the attempt fails, you get stress, lose confidence and waste time. But many attempts have been made to develop the power of thought and to reach real knowledge. I think it is better than trying not to try even though it is a reckless attempt to make a leap.


  3. Ziyad — thanks for your post, and for sharing that quote by Edmund Bacon. I think you bring up a great point when you write about trying to engage multiple senses in the learning process. Much of our traditional educational experience relies almost exclusively on two senses: our abilities to hear and to see. However, as humans we have access to five disparate channels of sensory information. Importantly, these channels don’t overlap; i.e. being able to see something doesn’t mean we can’t also hear/touch/smell/taste it. Finding ways to engage the other senses in the learning process could help that learning be more interesting, more easily remembered, or even just more fun to do.


  4. Great post, Ziyad. I feel the second way for testing alternatives. I think most of the ideas that came to me were not when I was thinking for it but when I was doing something other than that. Explorations have great power and often it is neglected. There is no doubt that not all explorations will succeed but there would sure be learning in each one of them. The failure should be celebrated. This is true for life in general but especially important for graduate students. There will be a lot of failed experiments but it is essential that they be regarded as a learning experience and used as stepping stones. The advisors should also give some freedom to their students to experiment and fail so they can flourish later.


  5. Great point, every opportunity we don’t try is an opportunity missed. The only way to learn is by trying, failing, trying again and so on… I would like to also point out that taking a step back can also be a helpful way to solving problems. Sometimes all a person needs is a fresh perspective which can be achieved by taking a small break and reevaluating the approach.


  6. Thanks for the post! I appreciated the way you framed it and I agree that a huge aspect of learning is finding a way it can “click” for you. I can’t tell you how many times I tried rote repetition and just could not get a concept until I found a new way to do it that worked for me. I see teachers as facilitators to finding a way that works for you so you can succeed.


  7. I enjoyed the post a lot. After reading the blog, I come up with a question regarding our current educations. For our educations, we all were taught with general knowledge about many fields to some degree, we learned them from the well-established system. The question I’m wondering is, that knowledge, are they worth learning or they are probably a waste of time because we could have more time for what we would like to do?


  8. What a wonderful quote! I will defiantly be stealing this one! I really enjoyed how you reminded us how learning differs from person to person. What necessarily works for one person won’t work for another and on the same thread, you can’t expect two different people to have the same experience or the same perception. If we are all viewing life through different lenses, how could you possibly expect one teaching style to have the same effect or result for each student. Therefore, “learning by doing” can be so incredibly profound for a student’s actual learning process and can apply across learning styles for an overall more student centered approach.


  9. Hi Ziyad,

    Thanks for this post!

    I would argue that sometimes learning basics does require thinking. For instance, in the fields of human development and social psychology, concepts are often what people consider “common sense” or “common knowledge,” but when you begin to study them from an academic standpoint, you have to reframe what you thought you knew to understand how these different mechanisms work.



  10. Thanks for your post, Ziyad! I also support the statement “It’s in the doing that the idea comes”. Without putting ourselves into the process of making trial and errors, it would be difficult to get a sound understanding of the challenges and the problems that need to be solved. I had the same experience of working with some energy data collected from building to make them more sustainable in my research. At the first sight, I was clueless on what the challenges and opportunities are, but getting hands-on experience helped me to look at the problems and trying to develop solutions around it.


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