How Dabbling Can Actually Help Your Career

Jack (or Jill) of all trades, master of none? Not so, say these three dabbling experts.

It used to be that having a lot of varied interests meant that you are flighty.

Not anymore, according to the founders of Dabble, a Chicago-based startup that offers one-time courses allowing participants to try something new. "In the past, those who dabbled were thought of as scatterbrained, [they] can’t focus," says Erin Hopmann, co-founder and CEO of Dabble. "Today, it’s seen as beneficial to be knowledgeable in a number of areas." The idea came after Hopmann and fellow co-founder Jessica Lybeck, both lifelong learners, wanted to tap into their interests without a huge time or monetary commitment. "People get caught in the rut of the 9 to 5," Hopmann says. "They don’t want to wait until retirement to enjoy life."

Dabble currently offers classes in Chicago, Denver, and San Francisco, as well as a handful of other cities, with classes ranging from $20 for a beginner fencing lesson to $75 for a glassblowing class. Here are some ways dabbling, even for a few hours, can benefit your work:

1. It shakes things up.

Trying something new can get your creative juices flowing. "People who want to generate ideas need a diet of new information from which to draw new insights and innovations," says Leigh Steere, co-founder of Managing People Better LLC, a Boulder, Colo., management research firm. "Dabbling is a way to get new information or experiment with new ways of doing something," Steere says.

It doesn’t take long for dabblers to benefit. Hopmann notes Dabble’s received lots of fan mail from people who’ve taken classes and left inspired. "A few hours here and there can lead to inspiration. It can be empowering and encouraging," Hopmann says.

2. It’s a catalyst for innovation.

John Brubaker, a Maine-based organizational development consultant, says that dabbling can help businesses innovate and inspire its employees. "[Dabbling] enables employees to think more like entrepreneurs, empowering them and giving them permission to make mistakes and push the envelope, all of which foster growth," Brubaker says. It also helps employees to improve current products, or create new ones.

3. It can make you a better person.

Classes can also help with empathy, Hopmann says. When you’re trying something new, you often dive into an area that makes you uncomfortable, especially in an in-person learning environment. "[You’re] meeting with other people interested in the same topic. You relate to people the more you expose yourself to new ideas," Hopmann says. For example, someone who’s spent their entire career studying business may benefit from taking an art class, where they may connect with artists and expand their thinking through interaction with them.

"Dabbling is a willingness to be a student, a non-expert," Steere says. "From that place, we are observant and develop more understanding for other viewpoints. We become more tolerant with and attuned to ‘beginners’ in our workplaces." Steere suggests potential dabblers take a one-day course in an area outside their comfort zone, or volunteer locally to get the most out of their experience.

[Image: Flickr user Hiroyuki Takeda]

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