I have been thinking lately about what I think may be the greatest barrier to learning: defensiveness. I have often worked with individuals where they have alot of great things to contribute (experience, knowledge, technique...), but are very defensive to feedback and alternative suggestions. Instead of considering something new, they tend to protect and reinforce their own idea of the process.
I think there are a variety of contributing factors, some of which the theatrical environment probably inadvertently reinforce. Yet, for everything we do - every paint technique, every construction technique there are often multiple ways to accomplish the jobs. Some might be more right than others, some may fit the particular situation or design parameters better, but most alternatives are not outright wrong. This of course doesn't include technical designs where the idea isn't safe.
Parameters include budget, aesthetics, time, availability, staging, run-crew, talent available, among many other variables. To think that one solution will work every time is unreasonable.
I like options - and as part of the estimating process sometimes i will play out 2 different scenarios - like which would be better - legging platforms during install (or in the shop) or building stud walls. Sometimes 1 works better than the other (there are rules of thumb that can get you to the same place that I tend to use when i am busy). But people who tend to be defensive also don't seem to think as much about options. It seems that they are more often doers than planners.
A real life example... A few years back I was doing a small job which involved cleaning alot of steel. I was using the shop facilities from school, though I was paying for all materials and labor. Using simple green to clean the steel undiluted takes about a third less time than the water mix that the school tends to use. Assuming $10 a bottle (generous) and a labor rate at the time of $15-20 an hour, it doesn't take much math to see how much money you can save on the job by not diluting the simple green. Yet one member of the crew couldn't see it (and unfortunately didn't approach me), he could only see that we were wasting Simple Green.
I guess its a point that really hits home currently. When you don't pay for labor out of the scenery budget, extra labor hours don't seem to matter. But they do. The materials for a show are very rarely the major expense - its the labor cost. And with today's economy you have to think a little more about how you spend your dollars. It takes a TD a little time to look outside the box and come up with alternative solutions. Saving money by using a stronger mix of simple green is counter intuitive but can allow more of the design budget to go to aesthetics.
It also effects the work I do in a commercial shop. Our clients aren't obligated to come to us. And if we choose methods that increase the cost without increasing value, we aren't competitive.
I think that defensiveness makes it hard to open yourself up to new ideas, options and opportunities. I know it can be difficult in the environments that we work in, but the risk is worth it.