A certain set of skills, techniques and routines raise us from zero to a state of competence.
However, to set a higher standard and further refine those loops doesn’t guarantee further improvement. Far from it.
That is a mind-trap. The thinking goes kind of like this:
“if doing X for one hour per week got me a result, doing two hours of X will get me twice that result.”
There’s a flaw: refinement isn’t infinitely scaleable.
In fact, we begin to move into diminishing returns beyond a certain point. A lot of people will tell you that this is how it has to be. They’ll insist that increasing effort resulting in smaller and smaller gains is how the top people did it. They’ll try to tell you to do it that way, or you “haven’t got what it takes”.
If you buy into that way of thinking, you may reach the point where effort vs reward is no longer worth it – and still be a long way from excellence.
Treading on your dreams
I realise that this might sound like I’m lining your dreams up for a downer ending – and that’s where they’re going if you buy into the ‘wind it tighter’ armchair expert bullshit.
However, there is another, better option when you reach a high state of competence – and it doesn’t involve winding your refinement loops tighter or being more efficient.
It involves something that is initially more difficult, because it involves letting go of the ‘tried-and-tested’ method which got you to a state of high competence.
It involves finding a process that is new to you – one which takes you to excellence by refining your skills in a different way, or refining a completely different characteristic. It involves a shift in perspective and a change in how you think about what you are doing.
Successful people reinvent themselves and they think differently than those who are merely competent.
It’s easy to be mediocre
it’s easy to keep going on the familiar route because it has proven its efficacy this far – and it’s comfortable. That comfort is also a powerful force preventing change. The bite of diminishing returns on your effort is what does the rest of the job. That’s why most people give up before they become truly excellent at something.
Simply, what got you here will not get you there.
Turning the world upside down
Here’s an analogy which might help. Suppose you want to get to Australia. You get in a car and start heading in the direction of Australia. You accelerate and so you make some gains more quickly. There will come a certain point where you reach the coast. Driving faster just will not do the job. You need to do something completely different beyond that point because what got you to the coast will not get you to Australia. It’s obvious a boat or an aeroplane is the next vehicle you need.
What is the next vehicle for you? Knowing when to abandon your current process and start searching for alternatives is a hallmark of success.
It takes daring
That search involves a lot of trial and error – essentially working past a lot of failure. Coping with and learning from failure has to be an integral part of the plan. You must expect repeated failure and use it positively until you find a new successful process.
Did you ever wonder how succcessful people are so good at a number of things? they’ve internalised this type of thinking. Having done it once already, they now know what to expect. They know when and how to switch vehicles. They know that past success can keep you from future improvement if you become addicted to success and tied to how you achieved it.
Time to let go
So think about whether now is the time to let go. Diminishing returns are a good indicator that you need to think differently and change your process.
Where are you now? Aside from your previous process, what do you think will get you from here to excellence?
Let me know in the comments below.Why Excellence Means Burning Your Bridges by firstname.lastname@example.org