It’s Hard To Improve What You Won’t Take Time to Learn

Good morning! I hope your day (and your week) is off to a great start.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit in on a training session with somebody who had just begun a new venture. It’s always fun to see the excitement in somebody’s eyes as they think of the many things they hope to accomplish and, maybe for the first time in their life, actually feel like they can do some of those things. Doubt is replaced by confidence and imagination takes place of fear.

I’ve been there, sitting in that seat, and thinking of all the things I wanted to accomplish, with somebody offering their time to show me how to do it. And I have to be honest. The whole time, my brain was moving faster than my ears, filtering out the parts I didn’t want to hear. Just tell me the fun stuff. I like fun. All that other stuff is for the people who really need it. I’m different.

If that sounds familiar, welcome to the club. It’s a lot more common than we’d like to think. The first day on a new job, we’re listening and learning, and just as quickly as we’re learning, we’re trying to think of a more efficient way to get the job done better and faster. Okay, maybe not the first day. But it usually doesn’t take long.

And the truth is, there may be a better way. Managers love it when an employee can come up with a new suggestion that saves money and gets things done more efficiently. But sometimes you have to stumble through a lot of messes to come up with something that’s truly better. And unless you’ve been around long enough to get away with that, creativity may not be your best bet.

Sometimes, it’s best to just go with the tried and true formula. There’s a reason they call it that – it’s because it’s been tried a bunch of times, and it works. And sometimes, with all the other ways that something can be done, the first approach was truly the best. I’m sure a lot of people have tried to improve on the basic concept of the wheel, but so far, a perfectly round shape seems to work best.

Many of you are too young to remember when Coca Cola tried to boost sales by “improving” their flagship product. The company spent $40 million in research and taste-tests to find a formula that would put an end to the long-running “cola war” with Pepsi and others. The result was deemed one of the largest marketing blunders in history. Three months later, with $300 million in unwanted product on hand, the company went back to their original formula.

The Ford Motor Company learned a similar lesson years earlier when they attempted to take the automotive market by storm with a car that was so far ahead of its time, nobody wanted it. There were other factors in the Edsel’s failure, but it’s a classic example of how a drastic deviation from the tried and true can sometimes result in complete failure. All told, it cost the company the equivalent of $4.8 billion in today’s dollars.

When we start something new, we want it to be our own. That’s the creative spirit that lies within each of us. It’s the creative spirit that allows us to imagine something beyond our current reality, to dream of something better. And it’s that same creative spirit that often gets in the way when we begin chasing that dream, because we don’t want to do it somebody else’s way – even if it works.

It’s natural to want to come up with great ideas on our own. Every technological advance in history was the result of somebody thinking, “there has to be a better way.” But before you can invent a better way, you must first understand and apply the tried and true method to find out what works and what doesn’t. Or, as Mom always used to say, you have to crawl before you can walk.

Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, you can usually find somebody who’s willing to show you how to do it. And their way may not be the best way – but until you learn what works, it’s hard to improve upon it. Sometimes, we have to be satisfied with steady progress instead of a jump to the end. We have to take time to learn and apply the principles that have been proven over time.

There’s nothing wrong with creativity. The trick is knowing when to apply that creativity, and when to be quiet and listen to somebody who’s been where you are and at least knows how to get you headed in the right direction. Emulate those who have proven what works before you try to improve upon it. Your journey to success may not be immediate, but once you’re on the right path, you can always go a little faster.

That’s all for now. Have an awesome day!

© 2019 Dave Glardon – All rights reserved

Success Lies Just Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Good morning! I hope your day is off to a great start.

When was the last time you tried something completely new? Maybe it was something creative, like knitting or woodworking. It could have been something as complex as learning to write software code, or as simple as using a new cell phone. Okay, that last one isn’t always so simple. But you get the idea. We try new things all the time. And rarely are we as good at the outset as we’d like to be.

I remember learning to drive. It’s one of the simplest things we do – in fact, judging by some people on the road, it takes no brains at all. But in the beginning, it wasn’t so easy. And for those like me who had to learn in a car with a manual transmission, just getting the car to go uphill from a dead stop was nothing short of a miracle. But we learned. And all these years later, it’s second nature.

I talk a lot about goals and dreams. There’s a reason why. Unless you’ve already accomplished everything you want in life, you have goals. They may not be in writing, and they may not even be all that well defined. But to accomplish anything new means to set a goal and work toward it.

To have something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done. Those of you who have been with me a while have heard that before. It’s one of my favorite quotes, originally attributed to Thomas Jefferson. And if you think about it, there are really no exceptions to that rule. You can’t move ahead without breaking new ground.

The problem with breaking new ground, much like learning how to drive a car with a manual transmission, is that the first few times out can pretty well suck. You dump the clutch and stall the engine. You let it out too slow and roll backward. You hit the brakes in a panic and stall the engine. You miss gears, grind gears, and at least once you accidentally try to shift into reverse.

It’s all part of the learning process. And getting the car rolling is the hardest part, because once you have momentum on your side, it’s easy to shift into the next gear. Eventually I got good. Good enough, in fact, that I learned to drive a 13-speed semi. I could even parallel park that rig between two other trucks. There’s another driving lesson we’d like to forget.

What stops us from moving toward our goals usually isn’t a reluctance to actually do the work. We know the reward is worth the effort. It’s the realization that we have to try something new. Maybe we’ve done something similar, but that hasn’t led us to our goal on its own. So, we have to do something we’ve never done before. And that can be scary.

Back in the 1980s, I wanted to learn woodworking. I picked up a little saw and a piece of pine and made a paper towel rack. That came out pretty decent, so I made a spice rack. That one was a little more complicated but came out a lot better. And with each successive attempt, I got better. Finally, I learned to build clocks and furniture. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely.

That’s not to say I didn’t have to throw some pieces in the trash and start over. And there’s nothing like finishing what you think is a masterpiece, only to watch the joints separate the first time the weather changes. You make mistakes, and you learn not to repeat them. Eventually, I got a job building furnishings for world-class yachts. It just took time, practice, and a lot of patience.

In any worthwhile pursuit, you’ll have to try new things. Because the fact is, if what you’ve been doing all along hasn’t led you to your goal, it’s never going to. We all know the old saying about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If we want things to change, we have to do something different. We have to be willing to learn. And we have to be willing to make a few mistakes.

Sometimes, that “something different” is so different you can’t even imagine yourself doing it. It’s never been your thing, and it would stretch your comfort zone beyond anything you’ve ever experienced. Good. That’s what it takes. Your comfort zone has led you right to where you are today, and it’ll never take you any further. But if you give it a little tug, it’ll stretch. Trust me.

Even Beethoven once struggled to play Chopsticks. If there’s something you want to accomplish, all that’s standing in your way is that comfort zone. Set it aside and be willing to fail. Each time you do, you’ll get better and better until success is simply a matter of making the decision to try.

That’s all for now. Have an awesome day!

© 2019 Dave Glardon – All rights reserved