We Don’t get Much Better, Do We? – Why We Don’t Get Better at Much of What We Do


Thomas_von_Kempen_JS“Seldom do we completely overcome even a single fault, nor do we aim at daily improvement.”
Thomas à Kempis, 15th Century (the most convicting and true quote I know)

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(This is kind of a post about how we learn – or, fail to learn)…

Here’s a bothersome observation – in much of our work life, we don’t remember what we “learned,” and we don’t get much better at what we do.

Leadership BSThat is the basic premise behind Jeffery Pfeffer’s new book, Leaderhip BS (my selection for the November 6 First Friday Book Synopsis). He is writing about leadership initiatives that don’t do much toward producing better leaders. But it is also my observation about a lot of other tasks and skills and arenas.

Take me, for instance. I have read many books on time and energy management. But, there are (many) times when if I simply fully followed what I knew to do, I would be in better shape on my tasks and deadlines. And, by the way, I would be in better shape, period!

And, I have been through three rounds of “One-to-One” at Apple. This pays for one-on-one tutoring and help sessions. “I go, I learn, I forget.”

I’m very good at forgetting…

I teach Speech at the Community College Level, and I have led many Presentation Skills training sessions. These are simply Speech Classes, with better feedback, tightly packed into two-day sessions. Here’s something interesting – many of the participants who – how do I day this nicely?; need help with their presentation skills – took Speech in college. It’s on their transcript. They sat in classes, prepared their speeches, and got a grade.

And then, they went to work, had a family, coached their children’s soccer terams, and “forgot” everything they learned in speech class.

Just like we all do.

One reason this happens is this: we don’t do it enough. If your job demanded two presentations every week, you would probably get a lot better at speaking. (No guarantee even then, but your chances of getting better would go up).

But, this is an all-of-life-and-work-life issue. Most of us could get better at most of what we do, if we followed some simple steps:

Step #1 — Pay attention to what we do (to how we do it, while we do it)
Step #2 — Do immediate debriefs (a true “after action review” each time we do any task at work)
Step #3 — Work on improving one aspect at a time
Step #4 — Repeat

In terms of getting better at speech, it is really pretty simple – not easy, just simple.

#1 — Speak more often — a lot more often.
#2 — Video record your speeches/presentations
#3 — Review each recording, with an honest “what do I quit doing, what do I start doing” plan.
#4 — Repeat; repeat; repeat

We don’t get better because we don’t work at getting better. We just do, without much thinking at all. We don’t do, and then make changes for the better, and then do better the next time, and the next…

If you are like me, you’ve got some “getting better” work to do.

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Three “footnotes” —

Read this blog post on the value of After Action Reviews:  Do you Want to Become More Capable? Or, Your Team? – Learn to Conduct Your Own After Action Review(s)

Observation: Though getting better at much of anything is a challenge, this seems to be especially challenging in those areas we call the “soft skills”).

Talent is Overrated(And, reading suggestion: read Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. Good insight on “deliberate practice” which is close to an absolute requirement at getting better at most any task).

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