Friday, December 18, 2009

Being pretty good can be a dangerous thing

You've looked at different ways of doing things and can confidently dismiss them. After all, you're pretty good at this. Maybe when you were new, these ways would have helped you get started. You don't need training wheels anymore. You've been doing this for a while. You've smoothed out some of your rough edges, gained some new skills, and become more seasoned. You've got a number of successes under your belt; this isn't just your ego talking. Clearly you must know what you're doing, right?

Sure, you make a few mistakes from time to time, and sometimes you bark up the wrong tree, but you're only human. These things happen. You've read about structured, formalized techniques for avoiding those errors, for making sure yours efforts aren't wasted. They seem all right on paper, but in the real world? In your world? There's just no way that would work for you. It's not like it would help that often, either; you're pretty good at this. And it would just slow you down. And besides, they sound so boring. They take all the craft and artistry out of it, and if you're not a craftsman and an artist, you're just a cog in a big machine. Those things are for people who aren't naturally pretty good. It's for little people, people without vision, who are fine with being cogs in big machines. You've got a knack for this, a real instinct.

You know what? You're right, people who aren't naturally as good as you probably need those things to be as good as you. That does not mean you should not also do them. You're pretty good without them, but you'll be even better with them. And who doesn't want to be better? Oh, right; the people who'd rather live comfortably in the delusion that they're already as good as it is possible to be.

I've seen this in many different places in many different ways for a long, long time. It makes perfect sense. It's not human nature to fix what isn't broken. Introspection is not in most people's natures, at least not in a moderate sense. They are plenty of people who introspect unproductively, of course, and get caught in the quicksand of depression or narcissism or any number of things. There's a small region of sanity between insufficient introspection and too much. That's where you need to stand.

Sure, you're pretty good. But are you perfect? Obviously not. So open your mind. You can be better. Once you get to be pretty good at something, you stop having such frequent conflicts with reality. You stop getting forced to change by external things. Most people find it hard to replace that with an internal drive. Once they're no longer forced to learn, they don't learn at all. Lots of people think of themselves as open-minded constant learners, but that's easy and not all that valuable. This isn't learning in the sense of acquiring additional information. This is about changing how you think and how you operate.

Try something different. Try it for real, without judgment. Fully immerse yourself in its modes and idioms, so you can see it from the inside. You can't speak German by translating an English sentence and translating it word by word. It'll get you there, but it'll be awful. It's not enough just to have surface knowledge of it. You can learn HTML in 21 days, but it's going to look like Geocities circa 1997.

Now, as we've discussed, you're pretty good. You're especially good with Thingamabangle. It's great at frobnication, but not so hot at dezmodessing. That's not a big deal because you don't do much dezmodessing. You can usually make do with frobnication, and maybe a little bit of chamazote. It's not like dezmodessing is all that useful anyway; you were forced to do it a couple of times, and it was so much harder than the frobnication and chamazote you would have used otherwise. So what if Thingamabangle is bad at something useless?

One day you're lunching with a friend, and he's raving about this Whizzaboo. He's just going on and on about it. So you give it a try. Wow, Whizzaboo sucks at frobnication. It's okay at chamazote. The big selling point is that it's great at dezmodessing. But you've seen dezmodessing; it's just not a useful technique. Whizzaboo is a waste of time; it's not nearly as good at Thingamabangle at the stuff that matters. Who cares how well the pointy-headed ivory towerians can make it dezmodess? You can't waste your time with this. So you stick to your Thingamabangle. You never even learn about Whizzaboo's benbillying. You never learn how dezmodessing with a little benbilly can do everything your frobnication and chamazote can do, but in half the time. You never learn that nobody who uses Whizzaboo cares about its poor frobnication, because they never ever half to deal with it. You just looked at the surface, which confirmed your prejudices.

You can't just dip your toe into learning something new. You have to embrace it fully, for weeks and even months. You have to be in there long enough that you think in the new way at every level instead of translating from the old way. Otherwise you're going to come to the wrong conclusion. It's quite possible that your snap judgment was right, and it's not the right thing for you. And even if you're wrong, nothing terrible will happen because of that. You won't get fired, you won't lose your house, you won't be embarrassed by your peers. You'll just go on the way you've always gone, until one day the way you've always done things just doesn't work anymore. Maybe that's okay with you. Maybe you're fine with being good enough. Maybe you're fine with putting off change until life slaps your face and kicks your ass. That's your choice. But you could be missing out on something great.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home