Not “as good as X,” but much, much better than you are

I just read Personal Kaizen: 15 Tips for your continuous improvement at Garr Reynolds’s Presentation Zen blog.  “Kaizen,” which in American business terms tends to mean “continuous improvement,” was all the rage for a while, one of those fads like canary-yellow neckties–some years back, walking down K Street in Washington DC, you could go blind on a sunny day.

I don’t mean there’s no such thing as continuous improvement.  I do recall companies frantically trying to “change the culture.” Often that’s boss-speak for telling people, “Stop doing that; do this instead.”

Reynolds makes the point explicit: continuous improvement is daily, continuous, steady, and takes a long-term view.  Which connects well with other ideas I’ve been mulling over, including the nature of habits, efforts to improve my own performance, and a tendency to beat myself up when I fall short of a goal.

Reynolds’s post has a list of 15 ideas for your own continuous improvement.  Right in the middle, one sparked off the screen for me:

Learn to take better photos. Since you’ll be taking so many snaps to learn from and to share [in another tip, he suggests keeping a digital scrapbook of images that you find interesting], why not get much better at the art of photography?… You don’t have to become as good as the pros, but you can get much, much better. Learn what separates the great photos from the ordinary. The lessons from photography will help in your general guest to become a better visual thinker.

I put the spark-sentence in bold because it triggered the kind of reflection that leaves me still.  I’m very prone to say that I don’t have much graphic sense.  In the past, that’s meant I’ve been pretty lean with graphics I’ve created or selected (for example, to illustrate a presentation or an online lesson).

And I’m probably not going to become a professional photographer–partly because I haven’t had any interest in becoming one.  What I hear, though, isn’t just about a mindset toward imagery, but an encouragement to be not only mindful but active.

That last idea reappears in another of his points: teach others what you learn. In a recent #lrnchat discussion, Aaron Silvers, in search of a motto, asked what the Latin would be for “Everybody teaches. Everybody learns.”

I haven’t thought this through well, but I have in mind two aspects to what we think of as learning: storage and retrieval.  You can’t get stuff out (either individual facts, procedural skills, or tacit knowledge) if you haven’t gotten it in.  And that retrieval, I think, is almost always a case of application: we’re recalling for some reason.

Moreover, each time we try to recall–when we try to act on what we’ve been learning–we’re doing more than pulling a fact out of some neurological file folder.  We’re reprocessing the information. We’re connecting it with what we already know, and with what we’re just now finding out.

In a very real sense, the learning never stops, because  that activation over time leads to physical changes in our brain.