The two key factors in personal growth are optimization and innovation. While innovation is usually flashy, quick and powerful, it is also usually unpredictable. Optimization, on the other hand, may be slower and smaller, but it is regular and predictable. Succeeding in personal growth requires both, but I think the process of optimization is often neglected.
Living in the culture we do today, people want things to be great, fast and cheap. Our culture focuses on those revolutionary ideas that when applied, dramatically change everything. This is the culture where we expect things not just to get better, but better in ways we hadn’t even conceived before.
I think this paradigm about improvement, tends to create a bias towards innovation in our own personal development. You see this all the time. Shelves of self-help books in book stores promoting quick, fast and easy ways to turn your life around. Promoting tricks, tips and techniques to quickly get results.
While I believe this kind of improvement is important, if you expect all of your personal improvements to come from innovation, then you probably won’t get very far. Optimization, on the other hand, forms the basis of personal development. Continuous, steady improvements every day form the foundation for long-term growth.
The easiest way to see if you are practicing optimization is to simply look at your last day. How did you improve and what did you learn? If you can’t give definite answers to that question, then you didn’t optimize at all that day.
The problem is that you must optimize every single day of your life in order to achieve results. With innovation, it doesn’t matter that we don’t have that stroke of genius moment every day in order to see results. With optimization, on the other hand, you must be patient and continuous in its application.
The reason optimization is so critical, is because optimization solves problems that innovation alone, cannot. Innovative techniques can’t build knowledge, character or skills. Optimization can.
Look at your last day, ask yourself what you have gained from that day. The key to optimization is those little bits of personal growth every single day. In the short term, optimization doesn’t really look like it is yielding much for results. Soon, however, those results begin to accumulate and you have quite a bit of improvement.
The key to optimization lies in a different methodology than with innovation.
The philosophy of innovation proclaims that if we just wait until we get the right tool or technique, then we can quickly change everything with the least amount of effort.
Optimization tells us, on the other hand, that by never settling and continuously looking at how we can make tiny improvements towards everything, we can achieve great results.
It is in this sense that I feel the process of optimization is so often neglected. Our culture of quick fixes doesn’t like it. We prefer things that are massive, revolutionary and easy. But seeing as most of personal growth comes through optimization, this is something we need to learn to accept.
In software and independent game development, I often hear from industry experts that the difference between a great product that sells millions and those that can’t even pay for their budget is not usually a big thing, but rather a whole bunch of little things. Usually its these little pieces of excellence that make the long-term difference, not huge critical changes.
Does this mean we shouldn’t try to innovate? Of course not. Innovation is the other factor in personal growth, and it is required as well. We need innovation to overcome those stumbling blocks in our life that continuous improvement just can’t fix. However, if we expect every improvement to come in a quick and innovative fashion, then we certainly are in trouble.
At the end of each day, try to think about how you have permanently optimized your life that day. This could be from learning something new. This could even be from making a minor behavioral or habit change. This could even be from experiencing something new. If it seems minor and small, don’t worry, that is a good thing. Optimization doesn’t ever look too grand individually. It is the process of continual optimization that brings results.
You’ll get a nicer beach if you place a million grains of sand than if you just try to place a couple big rocks.
How have you optimized today?