Don’t stop being better!

Hot on the heels of my Smart people are dumb, failure is awesome post is a followup! I can only imagine how anxious the edges of your seats are for you to stop sitting on them. 🙂

Another practical way to apply the “just show up” philosophy is finding ways to be better at your job. It’s not as obvious as it sounds, so do read on.

A lot of people, myself included, are naturally inclined toward finding better, faster and smarter ways of doing things. For artists, that’s how we grow. But most people do this. Some people apply it toward a career, some toward a hobby. There are many, many outlets for it but it’s all the same concept.

When people choose to apply this self-improving attitude toward their career, often it’s because they want to get further in life by being better, smarter, and faster at what they do.

Let’s say this is you. You’re a character artist. You find an awesome new way to create characters faster. You’ve put forth a strong initial effort toward finding better, faster, smarter ways of doing your job. You keep finding new ways to rock, and you try to make things better for everyone. You try to make a difference, and it’s all great at first.

Then… slowly… you realize, no one really seems to care. Your effort has no measurable impact outside of your immediate area of responsibility. People just aren’t as excited about your improvements as you are.

But why? You’ve found a more efficient way to do something. This affects them. It doesn’t make sense for them not to care.

This almost always happens. This is when you become discouraged, stop trying, and fall into the same grind everyone else seems to be in. Why keep trying if no one notices?

I’ll tell you what you can do to take a HUGE first step toward making these efforts matter:

Write them down.

Writing them down makes all the difference in the world. The real goal of having it written down is that the fruits of your labor exist outside your head. You don’t have to be there for someone to use them. They may even outlast YOU. These little ideas will be free-floating thoughts that anyone can grab and use without needing you to be there for them. They can be useful all on their own. Being identified with these, particularly if they help someone, is pure gold. And it’s not even that hard.

This ties in perfectly with showing up. Just as simply showing up and outlasting the competition can make all the difference, so can persisting in finding how to be a little bit better, a little bit faster, a little bit smarter than the rest, and writing it down.

It may not feel like it, but your effort DOES matter, but only so long as you write it down and put it out there for everyone to see, anytime they want! Whether it’s on a bulletin board or in a design doc or a technical specifications document, it still makes a difference, on many different levels:

1) You’re learning. This comes first and is most important. Even if you don’t communicate your little innovations (which you should), ultimately, you’re still getting in the mindset of excellence. You’re learning. You’re self-improving. Writing it down drills it into your brain, and you should do it if only for this single reason.

See, because of this type of thinking, your brain is being kicked into overdrive. It’s hungry, and you’re feeding it pure, juicy MEAT. And if you keep feeding it, the most amazing ideas will keep coming to you, and the awesomeness will only compound further and further.

2) It’ll always be there. Even if your peers or superiors don’t immediately acknowledge what you’ve done, if you put it out there anyway where people can see it, inevitably they’ll keep running across it… keep seeing it… keep eyeing it… and after a while, it’ll hit them right between the eyes, and they’ll get it. The more you do, the more omnipresent you are.

3) Your coworkers will notice. Just think about what it would look like to be the only guy that’s actively finding a better way of working. It’s never instantaneous, and it shouldn’t be. Establishing a consistent reputation as a self-improver, an innovator, has a lot of power if you can pull it off. Especially if your bosses see it and like it. Showing initiative consistently is very seductive. Just keep showing up.

Even if you put it out there and no one cares at first, you shouldn’t let it bother you. If it’s a total revolution, no one will get it at first. What revolution in history has worked perfectly, immediately? None. It totally scales up and down… these things take time.

Listen, even if they don’t understand it at first, or ever, by simple virtue of showing up, figuring it out and recording it for all to see, you’ll eventually be perceived as working a little harder. Or be a little smarter. Or, if they inspect the idea closely enough, perceive you as being a little quicker.

Ever wonder why there are 500 trillion books on writing written by authors that have never written? The authors that are writing don’t show up… so these other guys do instead. People buy their books, because they think “Hey, this guy wrote a book. He must be Sir Smarty of Pants-Town.”

Usually they’re wrong about that, but it’s the same principle. Show up. No one else will. If they do, improve your chances of competing against them successfully by actually being good. Earn the title of “expert,” or if you’re modest, “guy-that-is-knowledgeable-about-stuff.”

The reason people don’t always notice these contributions of yours is because, hey, they’re working too. Or maybe they’re not ready to learn about it. Some people make up their minds never to learn anything new, because they’ve figured it out well enough as it is.

You can’t change peoples’ minds, period. The harder you try, the less likely they will be to change it. People will change their own mind when they feel like it.

So if you’ve developed some wicked-crazy process improvement, the longer you leave it laying around, the more likely it is they’ll run across it and go for it all on their own. That’s about the best you can do to get into their heads, so putting it where they can see it is a good first step.

What also happens sometimes is that people will appreciate it and simply not tell you. Heh. Yeah, you wouldn’t think so, but that happens more than you know.

People are wrapped up in their own little world most of the time. They’ll forget to give you feedback. Or they’ll assume you’ll come to them and ask for it. It may mean the world to them but they just don’t communicate it. Silence doesn’t mean apathy… some people just keep to themselves. I’ve had this happen a LOT, and it’s always absolutely blown me away. I’d put something out there, no one would care, and a few weeks or months later someone would bring it up and thank me, and I never realized it made a difference. But it does.

See, I’ve started and given up on exactly this type of thing several times over several jobs. I assumed that because my contributions weren’t immediately noticed that I was wasting my time. Eventually I realized that it’s deferred gratification. If I only build up a little library of improvements over time, eventually it’ll sneak up on someone, kick them in the teeth (in the, uh, good way), they’ll finally appreciate it and it’ll all be worth it.

And the whole time, hell, I’m learning as I do it. I have everything to gain by trying, because I’ll always remember it, even if nothing else comes of it. But that’s the beauty of it… the longer I keep at it, the more likely something will come of it.

Most success isn’t made through years of ass-kicking, soul-draining effort, running at maximum power and expending every ounce of effort the whole time. It’s short spurts of effort, persistently carried out, followed by patience. Remember that. It’s never as hard as you think it is.

My overall point is… don’t stop trying harder. Don’t stop being better. Don’t let indifference discourage you. No effort is wasted. Be patient, keep trying, keep showing up, and eventually your efforts will pay off enormously, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.

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