Introducing the Four Pillars of Improvement

Image by rahuldlucca (Creative Commons)

Have you ever wondered whether you lack what it takes to become excellent at what you do? Have you ever doubted your potential for greatness?

I doubt my skills all the time. I’m a writer. But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be an exceptional writer. Regardless, I still want to do everything I can to get better.

If you’re like me and from time to time you doubt your abilities, doubt what you have to offer, no need to worry. Regardless of how unskilled you are right now, there’s a realistic way to undeniably refine your skills.

There’s a formula that you and I can follow.

And it has four key pillars. Here it is:

Knowledge + expert instruction + dogged action + feedback = improvement.

That’s it.

I know, sounds pretty obvious. And it is. But who cares. Even your loftiest of dreams can be accomplished if you diligently and persistently follow this formula.

The process of getting better

Here’s what applying this process looks like:

Slowly and steadily, you combine the knowledge of your domain with the advice of an instructor, and apply what you’ve learned into consistent action. With each action you take, you receive feedback from the environment and your instructor. Then you weigh that feedback against your current knowledge, adjust your approach (if needed), tweak your technique (if needed), and perform more action that gets more feedback.

Engage with this process long enough and there’s really no goal you can’t accomplish.

Now, you’re probably thinking: if it’s that easy to become great, everyone would be doing it.

To your valid skepticism, I have two replies:

1. This blueprint for creative success may be simple, but it’s definitely not easy. (It takes steady improvement over a long slice of time.)

2. The key to making this process work is enhancing each part of the formula, i.e. your knowledge, the instructor you choose, your level of action, and how you handle feedback. (If you passively engage with each, you won’t get the results you want.)

Let’s first take a look at what it means to gain knowledge (we’ll explore the other ingredients in subsequent posts).

Knowledge

This is the studying stage. Having baseline knowledge to work from is crucial. This involves reading books on your craft. Taking classes in your field. Deeply immersing yourself in your domain to learn everything you possibly can.

There are many, many techniques, strategies and approaches you have to learn before applying any of them.

You shouldn’t think about application yet. Instead, focus on learning. Discovering. Absorbing.

Be active in the knowledge stage. When you read a book, really do your best to engage with the material. Pretend that your having an imaginary conversation with the author. Note where and why you agree or disagree with their points.

For many of us, leaving home and going off to University symbolizes the knowledge stage. University education is largely based on theory, on acquiring knowledge and facts and understanding.

There’s not a whole lot of applying—from my experience, a lot of the time we’re just building foundational knowledge so that we can use it later on.

So before I end this post, I want to ask you—what will you do today to increase your knowledge of your field/ craft/ art?

I suggest that you and I should take a class, read a book, get a mentor. Let’s do whatever we can to fuel up on foundational knowledge.

All creativity grows from a solid base of knowledge.

So the question becomes: Is your base sturdy, or weak?

In the next three posts, we’ll look at instruction, action, and feedback—the three other ingredients for overhauling your creative skills and achieving your dreams.

Best,
Aaron.

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