Friday, September 2, 2011

The Artificial Ceiling

The primary question is: Why would you ever want to spend time doing things you already know how to do?

A corollary is: Never take a job for which you're fully qualified.

To be clear, this question and corollary are effective only when applied to someone disciplined and skilled, someone who is passionate about her pursuits. The reason to ask the question is that, over time, the trajectory of most skilled and disciplined people tends to arch from something nearly vertical to something nearly horizontal. Although his skill level may be higher than ever, the rate at which it is developing is in fact lower than ever.

In effect, the more skilled you are, then the less quickly you learn.

The phenomenon is so pervasive, that we often think about it as a fact of life. We accept that there is some kind of developmental ceiling past which no one can grow. It only make sense that someone who knows nothing would grow faster than someone who knows much, the former having so much more to learn.

This is pure fallacy. The retardation of growth in highly skilled people has nothing to do with potential, it is limited by the skilled person shifting energy from development and growth to maintenance of success and status. An unskilled person has nothing to lose and therefore takes more risks, tries things that are unlikely to work, thinks nothing of failing and trying again. It's the nature of learning.

The skilled person has much to lose (or at least she perceives it that way). People expect her to succeed, to do well, to perform. In response to these perceptions and expectations, she plays it safe staying well within the bounds of her capacity.

Her growth trajectory slows and then stalls and then, eventually, plummets. It's the plummeting part that we fail to notice. When someone is unskilled, growth is easy to see. Any number divided by zero is large. However, when someone is highly skilled growth may only be perceptible to others highly skilled. Similarly, decline is almost imperceptible and certainly on a day-by-day basis. So, the shift from positive to neutral to negative trajectory goes unnoticed.

The answer is: never take a job for which you're completely qualified.

As long as there are tasks that exceed your grasp you'll develop and grow, the ceiling will continue to rise.

Happy Friday,

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