I was asked recently, “what is the difference between change and improvement?”
This is an intriguing question, because at first, it seems like improvement should be a subset of change. But is it?
Change and improvement are two different things.
Change is doing something different.
Improvement is is getting better at doing the same thing.
Let’s say you want to cook a great dish for dinner, a favorite dish like mac and cheese.
Improvement would be learning how to get better at cooking that favorite dish until it’s stellar. Maybe you add in a bit of truffle oil, or maybe you set up a roux with tapioca flour instead of wheat flour. Whatever it is, you’re making small changes but still focusing on the same end goal. The changes you make are tiny and focused on the same outcome.
Change would be realizing that you don’t like mac and cheese, or despite your efforts, you’re simply not good at cooking it. What you get out of the box is better than your own efforts. You change, you do something different. Your overall focus, your overall outcome is different.
The challenging question is, how do you know when you should focus on improvement versus when you should change?
How do you know when improvement is simply not likely to happen and change is the right choice (the much-quoted ‘fail fast’)?
How do you know when you should stick with something rather than changing, when you should invest and sink time & effort into something rather than be a jack of all trades, master of none?
One answer to that question lies in measurement. Once you begin measuring your progress towards a goal, you will know whether or not you’re effective. If you’re working on a web analytics project or learning how to code or anything like that, you can measure your progress towards your goals of becoming a better analyst or a better coder.
If you continue to make progress, if improvement continues to happen, that improvement is the way to go. If, however, improvement simply is not happening, if progress isn’t occurring, then that indicates that it may be time for change.
A second answer is passion. If you love to do something, if you find yourself more energized after a period of intense effort rather than less, then that is something that you focus on improving. For example, in the martial arts, improvement can occur at very slow speeds depending on where you are in your personal journey. Some years you may have significant breakthroughs that give you lots to work on. Some years feel almost like a plateau until you reach that breakthrough, and then growth explodes. If you love doing the martial arts, if you feel more energized rather than less, then stick with it even if measured improvement is occurring slowly. However, if something just saps your energy, then perhaps it is time for change.
Use these two diagnostics to help understand where you are on your journey towards your goals in order to make hard decisions.
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Also published on Medium.