What Does an Engine of Improvement Look Like? Pt. 1
Okay folks, so I’ve bandied around the expression “Engine of Improvement” now for some time without really explaining what it is, or how it helps us live our lives. I’ve covered why you need a system already in my aptly titled “Why You Need a System”, today I want to flesh out the more important “how” and cover what it looks like and how we can start building.
Rev Your Engines!
The whole Engineer Your Life concept is not truly about setting goals — it is about how we create a sustainable apparatus the help us achieve them! The engine of improvement is that apparatus, it is a metaphorical vehicle that gets us from A to B. Of course, it helps if we have well defined what ‘B’, our destination, is and so that is part of the building process, but that’s less than 10% of the work.
In a way, setting a goal is like deciding to travel around the world in 80 days, good job Phileas Fogg, now you gotta actually get a steam ship ticket and plan your route — so, let’s get stuck in.
Fly Don’t Run and Definitely Don’t Walk
Most of us have set goals, whether personal or professional, at some point in our lives but have never really considered the process through which we achieve those goals. All we have to do is look at is the widespread disillusionment with New Year’s resolutions to see simply setting a goal isn’t the end of the story. To continue with our analogy, you made your £20k wager failing to realise there’s still over 200 pages left in the book. (If that doesn’t make sense go read “Around the World in 80 Days” you cultureless swine).
“A true Englishman doesn’t joke when he is talking about so serious a thing as a wager.” — Phileas Fogg
This is where our engine comes in — our ‘vehicle for change’. Once we’ve set our goal all too many of us hastily plan an ‘as the crow flies’ route and set off on foot at a run. On its face this seems ridiculous, and it is. Whether the goal be health related, relationship focused or career based, it is no surprise eventually we run out of steam and fall off the wagon.
Worse than setting off at a run, many of us are content to set off at a walk. We say, “I’d really love that promotion,” and resolve to simply carry on doing our jobs, hoping someone will eventually see the good work that we’re doing and good things will just happen to us for ‘time served’. Wrong. You are your own agent of change and you need to go after those changes you want to see like a rabid honey badger with tunnel vision and an insatiable thirst for personal development.
Get Yourself in the Garage
Alright, alright, alright, let’s get in the shop and get to work! Hmm, where do we even start?
Good question compadre, and not the simplest to answer. There’s a difference between what we should be aiming to build and where we start. We should aim to build a goddamn intergalactic spaceship — a pinnacle of engineering. Allegorically, actually achieving such an aim would likely put you amongst the world’s greatest philosophers, thinkers and productive people.
There is absolutely no reason we can’t end up there and I’d love to be able to kickstart you on that journey, however, there are two things to consider. Firstly, that rolling out a complicated blueprint for our spaceship with all its complex wiring and otherworldly tech might be just enough to put us off the task entirely. Secondly, it’ll likely take so long to understand and assemble, if we accomplish the task at all we’ll emerge from our garage an old, wizened hermit too frail to pilot the thing ourselves. Fine, if you intend to make productivity and success for others your life’s work but not so great for you and your own success.
Moreover, as we emerge we may come to realise we’ve built a rocket ship, yet while we’ve been building our priorities have changed; after all that work we’d much rather see Celine Dion in Vegas than another galaxy and guess what? There’s nowhere to park your Millennium Falcon in Vegas. Busted. If we build from basic first principles, even if our aims change, we can take the engine from our car to power a boat to take us to new shores or convert our hull into a fuselage and soar to new heights. If we start building and develop along the way, our design can evolve with us over time as we grow and change.
Thus, as with all technological evolutions we should start at the beginning, get moving and work from there — lets invent the wheel first before we try and assemble a battle tank eh? Apple didn’t start with the iPhone 12, it started with the Apple-1 computer. To start all we need is our horse and cart, or even just a horse… hell, a large dog will do! As our journey develops and the path becomes more clear we can trade up for a faster horse, a sail sheet to float us across rivers and gradually develop our engine of improvement, as well as the transferable parts and skills to be able to upgrade it quickly. Once the dust settles, you may just find yourself on top of a rocket ship that you built along the way.
“Start small, think big. Don’t worry about too many things at once. Take a handful of simple things to begin with, and then progress to more complex ones.” — Steve Jobs
If by this point I’ve lost you in analogy, put simply we start with the basics and build as we go. Done is better than perfect, action is the force behind change and without it we’ve got no base from which we can improve upon. When we have an engine of improvement growth is not linear, it is exponential since we can increase how we improve — not plodding along hoping for the best (linear). We start with the simple stuff and perhaps it takes a while to get going, our rate of progress, or rate of change, is slow to start off with but as we build on the basics our rate of change accelerates, obstacles don’t take as long to clear and we’re ploughing full steam ahead into the future.
If you look at the graph above, we can even see on an exponential trajectory it can take us a little longer off the starting block as we figure out what our system looks like, but once we pick up steam boy do we overtake the hare, and at pace! For the record, this is why successful people appear to find success out of nowhere or rebound quickly even after monumental failures — they’re propelled by a high-powered engine they’ve been fine tuning and it now works at such a high rate they can quickly overtake us mere mortals working with our medieval-ass contraption.
I reckon I’ve reached a sensible word count for this week, so I’m going to stop there and let you ponder. Next week we’ll take a look at what some of the constituent parts of an engine of improvement might look like and then over the coming weeks I will discuss them in greater depth.
Normally I like to sprinkle in some practical and tangible things one can go away and actually do into these blog posts but this concept essentially covers the entirety of this Engineer Your Life project, at least as I envision it being for now. Without sounding too self-serving the best practical thing I can offer is to keep following Engineer Your Life and I’ll release these blog posts weekly so we can put our trousers on one leg at a time, but you can also draw on the works of others to add to what I’ve said as we build together.
Remember, you can sign up to the Engineer Your Life mailing list and get alerted to new blog posts as well as receive the coveted Friday Formula. As always, I love to hear from you and discuss these ideas so don’t hesitate to get in touch or leave a comment here and there!