Brad Keywell

How We Overcomplicate Getting Better

I’d like to propose playing a game at work. For the sake of naming it, let’s call it the “Get Better At” game. 

The rules are simple:

  1. Find a specific area/activity in which you or the team you’re a part of can get better.
  2. Immediately develop a plan to get better.
  3. Get on with it! 

Ok — let’s go!

Not that simple, you say? More complicated than that, you think?

In the land of the entrepreneurial journey, overcomplicating the “Get Better At” game has existential risk. The surest movement toward excellence is getting better!

We’re all committed to the hard work of hard work, so let’s acknowledge the reasons we might overcomplicate the straightforward rules of the game. How do we get in our own way when playing the “Get Better At” game?

Here’s just a small sample of how we’re overcomplicating the simple rules of the game.

Rule #1: Find a specific area where you can get better.

How we overcomplicate it:
  • Decision bias — if you think you don’t have it, think again. Here’s a list of 20 different types that prevent our ability to best consider and act on the full set of available facts. I’ve tried to develop my own list of ways of controlling for these common biases that lurk in our thinking.
  • Denial of issues or problems that are rooted in the fear of attribution, retribution, failure, and more. To this, I say: ‘I can accept failure, it’s an inevitable part of being a creator. But I can’t accept denial or defensiveness regarding failure” (which is my version of the Michael Jordan quote “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying”).
  • Unwilling to be vulnerable, which prevents your teammates from accessing your uniquely valuable and relevant perspective. To this, I pass on the powerful words of Brené Brown: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

Rule #2: Immediately develop a plan to get better.

How we overcomplicate it:
  • Delay due to the desire to get too much more information before committing. I subscribe to the 70% rule coined by Jeff Bezos — “Most decisions should be probably made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had.”
  • Living in fear rather than possibility. Your creativity is forged in possibility. If you allow fear to guide your actions (i.e., focusing on avoiding mistakes by focusing on perfect decisions), you’re better off being honest about not wanting to do much of anything at all. Possibility is about optimism, forging ahead by being focused on quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions.
  • Forgetting about the team. Precious time is wasted proving that you’re right (and someone else is wrong) about an old decision. Efficiency doesn’t budget for blame — it wastes time and energy.

Rule #3: Get on with it!

How we overcomplicate it:
  • Just start! Mark Twain nailed it: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
  • Focusing on the rearview mirror (which is no way to drive!). Warren Buffet famously said: “In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” On the entrepreneurial journey, you must drive — you must have the laser focus on the terrain ahead, on the controls at your fingertips that you can affect, on your mental acuity to stay clear of highway hypnosis. Drive! Too much looking in the rearview mirror will get you nowhere fast. Despite the full lack of clarity, you MUST drive.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell observes that “achievement is talent plus preparation.” While there has been much debate on his 10,000 hour rule for mastery, the entrepreneurial vision of the equation adds an exponential variable — the multiplying effect of specific focus on the activity of getting better. High performance is when you’re playing your individual role within a team and thinking like a teammate, all calibrated at the specific focus on the activity of getting better.

My proposal is this: Play the “Get Better At” game in your own teams. Stand up — pick one thing your team can be better at and get started. And as an individual, ask yourself the same question: What is one action that you can take to immediately improve the entrepreneurial journey your team is on? Through everyone on your team playing the game, my hope is that you will noticeably strengthen all of your process/execution muscles, improve your agility, and refine your competitive acumen.

To you, I say: it’s time to play the game!


Share on social: ︎ ︎

© Brad Keywell 2021