You Can’t Cut and Paste Your Way to Improvement

August 5, 2011

Jeff Atwood recently wrote about how Nobody's Going to Help You, and That's Awesome, differentiating between self-help and self-improvement. As Jeff says, “Reading books, blogs, and newsletters by people who have accomplished great things is a fine way to research your own path in life. But these people, however famous and important they may be, are not going to help you.

He’s right, you have to help yourself. Just like cutting and pasting text isn’t writing, “cutting and pasting” advice from a book into your life or organization won’t provide magical benefits. There is change involved, and lasting change requires time and effort. You have to work at it.

Reading is something that I value. You benefit from the various insights, perspectives, and experiences of many others – in a small space of time relative to the time and effort involved with obtaining that experience or conducting all that research, let alone the time it takes to write it down in a coherent form.

There are people who write books based on years of research or experience that I can read (usually) in a week. I take notes and think about what these authors say along with examining any supporting research that they cite. I consider how and why their advice applies to my circumstances. I evaluate whether I need to adapt elements to fit my unique circumstances.

Sometimes I’m able to use information or advice immediately, and other times I mentally file it away for a time when a situation arises that makes the information applicable. I try things out and observe the results. I reflect on what worked, what didn’t and why. It’s a process of continuous improvement and being prepared to adapt to changing circumstances.

Of course, some books are better than others. And some are simply different. Some take a single theme and expand upon it in a creative, motivational way. The authors provide examples and well-articulated, forceful messages that provide me with more inspiration than information. Other books are chock full of information and details, but you need to provide your own inspiration to get off your butt and apply that information.

Regardless, you need more than a “just do it” philosophy. Action is required to institute any change, but it’s a never-ending, cyclic process involving research, experimenting, observation and reflection.