5 Reasons Continuous Improvement is the New Survival Skill

In my work, I read hundreds of articles a week about technology and the future, and this research has convinced me of one thing: continuous improvement is the new survival skill.

We’re in an era where you can use your smartphone to order almost anything to your home, from gym equipment to vegetable plants. Today, many of us work in jobs, companies and industries that simply didn’t exist a decade or two ago. And the changes are just beginning -- what happens when true artificial intelligence comes online, or brain-computer interfaces enable anyone to search the Internet with our thoughts?

A generation ago, your value came from your knowledge -- what you studied, your expertise in a specific field. Today, and in the future, your value comes from your ability to adapt and provide results in a constantly changing environment.

Are you ready to not just survive in that world, but thrive in it? And if you’re not ready to thrive in this near-future work scenario, what are you going to do about it?

1. Change is happening so fast that standing still is effectively going backward.

This paraphrased line comes from my client and mentor Peter Diamandis, who says it in the context of the big corporations and governments who hire him to speak.

Complacency, inaction, a “wait-and-see” approach -- these traditional mindsets simply don’t work for those who want to stay at the forefront of relevancy.

And even if “being relevant” isn’t a magnet for you, consider this: how will your managers, clients, customers and community view you, and your ability to create value for them, if they have a growth mindset and you don’t?

The best way I’ve found to fight complacency is to continually upgrade your standards and proactively evolve your capabilities.

The best way I’ve found to fight inaction is to take consistent forward action -- optimizing the hundreds of decisions you make a day so that they all enable momentum and remove inertia.

The best way I’ve found to fight a “wait and see” approach is to find the most relevant data, analyze it, and use those insights to form hypotheses and experiments. Then, the decision isn’t an opinion, it’s a data-backed hypothesis. If I’m wrong, I rework my hypothesis and continue on. No guilt, no agonizing -- just note the results and keep it moving.

2. Most people either aren’t aware change is happening or aren’t willing to do extra to adapt. By focusing on continuous improvement, you’ll always stand out.

I love this quote, most commonly attributed to Zig Ziglar: There are no traffic jams on the extra mile.

I’ve also seen this play out several times in my life, where I wasn’t naturally the best at a skill, but my work ethic and determination were the extra factors that led me to excel. Have you?

Here’s the thing: just by paying attention to your own continuous improvement, you’re already a step ahead of the rest.

But with a little added focus and agility, you can use today’s era of change as a catalyst to propel your career, work-life balance or personal impact (i.e. volunteering, investing) forward.

3. A mindset of continuous improvement enables constant innovation.

When your mission is to constantly get better, you have to take a different approach than you would when the focus is more static -- for example, reliably delivering results.

You just think differently when your focus is on continuous improvement, which in turn enables your brain to make new connections and discover new paths to your goal.

For me, the most tangible example of this reason is my own workspace, which is a 70-square-foot shed in my backyard. Our intent was to create a sanctuary that facilitates my best focus and most creative thinking -- and since we built it in March 2015, its interior design and layout have changed at least four times.

Last year, what inspired me most was travel, and the perspective shifts I experienced while taking 10 trips in the first six months of 2015. Getting away, and quite literally flying all over the world, was a coping mechanism to help me process my parents’ deaths in 2013 and 2014, my husband and I relocating our lives from San Diego to Los Angeles to move into my childhood home, and the emotional upheaval of clearing out my parents’ belongings to make room for our own. We even set up a bar and beverage fridge into the shed so it’d be ready for the weekends.

Since then, my childhood home has truly become our home, and this year, it’s felt even better to be home than away. So for 2016, we redesigned the office with a different theme: a science lab. It’s my epicenter of creative experimentation, prototyping and making things, so why not play up the theme? Now the retro aviation posters and model planes have been replaced with test tube vases, whiteboard walls and beakers aplenty, and it’s the Efficiency Lab.

The takeaway: Continuous growth isn’t just a mindset, it can also be a lifestyle choice.

4. Filtering for a “continuous improvement mindset” makes it really easy to identify the best relationships in your network to strengthen.

This is an obvious yet important point: the people you spend the most time with influence the quality of your thoughts.

You can tell the friends who don’t have a growth mindset -- they talk a good game, but won’t ever follow through, or perhaps they just don’t believe change is even possible. The ones who do have a growth mindset can’t wait to see you succeed, so they can celebrate alongside you and learn from your experience.

Ever heard that axiom that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with? Take a look around, and see if your “Top 5” influence your mindset in a positive way.

5. Momentum makes you feel alive.

Growth feels good. It just does.

Continuous improvement naturally creates momentum, because it requires that you habitually do something to move forward.

Entrepreneurial people are hypersensitive to momentum. Take note of the moments in your life when you’ve felt things come to a standstill, and compare these to moments when you’re in flow and the wind feels like it’s at your back. Which “land” do you want to live in more often?

Gamify Your Own Continuous Improvement

As I mentioned earlier, continuous improvement hinges on three activities:

  • Self-Awareness: Upgrade your standards and proactively evolve your capabilities
  • Small Steps Forward: Take consistent positive action
  • Scientific Approach: De-risk failure by positioning it as experimentation, then run constant mini-experiments

With focused attention on these three steps, you can instantiate continuous improvement in your regular routine. But most of us need a bit more guidance… and for that, I’ve got a solution to help: the Efficiency Lab.

One of the reasons I wanted to redesign my office is because I truly see everyday life as an endless opportunity to experiment with productivity, work-life alignment, stress management, and the overall impact I can make.

This mindset informs my leadership and the culture at Ridiculously Efficient, where we’re always running individual or team challenges to improve some aspect of our life or performance. With our clients, we create thinking tools, routine experiments and other habit modifications to continually improve their effectiveness.

And with the Efficiency Lab, we want to expand the “continuous improvement” party to our community. Head here for a free sample -- this three-part training series will help you create some serious momentum over this Labor Day weekend.

Remember: you, and you alone, shape your success. Get in the driver’s seat, turn on the ignition and drive. (And if you want Ridiculously Efficient as your copilot sitting shotgun, head here and start your free training.)

Marissa Brassfield

Marissa Brassfield is a productivity expert, branding consultant and communication efficiency specialist who helps entrepreneurs and high-performance teams become ridiculously efficient.

Marissa has worked with some of the most visionary entrepreneurs on the planet. She’s dialed in to the frustrations these results-oriented, interrupt-driven individuals have with bureaucracy and suboptimal team performance. Her coaching helps entrepreneurs counteract growth-killing practices and unlock unparalleled performance from their support staff.