Continuous improvement & empricism

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot recently about how to be more successful and get better at the things I’ve been doing for a while. One thing I have noticed is that it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing other people doing the things you want to do and assuming it all came easy to them and/or its natural talent that got them there.

I recently became a Certified ScrumMaster and a main tenant of this is empiricism and learning  from the things we do, the mistakes we make, and improving as a result of these.

I like to remember the fact (unsure how true it is) about Thomas Edison on inventing the light bulb. Apparently he failed a 1000 times before coming up with a design that worked and could sustain light for a useful length of time. When asked about his failures he allegedly said the following:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
― Thomas A. Edison

I like that positivity!


I remember the first time I saw and heard Steve Vai play guitar. I was born in the late 70’s so I was late in hearing his music. I play a bit of guitar, well I started 20 years ago and play infrequently now but I understand what it takes to play.
I was amazed at the sounds Steve Vai gets out of his guitar and the ease at which he seems to be able to play it. It looks like second nature to him and I didn’t really think too much about his history with the guitar or how long he has been playing. I just kind of assumed its a natural talent.
This interested me so I researched him a bit more and found numerous articles about him. As you imagine he used to practice, hell he practiced a lot. Apparently he used to divide his day into 12 hours, spend the first few hours warming up and practicing fingurings, then he’d go through all the scales AND then write synthetic scales and create harmonies for all of those. He would then finishing off with playing the guitar. Also his first teacher at the age of 13 was Joe Satriani who is another extremely accomplished guitar player.


Imagine spending the time and effort on the thing that you love doing and want to get better at, if you put in half the time and effort that Steve Vai did just think how good you could be at things you want to be good at. You obviously have to love doing something to put in this sort of work but if you really want something then this is just one example of breaking down a barrier that you though you may have. No excuses now huh?

Turns out this sort of dedication is rife in successful people. Think about the Beatles, they seem to have become famous very quickly with the release of their first few songs but did you know that spent a ridiculous amount of time playing together in small clubs in Germany and having to do requests of all sorts of genre music. They used to do a morning session and then an evening session that would go on until 2am. Those guys were playing together 7 days a week for hours a day. You can become a pretty tight band with that sort of work put in. It paid off of course.


I know nothing about the sport and don’t follow it at all. What I do know though is that David Beckham is really good at taking free kicks. He wasn’t born good at doing this and like Steve Vai he practiced a lot, a heck of a lot and from a young age. I believe he started with keep ups and seeing how many he could do. He would then try and been his score. He would spend hours doing this and learning from the mistakes he made and making small changes and improvements to his technique. Eventually he could do just over 2000 without letting the ball touch the ground! If you saw someone do that many keep ups without seeing the practicing and all the times he miss kicked you would think he was an absolute genius and natural talent. It must seem to go on for a long time having to keep the ball from touching the ground for that many times. I can do around 15-20.

Take away

No I don’t mean the convenience food but what is my point about this. Well I guess I’m going to need to put in a lot more time on the things I want to get better at. I need to monitor my success and learn from mistakes that I make while practicing. When I get frustrated at not improving with something its tempting to just think I’m no good at it but perhaps I need to spend more time and look at where I’m going wrong.

There are a lot of distractions in life these days and its obviously better to start something when you’re younger purely due to the fact that you just have more time with things. But we can all spend more time on the things we love doing and the things that are worth improving on.

I’m always going on about how I want to be the best programmer I can be but for sure I could devote more time contributing to open source projects, I could do more coding Kata’s and practice, sharpening the saw. I believe in Agile software development, I can certainly do more courses, read more articles and find more work gigs that put me in a state of learning and improving.

I’ll leave you with a great quote from the golfer Gary Player, I think this is in reaction to someone saying he was always lucky with his bunker and safety shots:

“The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
– Gary Player

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