The Dark Side of Improvement-ology

In the rush to offer “content,” social media has become a veritable tsunami of advice on how to improve just about everything, be that a process or yourself.

These books, articles, classes, seminars, webinars, workshops, and videos all sound wonderfully helpful and well-intended, but, as Gerald Weinberg said, “There’s always a trade-off.”  One should be aware of the dark side of improvement-ology.  It runs a constant risk of corroding precious confidence in yourself.

To illustrate using some artistic examples:

When I was a music student, I was often told in lofty tones that “there is never enough rehearsal time.”  This seems to make sense, except for the fact that . . .  it doesn’t.    When I got to the “bigtime,” I was told something else: “save it for the show.”   There is always a point where you can’t make a knife any sharper, and “improving it” just wears out the blade.

Another story: some years ago I published a musical play.  I was of course eager to make it “perfect,” so, as a believer in “constant improvement,” I edited it endlessly.  But then one day I realized that in order to add a new funny line, I had to delete an old funny line.  I could make it different, but I could not make it better.

Part of being an artist is knowing when to put the brush down.  This requires trust in yourself.

Trust in yourself is ephemeral.  It is easily fractured, especially by those who have not yet found it for themselves, and are seeking it in external processes.

It is essential to have the humility to see when things need improvement, but we should also have a balancing energy of appreciating things that are imperfectly beautiful just as they are.  That includes you.

– Justin Locke is an author, speaker, and philosopher.  His books include Real Men Don’t Rehearse and Principles of Applied Stupidity.  Justin played bass in the Boston Pops for 18 years, and his music education programs are performed all over the world.  Listen to his recent appearance on CBS Radio and visit his website at