Book Review: The Plateau Effect
Have you ever noticed that when you start out something new, you seem to improve every time you work on it, but as you make more and more progress, you meet with diminishing returns for your efforts? A book came out recently, that really surprised me. The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success, by Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson really focused on this effect, and made some very perceptive observations about our lives.
Most of the book was devoted to describing the problem in all of its facets: Learning to play golf, losing weight driving our careers forward, starting a business, for example. We are too impatient to wait for the long-term payoff, or we get stuck because we are either acclimated to our situation, or it is changing too slowly toward the worse for us to notice. They used many scientific studies and stories illustrating the point, in fact. The first half of the book had me wondering if there was any solution possible to this “Law of Nature.”
Then they made a few more observations. They pointed out that most of the time, there is a huge amount of information swirling around us, and that we are not paying attention to what could benefit our cause. Even worse, they point out that while we are constantly bombarded with information, we have trouble screening out the noise. We multitask even when we are performing difficult tasks. We want to look at the text messages and emails as soon as they arrive on the screen. They point out that incorporating the important information that others miss could give us a competitive edge.
And finally, they suggest some actions:
- Pay attention to what is important, and turn off what is not. This means focusing our full attention on important tasks as long as necessary, and not giving in to distractions or trying to do two things at once. This doesn’t mean that we should work until we drop, the strategic timing of rest and change of perspective can also help us effectively move forward.
- Listen to each other, without distractions or interrupting (even if it is very quietly, in our own minds). This will help us see the key details in our business and jobs that others are missing, and help us strengthen our personal relationships.
- Get things finished, not perfected. They give a set of characteristics of perfectionists, and show how we get overwhelmed with our own and others’ expectations, and then give up because it is impossible. We perfectionists are unwilling to expose ourselves to criticism, but if we hide our (perceived) weaknesses, we don’t get things done, and we will never improve.
What surprised me about this book, was that it was not the usual get-ahead-in-business-and-in-life self-help book, but it tells us to decide what is important to us, to focus on those things and people who are important, listen to what they tell us, do our best, and show it to others.
This sounds like a happier, simpler life.
Photo credit: OregonDOT