Discover more from Design Buddy
How can we continuously improve while busy working on our projects or full-time job?
#27: It's just challenging to dedicate time for practice!
This week, I would like to continue discussing how we can further improve our skills by pushing ourselves beyond an acceptable level and toward mastery. In case you missed last week’s post, I was talking about feeling stuck when we're not growing as much as when we started.
Seven years ago, I jumped off the design manager career ladder to feed my curiosity in pursuing craftsmanship. I transitioned to an Individual Contributor (IC) role and joined a design agency. I practiced diligently, constantly seeking to improve and acquire new skills.
But I don’t think that’s the sole path to enhancing our skills and pursuing mastery. Quitting the job and taking a different approach isn't an option for everyone. You might have considered dedicating time to practice, but you've always struggled.
I wondered: How can we continuously improve while busy working on our projects or full-time job?
And yes, I've discovered that it is indeed possible! Here are insights from one of the most prestigious pilot programs.
In 1969, the US Navy created a prestigious training program to enhance pilots' skills during the Vietnam War. This program, known as Top Gun, is the same one that inspired the movie starring Tom Cruise. The programs are designed with great care to handle life-or-death situations effectively. Every aspect is meticulously planned to prepare individuals to make critical decisions under pressure and confidently handle high-stakes scenarios.
What's interesting about their program is the after-action reports. After training and landing, All pilots meet with their trainers. In these meetings, the trainers ask the pilots a series of questions to encourage reflection on their experiences:
What did you observe during your flight?
What decisions did you make?
Why did you choose those actions?
Did you notice any mistakes?
What could you have done differently?
When necessary, they review footage of what happened while the pilots were up in the sky. In these sessions, the trainers offer suggestions on how to improve and what to try differently. The pilots then take these suggestions and put them into practice during their next training session.
We can draw inspiration from how Top Gun practices and use their approach to improve our work.
Feedback is not always pleasant.
However, it is a necessary part of our improvement. Feedback from others helps you identify your weaknesses without biases, offering a fresh perspective that you may not have considered before. It reveals your weaknesses. It may make you feel like you need to be better, explore more, or try something with different approaches.
Indeed, receiving feedback can often feel like criticism, potentially shaking your confidence, especially in a work environment where performance matters. But it's through feedback that you can challenge yourselves and improve your craft.
What if you don't have anyone to give you feedback? We'll get to the second point.
Be aware of your weakness with self-reflection.
Over time, Top Gun pilots learned to ask themselves the same questions their trainers asked, making them feel more comfortable than receiving direct feedback from the trainers.
After each training session, they think about and learn from what happened. They carry these lessons into the next session, using them to improve and make better choices.
It reminds me of Benjamin Franklin, who improved his writing skills without any mentor. He evaluated his work and identified his weaknesses. This shows that growth is always within our reach. The absence of a mentor or teacher doesn't limit our ability to develop.
Consider asking yourself, whether at the end of each day, week, or project: "What can I learn from today/this week/this project? What could I have done differently?"
After receiving feedback from their trainers, Top Gun pilots would put it into practice the following day.
The journey of improvement begins when you apply feedback to your next project.
However, the path won't always be straightforward.
According to my mentees, implementing feedback can be challenging. One of the challenges they often encounter is getting the same situation in the next project where they can apply that feedback. Fully absorbing new knowledge can also present a challenge.
At times, the feedback may contradict their long-held beliefs or design process. It's helpful to reframe this situation: Feedback is an experiment that enables you to explore something different and expect different results.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
– Albert Einstein
Don't be afraid to try new things.
The journey to improving your work begins with an openness to feedback, adaptation, and embracing continuous improvement.
Feedback is valuable and works as a catalyst for growth.
However, without a mentor, you can still propel yourself to reach new heights in your work through active questioning, reflecting on your experiences, and trying different approaches.
If you like my post, please consider giving it a ❤️ and share it with your design friends.
I'd love to hear from you if you have any feedback, questions, or stories. Email me at hi[at]thebuddyman.com or share your thoughts in the comments.
I'm writing two handbooks to guide designers with valuable insights, helping them thrive in their craft.
[Free] Frameworks for Thinking offers various frameworks and tools to help designers and creatives think critically, generate new ideas, and solve complex problems.
Deliberate Practice for Designers provides guides and insights to help you master your craft and become a lifelong learner through deliberate practice.