You Need To Train, Even If You’re Good…

If you’re good at your job, the work comes naturally to you.

That’s a rare and precious thing. Yet also dangerous, especially when you know you can get a pat on the back and a “nice job!” from your colleagues without too much strain. It’s easy to coast along just by being consistent. Which is fine. Consistency will get you far. But only so far.


The problem is when we interpret being “consistent” at work as meaning doing the same things we did the last ten times. 

What we should instead look for is how we can be consistently impressive, or at the very least, how we can consistently improve.

It’s these things that get us noticed. It’s why Picasso’s later paintings and the various periods of his work so fascinating: we see an artist consistently challenging himself to be more innovative, more expressive, more unique.

I truly believe that what matters most in your career is exceptional work.

A successful career path is punctuated by moments of exceptional work, which you can then use to acquire leverage, get yourself noticed, and demand bigger rewards next time.

But exceptional work only comes when we push ourselves harder. It’s in those moments of what Cal Newport calls “Deliberate Practice”, when we are stretching ourselves beyond our normal capabilities and jumping into new territory that we truly produce work that stands out and gets attention.

The reason most people never produce exceptional work is because they are in a hurry to get noticed, to get rich, to pump out a body of mediocre material so that they can feel productive. Always in search of shortcuts, they resist cognitive strain whenever the chance for it arises.

This isn’t a pep talk telling you that you need to work harder. Rather, it’s a challenge to seek out ways that we can be even just 10% better. 10% more creative at what you do. 10% more critical when you appraise your last piece of work. Or make 10% more effort to seek out honest, brutal feedback so that you can chip away at your bad habits and become more effective (as my friend Edward Druce mentions in this excellent article).

We don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time we go to work. But adding that 10% builds up. It can lead to some of our greatest discoveries further down the line. It can change culture. It can produce astonishing insights and work that surpasses anything we’ve done before.

Training isn’t just putting in the effort to stay the course. It’s the forensic analysis of what we’re doing right and wrong; it’s the push to create something newer and better than we made yesterday.

Want to hear about books I’m reading? Subscribe to my mailing list!


  1. Arianna · February 23, 2016

    So true, Steve. I just made a decision at work to switch to another position, because I know I need more of a challenge, but also because I know that the training opportunities will be greater. I love what I do now, and love the team I am on, but I feel like I have to move on in order to grow as a clinician.

    It is scary, and exciting! I am taking Maslow’s advice, once again, and working to adapt to the change in wind.

    “You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety.” ~ Abraham Maslow

    I want to ask, how do you push yourself to be 10% more creative?

    Happy Tuesday!



  2. Michelle · February 23, 2016

    Stephen soooo glad you’re writing here again. Do you think it’s acceptable to not want to be exceptional at work? I have such a huge life outside of work with multiple commitments that mean more to me. I just want to be “good” at work, I don’t really care to be “great.” Do you think that’s an non-high value woman attitude? I’m an engineer so I at least have to be good. 😉


  3. Kuddly Koala · February 23, 2016

    Good article and writing style that is easy to read and digest.

    How about ending by telling the reader what to take action on / guide our next steps?

    -analyze what’s going right and wrong
    -make it a goal to do 10% better

    Happy writing to you!


    • Kuddly Koala · February 24, 2016

      I just realized you already did that, Stephen. Silly me. I need to stop eating pot brownies at work. (just kidding) No, it’s the secret to all of my exceptional work. Keep writing – good stuff!


  4. Stella · February 23, 2016

    I liked the part saying that we need to consistently improve as well as add 10% more effort to our work. Good points!
    Also, I believe that learning new skills in the workplace helps towards that direction.
    It’s good that you are publishing again. Nice Periscopes as well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s