Sustainable Incrementalism

Incrementalism, aka baby steps. The path to improvement you don’t even know is happening. Freakonomics has a fantastic episode In Praise of Incrementalism that’s worth a listen right now. I need a good reminder of this unforeseen force often.

In general, I am not a patient person. Efficiency brings calm, focus. The ability to accomplish something right NOW is powerful, while my inability to be a better illustrator or speak Icelandic right NOW is incredibly frustrating, if not discouraging. My innate talents should just make it happen. I should be better. This little voice is constant, but quieter in times of true focus. Only then can I remind myself, slowly, but surely.

This is what I’ve been struggling with recently. I’m quickly approaching my 800th pattern design, which is a pretty solid number, but wondering if my work will continue to change for the better. For the past two years I’ve spent time almost daily drawing and designing. My work has absolutely improved over 800 designs and without a doubt needed two years to do so. I’ve learned so much from this project. But without the opportunity to dedicate more time (without sacrificing my health) how does this project continue to grow? Will the power of incrementalism still apply at such a slow pace?

I realize I have a quantity over quality problem. Similar to the 30-second poses in a life drawing class, I’ve been cranking out a design most days just to keep my pencil moving, and wondering why my work is not progressing. This (possibly) irrational fear keeps coming up: what if I’m only good at these 30-second poses? Of course my skills only developed through this gradual persistence – that is evidence enough my work could evolve and continue to improve in another two, five, or ten years. This thought is slightly more encouraging, but how to approach it?

The concept of sustainable incrementalism involves establishing a personal platform that can support gradual persistence as a regular habit. Whatever your long-term goals include, having a flexible dedication to slow growth will enforce positive habits that will undoubtedly build up over time. If you only have an hour a day to put towards your long-term goal, what is the most effective way to use that time? Defining priorities will help focus your intentions.

My dedicated hour at the end of the day will shift to build technical skills and work towards more quality pieces. The time I’ve allocated everyday for this project still exists and will continue to provide a personal framework for my pattern design. The habit itself has not changed, nor has my long-term goal, just the short-term manifestations. This is somewhat of a thought-process post as I continue to work this out. More thoughts on sustainable incrementalism to come. Suggestions always welcome.

<3 H Lee

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