The Roomba Theory of Improvement

The Roomba Theory of Improvement

Yesterday I was recording an episode of SOFLETE’s Die Living Podcast. The guys at SOFLETE have been friends of mine for many years and it’s been a ton of fun watching them expand and do more and more awesome stuff, and it was a pleasure to be on the podcast.

At one point we got to talking about coaching and the contrast of a coach who gives six or eight things to work on at once versus those who work on one specific thing until it’s fixed before moving on to the next issue. You can probably guess who gets better results.

The same principle applies outside of coaching however, directly to self-driven improvement.

It makes me think of the Roomba, you know the little plastic manhole cover that bumbles around a room vacuuming it completely automatically?

Basically the way that a Roomba cleans is by going as far as it can in one direction before it bumps into a wall, then turns away and heads off in another direction until it can’t go anymore. Given a bit a time, it covers the whole room with this sort of random walk.

And this happens to be a great strategy for improvement in one, or many domains. Focus on one thing and go as far as you can with it before encountering immovable resistance. You’ll get much better at the thing you focus on, and because of the magic of human learning and adaptation you’ll also get a little bit better at peripheral things as well. Your whole sphere of capability expands a little tiny bit, and a lot in one direction. Then change direction and focus on something else for a little while until the same thing happens again.

With physical training this looks like block periodization where you might have a hypertrophy block that you take as far as you possibly can, before switching to a strength block for another period of time, before switching to a power block until you take that as far as it’ll go.

In general it might look like working on your physical training for a while, then focusing most of your time and attention on learning a musical instrument while putting training on maintenance mode, and then when you run out of steam there learning how to weld.

Focusing your efforts on one at a time will yield you much more than trying to juggle all three or more at once.

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