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Tuesday
Oct252011

exhaustive versus iterative

Enterprises can be divided into those suited to an exhaustive approach and those suited to the iterative. That is- do you do the thing in one concentrated powerful blow or do you take bites out of it from time to time. Do you do the intensive French course or do you study and hour a week for ten years? Well, on the language learning front the exhaustive wins hands down- I taught a woman in Japan once a week for six months. At the end I can safely say her English might even have been worse that at the beginning. My teaching? It was the same teaching content as that applied to the intensive group who achieved fluency in three months.

Exhaustive works best when you are trying to turn a fledgling skill into something solid and useful. Iterative works best when you are trying to maintain something. Though I heard Steve Martin learnt banjo by putting a banjo in each room and strumming away whenever he had a free moment. Weeding the garden- iterative- a day spent weeding is a day wasted-just do a bit whenever you pass by the flower beds. Improving a book or poem- iterative. Writing a book or poem- exhaustive- get the guts of it down in as concentrated a burst as possible. Some lifestyles are better suited to iterative processes than others. If you can’t block off concentrated periods of time do more things that need this nibbling approach. But understand that some of your enterprises will fail unless you can be exhaustive about them. Blog writing is iterative. Those who give up on a blog have an exhaustive approach usually. They think about their blog, how they should be doing something for it. It becomes a drag. Instead one should write a post only when an idea strikes- and then get it down asap. Over time a massive amount of work can be done but it feels effortless. I couldn’t write a book like that though because a book has a central unity that isn’t suited to the iterative approach- for me at least. I think the key is to understand and observe yourself and find where you are on the exhaustive/iterative spectrum and then understand what approach best suits the task at hand.

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