Sunday, 14 December 2008

Good or good enough

Neither, Scheveningse Bos, The Hague, December 2008

There's a lot of writing in webland on the nature of expertise; lots of reference to the 10 year, 10,000 hour markers. In some respects, these notions miss a couple of important points as several have picked up.

The first is the idea that a certain amount of time spent at anything will yield improvement. Not at all. The effort has to be focussed on improvement, which requires constant critical appraisal of results. Doing the same thing over and over dooms one to repeated errors - I like the cliché: doing what you've always done means you'll always get what you got. If we want different (i.e. better) results, we need to be doing something different.

The second idea that stems from this line of thinking is that there is some absolute sense of "good" that is the end goal of all of this improvement effort. That cannot be the case. "Good" as a measure is only ever relative - one can be better or worse but there is never any real sense of absolute quality (talking of subjective matters such as Art). In the absolute worlds of science we talk of accuracy rather than quality of results - even then, there is a degree of relative measure. And so for developing photographers we must not think that there is some measure of performance that we might strive towards.

Which leads nicely to my third notion of "good" - the idea of "good enough". This bit is probably going to read a lot like philosophy. This is, I think, the most important idea to keep in mind for anyone looking to improve. Or rather, to dismiss from thought. Those who are truly experts never have a fixed self-measure of good enough. It is in knowing that one can always be better than before - the constantly updated relative measure - that provides the motivation. If one aspires to be really good at anything then the first realisation is that one is never good enough (hence the title of the image with this post). Probably the best a photographer could achieve is to create a world class image every time the shutter is pressed. (We can't aspire to create iconic images today, as they are judged only by time.) But today's world class is not tomorrow's and so the relative measure is moving forward as fast as we are trying to keep up. It's also no good aspiring to be as good as someone else - you're going to need to aspire to pass them and surpass them.

And so, finally, my passing thought (for what it's worth) is this: if at any point you think you are good, or indeed good enough, you will go no further. And maybe you're happy with that, that's OK, just don't complain that others don't judge you so highly.


  1. you make a good point, good enough for me to enjoy reading it ;-). I'm not, however, sure that I agree with your views on 'good enough'... I do agree that never believing that you're good enough leads to self-improvement, but I think that always holding this view can only lead to dissatisfaction.

    I feel that you can feel that you're good enough and still wish to be better than that. good enough implies that you're far from the best you could be... you're good, but only enough. On reading this post I felt that a person can feel good enough but still not the best they can be - this must lead to self-improvement. The only difference with this is that the person is good enough anyway, so must be happy with themselves.

    Kinda went off on a little mental wander there... A testament to the quality of your post - it provoked that level of thought less than an hour after I've woken up!

  2. For me, knowing where you want to get to, in whatever walk of my life I'm planning is THE most important thing. Everything is then measured against that target. I have to define what I want to do.


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