Diminishing Returns

Roy_Lichtenstein_Drowning_GirlThe Point of Diminishing Returns is where you start to get less result for more effort. Consider the term: ROI. This stands for Return On Investment. Your investment can be either Money, Time, Energy, Thought, or Emotion. Or a combination of all five. Whatever you are investing, you get less back by investing more. You might get a little more by investing a lot more, but it seems like the more you are putting out, the less you are getting back. Let’s quantify ROI as a percentage. You put out $100, and you get back $110. But then you say, I want to put out $200. But you only get back $215. So, you have gone past the Point of Diminishing Returns.

That is a simple enough concept, and easy to grasp, especially when stripped of anything besides pure monetary value. But let’s factor things like character building, or knowledge gained. In that case, you could derive more value from a failure than a success, provided you took the lesson learned to heart. Or in the case of character building, you did the right thing and have a clear conscience, or you have made yourself a better person who has grown stronger through adversity. OK. Put a pin in that, and we’ll get back to it, if time permits.

Let’s look at the other part of the equation: What you are investing, apart from cold, hard cash. First, we have time and energy. Effort. Together, we think of it as work: Work = Time + Effort. If we just get up everyday and start working like crazy–like a chicken with its head cut off–we can achieve great things. But what if we put some time into planning, or even brain storming? Making a list, and checking it twice, of things to do? And adding to that preparation, time learning a skill. You might want to work under a master craftsman who could guide you and teach you the necessary skills.

Okay, we can see that the equation is not so simple as it first appears. Of course, planning and making lists of things to do is all well and good. But what if you blast past the Point of Diminishing Returns, and spend all your time thinking and making lists, and never actually get to check off any of the items? What if you need daylight, or you need to be up pounding the pavement in the morning, but you use the list making as a way to procrastinate, and avoid actually doing anything? Too much analysis can lead to paralysis.

Still, there should be a happy medium–a sweet spot–somewhere between obsessive planning and going off like a loose cannon. I like to think of it as a jazz musician, who can follow a chart, but uses it more as a menu of options. A song format to follow, but flexibly, allowing for improvisation if anything unexpected comes up. Also, a Jazz Musician has also undergone a lot of training and study. Classical Musicians also undergo a lot of training and preparation. Whereas a Classical Musician, playing in an orchestra, focuses on playing what is on the paper as closely as possible, while still following the conductor and playing in synch with the other musicians, the Jazz Musician is listening to the Bass player, or the Drummer, Piano–and they are listening to him. Let’s say they are playing a Standard: A well known tune that all Jazz Musicians should be familiar with. You don’t want to play it the same way every time. You don’t want to just play a solo verbatim. You want to spontaneously create your own solo. The chords aren’t set in stone either. You might want to use different alterations on the Dominant Chords, or other substitutions. This is getting too technical for non-musicians, so I will return to the regularly scheduled program.

To summarize: When evaluating how to invest your assets, consider the Point of Diminishing Returns, and take care not to exceed it. Time spent planning is worthwhile, but allow for flexibility, much as a Jazz Musician plans his performance, but with flexibility so that you can adapt to changing conditions.

 

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