Your new stuff is better than your old stuff

17 February 2023

Sign on a footpath: "Please take care - stinging insects in this area"

I’ve been into photography in one way or another since my teens, but didn’t really start taking it seriously until the mid-2000s, when I saved up enough money to buy my first digital SLR, the Nikon D40.

I took lots of great pictures with that camera, and was so proud of some of them that I turned them into prints, and stuck them on the wall.

Some of those prints are still there, on the wall. I look at them now and I cringe. They’re terrible. The photography I was proud of in 2007 is the sort of photography I’d ditch today.

This is mostly because I’ve got slightly better in the years since then. I hold myself to higher standards now.

I know that my new stuff is better than my old stuff. It really is about time that some of that old stuff came off the walls.

This applies everywhere

We all know this already. As we spend more time practicing something, we get better at it. So far, so common sense.

Newer-you will look back at the things that past-you created, and cringe. Newer-you will see the flaws and the inexperience that past-you wasn’t experienced enough to see.

Writing a book is hard for lots of reasons, but one of them is that you’re constantly looking back over past-you’s written efforts, and thinking “This could be better”. I spent over a year writing my book; it’s not even a very long one, but the constant re-reading and re-visiting of my old words resulted in endless editing and revision.

Even now, I look at it and I want to change it, make it better. This is how 2nd editions happen.

So, if you’re going to get something creative out into the world, you have to draw a line somewhere. You have to decide “That’s enough editing” and put your thing out there, even though you know that you’ll want to edit it again one day.

Teams can use this to work out loud

Finally, I’m getting to the point I wanted to make.

This is why writing a blog (or journal, notebook, whatever you want to call it) to document your work as you go along is a good idea.

The ability to change your mind - to edit your past-self’s thinking as you go along - is built in to blogging.

Newer-you can reflect on past-you’s posts and react to them. Newer-you can see what past-you got wrong, and explain how your thinking has changed since then. It’s a chance to document change and document learning, all at the same time.

Working in the open means documenting what you do, as it happens. Writing and sharing lots of small updates over time.

I often talk about the difference between the “small stories” - the regular updates - and the “larger story” - the collection of updates, built up over time.

The larger story is all about self-correction, editing to improve, revising what was said before.

A team that’s working in the open like this can afford to worry less about their old stuff; because the old stuff was never shared as the only story, but as the beginning of one.