This is quite definitely my favourite word and, I believe, one of the most important concepts in business. I find myself using this word on an almost daily basis so it was quite enlightening when I decided to check with a couple of people that they knew what it meant and they told me they had never heard the word before! Which just goes to show that we should never assume anything.
So now I have a couple of definitions always to hand. The dictionary I have on my phone says that iteration is the act of repeating; a repetition. It goes on to say in Mathematics it is “also called successive approximation. A problem solving or computational method in which a succession of approximations, each building on the one preceding , is used to achieve a desired degree of accuracy.”
Another defines iteration as “the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an “iteration”, and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration”.
So why is this so important? Why would I use the word so often? Well running a business and managing people is as much an art as it is a science. There is no right and no wrong, only choices. One of the ways that we learn what works and what doesn’t work is through mindful repetition, or successive approximation.
Iteration involves repetition but is way more complex and important than simple repetition. Iteration is more deliberate, more mindful. It is objective by nature in that it depends entirely on us having a clear concept of what it is we are trying to achieve and with every repetition we have the opportunity to assess the actual outcomes against the desired ones and make adjustments if necessary knowing that successive iterations will bring us ever closer to the desired goal. In many ways it bears strong similarities to the concept I have referred to before as ‘deliberate practice’. In so far as it is a deliberate and conscious process with the common goal of getting better.
The process of coaching is an iterative one, the meeting rhythm is an iterative process and like all iterative processes the frequency is crucial. We learn more quickly when the rhythm is more frequent. If you consider any complex task that you have achieved a level of mastery in the level of mastery you have achieved and the speed with which you reached that level will have depended on a very few factors; the quality of the teacher and the frequency of the lessons being the two most obvious.
Remember when you learned to drive? I will bet that the learning was at its quickest when you were having frequent driving lessons and apart from the occasional salutary shock you probably stopped learning and improving as soon as the lessons stopped. Why would that be? when the lessons stop we continue to practice, but for most people it is a mindless, as opposed to a mindful, practice. We are repeating but without the specific intention to get better. We don’t analyse the good and the not so good things about our performance. In fact in the absence of this reflection and deliberate intention to improve, we are probably getting worse rather than better. We may be experiencing repetition but not necessarily iteration.
Iteration then is essential to improvement, to developing, to getting better, all of the things that ambitious business people are focussed upon. Iteration is more effective when the rhythm is more frequent and when the objectives are clear and where feedback and reflection are allowed to happen.
Writing this makes me wonder how often we simply repeat when we could iterate and what a wasted opportunity that represents.