Distinguished Stanford Professor, James G March, first discussed the exploration and exploitation model in 1991 as it applied to organisational learning, but of course it is highly relevant for your own personal development too.
The approach suggests that you should balance the exploitation of your current array of talents – knowledge, skills and experience, with the exploration and development of new talents. The exact balance is your choice, obviously, and depends on your own mindset, risk profile (which is also identified through the Challenge scale in the Clough and Strycharczyk MTQ 4C’s framework), your career stage, as well as external markets and opportunities.
I think the pareto principle of 80-20 is a useful place to start with perhaps 80% exploitation and 20% exploration as a guide.
This 80-20 exploitation/exploration guide is entirely consistent with another concept called the zone of proximal development described succinctly in this article by Saul Mcleod on Simply Psychology
The term proximal refers to those skills that the learner is “close” to mastering and shows that the best way to make solid progress isn’t to push yourself as much as possible, but instead aim to learn within “the zone of proximal development” which sits just outside your comfort zone. This allows you, for the most part, to exploit your skills proficiently and then stretch to explore new ground whilst not being too far afield from what you already know. This allows for healthy and steady growth.
A similar and more modern concept of the zone of proximal development is the Goldilocks Rule” developed by author James Clear, which finds that one of the best ways to stay motivated is to work on tasks and projects of “just manageable difficulty.” According to the Goldilocks Rule, as humans we experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of our current abilities.
In contrast if your 80-20 balance was reversed, so the majority of your time was spent in ‘exploration mode’ beyond your comfort zone, then you would very quickly feel uncomfortable and out of your depth. To use a popular phrase you would “sink or swim” and hope that you were able to learn from your mistakes or lack of knowledge quickly and without making too many poor decisions or experiencing too great a loss.
So, in developing your skills and experience be mindful of the boundaries of your existing comfort zone and the zone of proximal development so that you can maximise your rate of personal growth.
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