Every so often you need to reach down into your bag of tricks and pull out one you have not used for a while.
Joe, ca. 1978
In the very early days of our first business, my partner (almost literally) browbeat me into taking the Dale Carnegie Course - not the public speaking course, the flagship course based on the book How to Win Friends and Influence People. It was a 14-week program that met once a week in the evenings. Browbeating was required because I was strongly disinclined to spend the money (tuition for the course was roughly equivalent to what we were paying ourselves for an entire month) and because I thought the subject matter was lame.
The format for the weekly meetings was that each student in the class would get up and make a short presentation or participate in a role-playing exercise. Sometimes the topic was pre-assigned, but it was often improvisational. My initial reluctance was confirmed by the elementary nature of the weekly exercises: look people in the eye as you listen to them, or use the other person's name as part of the conversation, or smile (at least, don't frown), firm handshake, etc. It seemed to me that these behaviors were so basic that anyone who was unaware of them - anyone who needed to learn them as an adult - was hopeless.
My dismay lasted through the first eight weeks or so. But after two months of kvetching it finally struck me that, although I had been aware of all of these basic social skills since grade school, I was not actually employing them consistently in my day-to-day living.
The realization was humbling, and deservedly so. I apologized to my partner and ratcheted up my enthusiasm for the remainder of the course, improving the experience considerably.
Revisit the Known
That Dale Carnegie class delivered a bonus lesson. It exposed a basic flaw: the tendency to let things sift down to the bottom of our bag of tricks, neglecting their use for no other reason than that they were already known - failing to realize that a skill requires exercise in order to bestow benefits.
It is a commonplace observation that programming skills are learned through the fingers. We acquire skills, learn languages, packages, methods, techniques, etc., by pounding away on the keyboard to scribbling on paper. We learn by doing. What is less appreciated is that all of those skills have a half-life. They atrophy when we neglect them.
Hence the caution against complacency. Every so often it is worthwhile to make the conscious effort to reach down into our bag of tricks to employ some of the basic skills in order keep them fresh and reap the benefits they offer.