It applies also to new inspectors of mechanical parts and completed products in factories--especially where the factor of judgment enters into the operation. Such instances are exceptions, however, and differ from those cited only in having a period of slow advance preliminary to the rapid progress.
Apparently, improvement should be continuous until the learner has entered into the class of experts or has reached his possible maximum. As a matter of fact the curve which expresses his advance towards efficiency never rises steadily from a low degree to a high one. Periods of improvement are universally followed by stages of stagnation or retrogression. These periods of little or no improvement following periods of rapid improvement are called ``plateaus'' and are found in the experience of all who are acquiring skill in any line.
These plateaus are not all due to the same cause.
They differ somewhat with individuals and even more with the nature of the task in which skill is being acquired. With all, however, the following four factors are the most important influence:--
1. _The enthusiasm dependent upon novelty becomes exhausted_.
2. _All easy improvements have been made_.
3. _A period of ``incubation'' is needed in_
_which the new habits under formation may have time to develop_.
4. _Voluntary attention cannot be sustained for a long period of time_.
These four factors are not only the causes of the first plateau, but, as soon as any particular plateau is overcome and advance again begun, they are likely to arrest the advance and to cause another period of recession or of no advance. These four factors are therefore most significant to every man who is trying to increase his own efficiency or promote the progress of others.
_When the interest in work is dependent on novelty, the plateau comes early in the development, and further progress is possible only by the injection of new motives to action_.
Many young persons begin things with enthusiasm, but drop them when the novelty has worn off. They develop no stable interests and in all their tasks are superficial. They often have great potential ability, but lack training in habits of industry and of continued application. They change positions
often, acquire much diversified experience, and frequently, in a new position, give promise of developing unusual skill or ability. This is due to the fact that during the first weeks or months of their new employment the novelty of the work stimulates them to activity, and the methods or habits learned in other trades are available for application to the new tasks. When the novelty wears off, however, they become wearied and cast about for a fresh and therefore more alluring field. Such nomads prove unprofitable employees even when they are the means of introducing new methods or short cuts into a business. They strike a plateau and lose interest and initiative just at the point where more industrious and less superficial men would begin to be of the greatest value.
Plateaus are not confined to clerks and other subordinates. Executives frequently ``go stale'' on their jobs and lose their accustomed energy and initiative. Sometimes they are able to diagnose their own condition and provide the corrective stimulus. Again the
man higher up, if he has the wisdom and discernment which some gain from experience, observes the situation and prescribes for his troubled lieutenant. In the majority of cases, however, the occupant of a plateau, if he continues thereon for any length of time, either resigns despondent or is dismissed.
Such a case, coming under my notice recently, illustrates the man-losses suffered by organizations whose heads do not realize that salaries alone will not buy efficiency.
A young advertising man had almost grown
up with his house, coming to it when not yet
twenty in a minor position in the sales department.
Enthusiastic about his possibilities,
with the friendship and co