If I am to stir myself to continuous and effective exertion, I must frequently stimulate my interest by proposing new problems and new aspects of my work. If I am to help others to increase their efficiency, I must devise new appeals to their interest and new stimulations to action. If I have been dependent upon competition as a stimulus
I must change the form of the contest--a fact which receives daily recognition and application by the most efficient sales organization in the country. If I have been depending upon the stimulating effect of wages, there is profit occasionally in varying the method of payment or in furnishing some new concrete measure of the value of the wage. To the average worker, for example, a check means much less than the same amount in gold. In deference to this common appreciation of ``cold cash,'' various firms have lately abandoned checks and pay in gold and banknotes, even though this change means many hours of extra work for the cashier.
_At every stage of our learning, progress is aided by the utilization of old habits and old fragments of knowledge_.
In learning to add, the schoolboy employs his previous knowledge of numbers. In learning to multiply he builds upon his acquaintance with addition and subtraction. In solving problems in percentage his success is measured by the freedom with which he can
use the four fundamental processes of addition, subtraction, Multiplication, and division. In computing bank discount, his skill is based on ability to employ his previous experience with percentage and the fundamental processes of arithmetic.
The advance here is typical of all learning processes. In mastering the typewriter no absolutely new movement is required. The old familiar movements of arm and hand are united in new combinations. The student has previously learned the letters found in the copy and can identify them upon the keys of the typewriter. Scrutiny enables him to find any particular key, and in the course of a few hours be develops a certain awkward familiarity with the keyboard and acquires some speed by utilizing these familiar muscular movements and available bits of knowledge. All these prelearned movements and associations are brought into service in the early stages of improvement, and a degree of proficiency is quickly attained which cannot be exceeded so long as these prelearned habits and asso-
ciations alone are employed. Further advance in speed and accuracy is dependent upon combinations more difficult to make because they involve organization of the old and acquisition of new methods of thought or movement. When such a difficulty is faced, a plateau in the learning curve is almost inevitable.
The young man who enters upon the work of a salesman can make immediate use of a multitude of previous habits and previously acquired bits of knowledge. He performs by habit all the ordinary movements of the body; by habit he speaks, reads, and writes. During his previous experience he has acquired some skill in judging people, in addressing them, and in influencing them. His general information and his practice in debate and conversation-- however crude--enable him to analyze his selling proposition and unite these selling points into an argument. He learns, too, to avoid certain errors and to make use of certain factors of his previous experience. Thus his progress is rapid for a short time but soon
the stage is reached where his previous experience offers no more factors which can be easily brought to his service. In such an emergency the novice may cease to advance--if indeed there is not a positive retrogression.
Nor is this tendency to strike a plateau confined to clerks in the office and to semi- skilled men in the factory. Often the limitations of a new executive are brought out sharply by his failure to handle a situation much less difficult than scores which he has already mastered and thereby built up a reputation for unusual efficiency.