My reflection on The power of input and The power of output by Shion Kabasawa

Book covers for The power of input and The power of output by Kabasawa Shion

Background:

At the end of 2020, an uneasy feeling loomed over me as I reflected on my learning, progress, and achievements over the past 12 months. After reading numerous books, becoming CSPO certified, completing different design challenges, and getting a promotion at work, I failed to articulate the value of the knowledge I’ve gained, or the outcomes I’ve achieved, which in turn led me down a path of feeling incompetence, unaccomplished, and general lack of motivation. This led to a question:

“As a designer, am I learning things most effectively? Or am I even learning the right things? How do I maximise the value from my learning, and translate them into remarkable results and outcomes?”

I searched for help through reading articles online and came across this series of two books by Kabasawa Shion (a Japanese psychiatrist, author, Youtuber) which piqued my interest. Here are my reflections and key learnings that helped me answer the question around self-development, by changing my mindset on the relationship between Input and Output. Below are some of my key takeaways from the two books.

1.Input and output are two sides of the same coin

In its simplest form, Kabasawa-san defined input as things you read, hear and see; output as things you talk, write, and action. The two are so interconnected that if one side of the coin is lacking, it has a serious detrimental impact on the value of the other. To maximise both input and output, these activities need to happen simultaneously, and you have to practice this consciously.

Spiral diagram of continuous input to output for personal development

For example: When you are attending a conference/training, are you producing outputs simultaneously through note-taking, discussion, practice, or asking questions? What are you doing to do with the knowledge you have gained? How are you going to put theory into practice?

When you are watching a Youtube tutorial on a new capability of some design software, are you working side by side with the video? how are you actively applying this new skill afterward? Are you going to use this to improve your or your team’s workflow going forward?

Kabasawa-san wrote, and I paraphrase: If the input does not directly translate or have a corresponding output, then the input is meaningless regardless of how much time you’ve spent. Input must be remembered and applied to matter. If there was one single sentence to summarise to takeaway from the two books or this article, it would be:

You will only take in as much as you give out

2. Improve the quality of your input by setting output goals

To maximise the way you learn, it is crucial to understand the purpose of your input whether it is to up-skill or to solve a particular problem/challenge. More importantly, you need to set out clear, measurable output goals as a prerequisite. These output goals or outcome will have a direct, exponential effect on the value and quality of your input as demonstrated by this diagram:

Illustration showcasing how output goals affect the quality of input

To apply this theory, I wrote out the purpose and output goals of me learning the design tool Webflow in February 2021.

Purpose: To grow as a designer, I’d like to expand my skillset and learn more about this powerful design tool. I’d like enhance my understanding in web design through a no-code means.

Output: I will complete the 21-day portfolio challenge by Webflow University, then produce and complete a portfolio for myself before March 31st 2021.

Outcome: I will level up as a designer with a new design tool under my belt, with an updated portfolio!

By setting out my output goals as a prerequisite, the quality of my learning was reinforced. The output goal I set out determined the way I intake information, the depth of thinking and consideration I went through, and it encouraged me to be more proactive in seeking additional help and resources. I was inputting/learning with more clarity and a sense of purpose because I had the end output in mind.

3. Employ frameworks to optimise input and output

Referencing a study conducted by Arthur Gates, Kabasawa-san proposes in his book that the golden ratio to efficient input and output is 30:70. While I look at the ratio as an arbitrary guide, the principle stands: the more you output, the more value you will receive. The knowledge you gained will become a long-term memory associated with action/habit.

Across his two books, there are several techniques/frameworks that I will actively employ from now on to optimise my input and output. While there were plenty of practical tips throughout Kabasaw-san’s books, I would like to outline a few of my favourites that were less tangible but explicitly changed my mindset.

a) Create an information archive using Mandala Chart

Creating an information archive can help you organise the vast amount of data and information you receive daily. It is also a useful filter for unnecessary, not valuable noise which could potentially overload your brain and therefore limit your ability to input most efficiently. Below is an example of an Information Archive I am building.

Example of my information archive

b) Understanding the DIKW pyramid

In his books, Kabasawa-san referenced a pyramid/hierarchy which visualises the functional relationship between Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom. This is a valuable framework to have in your mind while inputting. On a particular topic, which level of the DIKW hierarchy are you on? What action can you take to get to the next level?

DIKW Pyramid

c) Use storytelling for input and output

While storytelling is a concept I was already familiar with, it was interesting to build on my existing understanding with Kabasawa-san’s perspective. Making sense of data, formulating an opinion, and the act of explanation are ways you can convert semantic memory (general knowledge, collection of facts and ideas) into episodic memory (personal, contextually rich, and unique events). Simultaneously, this will also help you move up the DIKW pyramid. Storytelling is an awesome technique to put into practice because it has the ability to create emotional connections between data points and information which as a result increases the value of the data you collect and give out.

Using storytelling to make sense of data/information

d) Create an environment for yourself to get in the zone

The “zone” is something I assume many people are familiar with, I’ve personally experienced this while participating in sports, gaming, or even designing. It is a state of supreme focus that helps individuals perform at their peak potential, most often discussed by athletes. To achieve optimal output and performance, Kabasawa-san describes how you can use the concept of the Yerkes-Dodson law to imitate, and stimulate your mental state into “getting in the zone”. By understanding that when applied correctly, the right level of stress and tension are often great sources of motivation, which could help a person improve focus and attention. Activities that are outside of a person’s comfort zone will induce a certain level of stress or excitement, thus encourage optimal performance, and push towards personal development.

Diagram for Yerkes-Dodson law

e) Input with the goal to teach others

One of my favourite pages in The Power Of Output talked about the power of teaching. Kabasawa-san states that out of the 80 techniques he talks about in his book, teaching is the single most effective way of optimising input and output. Through teaching, you can gauge how well you actually know a subject, understand your areas of weakness, and collect feedback directly to improve further. If you always input with the goal to teach others, this will guarantee to enhance the way you input information, and it will force you to put together all the frameworks I’ve outlined previously.

If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough.

An example of this, demonstrated in this Youtube series by Wired.

5 Levels, a video series by Wired where Experts explain a concept in 5 different levels of difficulties

Close

As you may have guessed, this article was an output goal I set myself after reading Kabasawa-san’s books. For the next 8 months, I will consciously practice the techniques and mindset I’ve learned in various aspects of my life, especially my career. With this, I’ll say thank you for reading and I look forward to my 2021 retrospective.

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Your friendly neighbourhood UX designer. All things design/tech/ramen. Currently at @SalesforceUx

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Anson Wong

Anson Wong

Your friendly neighbourhood UX designer. All things design/tech/ramen. Currently at @SalesforceUx

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