Archive for February, 2011

Absence Makes The Skill ……

February 28th, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

The more you are able to do, the better you seem to be.  And this is generally the case.  Except when it isn’t, and that is generally the case for novice performers.  The distinction is whether what you are doing is necessary; for novice performers, unnecessary and inefficient actions are unavoidable and defining characteristics.

However, the less you seem to be doing, the more able you actually are.  This might appear a bit odd for we usually associate busyness with business, excitement with effort.  Isn’t it strange then when things happen with a minimum of fuss, a minimum of mess and a minimum of apparent effort?

How can it be that the less you seem to be doing, the more proficient you actually are?  Shouldn’t manoeuvres be accompanied by the flailing of arms, the juggling of tasks and the grunting of effort?  When what you are expecting to see, what you believe should be there …… just isn’t.  But, in some circumstances, nothing can be really something …….. which is different to saying that nothing can really be something, although this also applies.  Confusing?  Well, no, not unless you’re expecting to be spoonfed.  After all, a slight movement in the ‘be’ makes a big difference.

You have to work at this, not just get given what you need as though you somehow deserve it.  Everybody deserves it but only those that make the effort receive it.  Confused?  Let’s move on.  What’s the relevance of this?  Well, how would you answer the fundamental question, “What constitutes a skilled performer?”

Most people would answer this by listing the things that should be present in their actions.  The traditional things, the usual things, the common things – all of them discernible and conspicuous.  I’m sure you could nominate quite a few of these, couldn’t you?  But there’s a much bigger question than your ability to name them – does the presence of these things define skilled behaviour?

Is it possible for many of them to be absent and yet skilled behaviour to be present?  The answer is ‘Yes’!

Hang on, if all these standard things can be either present or absent in skilled behaviour (and it doesn’t make much difference), perhaps skilled behaviour is better defined by the absence of other things?  The answer is ‘Yes’!

What are these ‘other’ things, then?  I could tell you but that would be …. um, what’s that horrible word ….?  That’s right, it’s spoonfeeding.

Find your own way.

Slow down, It’s Sunday

February 27th, 2011 | Related | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, ’tis nobler presents seven things that you may find inspiring, intriguing and informative.  Enjoy!

Introducing the world’s first anti-laser.

The challenge is to re-introduce meaning to data – ‘How we know.’ 

Indie music at its finest

Spend some time looking at 2010’s best science and engineering visualisations

What could you do in 2h 47min?  Ueli Steck climbed the north face of the Eiger!  This is a magnificent video – I had my heart in my mouth when he started across the top! 

All our energy needs from renewables by 2050.  Can we build it? Yes, we can

The Third and The Seventh is a stunning achievement.  HD, Full CGI and WOW!!!

No Automatic Immunity

February 25th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Following on from the previous post, you might assume that the achievement of automaticity provides immunity from error.  After all, automaticity is acquired through extensive experience and is effortless (possibly resourceless as well) performance that, for most things, is a consequence of learning (some fundamental, ‘automatised’ perceptual and cognitive processes are hard-wired in our heads).  Perhaps the most important elements of this shift from manual to automatic control is that the latter is both unintentional and stimulus–driven (that is, the presence of a learned trigger is sufficient for automatic behaviour to be initiated, even when the actor is not consciously aware of its presence).

But there’s never automatic immunity from automaticity.  And the explanation is similar to the difference between assumption and expectancy.  Assumptions may be divorced from experience and disconnected from the situation whereas expectancies are derived from experience and applied automatically to situations.

Even automaticity does not allow you to disconnect from your performance; it makes performance more effective and much more efficient but it never makes you foolproof.

Assuming that your experience, your expertise or your personality somehow makes you foolproof is simply wrong unless you interpret ‘being foolproof’ as ‘proof of being a fool’.

Distracted or disconnected decimates the benefits of automaticity.  You cannot participate without attending, in the sense of paying attention.  There is a distinction, however, between being present and attending; if you’re present without attending, you could find yourself in difficulty.  If you attend, you are always present although automaticity allows you to ‘loiter in the background’.

Perhaps the best analogy for this post is with pyrite; you know, the yellowish iron sulphide that looks very similar to gold and is often referred to as fool’s gold:

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There is no automatic immunity, even experts are not foolproof and the concept of perfection is pyrite!

Don’t Assume You’re Connected

February 23rd, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Wavelengths are everywhere, in sounds, light and nature.  Given their frequency, it might be considered unusual to ‘be on the same wavelength’, even though high frequencies do have shorter wavelengths!  You might be close, particularly if the companion or circumstance is well-known to you, but to be on ‘the same wavelength’ seems to be pushing the odds.  Still, they say an inch is as good as a mile so it might be more appropriate to think of ‘same’ and ‘completely different’, where ‘same’ is unlikely and ‘completely different’ is unhelpful.

Does closeness encourage the same wavelength?  If I’ve known you for years, I should be able to communicate much more effectively than if you were strange.  Strange to me, that is, as in being a stranger.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be true, and the explanation and implications are relevant to experiential learning.  Here’s a classic clip from the 1970s TV show ‘The Odd Couple’ that sets us on the road to explaining and understanding:

When you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME!

Research studies have demonstrated that the effectiveness of communication between friends or partners and between strangers is essentially identical.  Isn’t this counterintuitive?  Wouldn’t you expect the benefits of experience to flow through to communication?  Shouldn’t communication be handled in the same way as any other skill?

The answers to these question should all be ‘Yes’, except for the fact that assumptions get in the way.  And assumptions are different to expectancies, even though they may be thought of as similar.  ‘I assume’ seems the same as ‘I expect’.

The difference can be found in the role of experience.  Expectancies are derived from experience and actively and directly help to fill in the information gaps.  Assumptions, on the other hand, are often oblivious to experience.  Rather than being derived from experience, assumptions are imposed on the experience, and the mismatches begin.

Such mismatches have been called illusions of insight – I know you; therefore I know what you’re saying.  Once communication or, by extension, any other skill is divorced from the situation, the errors mount up.

Stay connected to the experience; never just assume you’re connected, especially when there’s no supporting evidence!  It’s amazing how disconnected many of our connections can become.

Fear Less

February 21st, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Are you fearless or can you fear less?  It’s not ‘be’; rather it’s do.  Not be fearless but do fear less.  When many of our fears evaporate rather than eventuate, why is it so difficult to fear less?

For it is indeed difficult.  The glass half-empty has more influence than the glass half-full; as ‘tis nobler has already noted, people believe it is more important not to lose (regardless of the potential for a more attractive ‘win’).  And so the pattern emerges – don’t lose, play it safe, be scared, nothing works out, bad things happen.  The negative overpowers, the downside dominates:

“… it’s not my fault, it’s how I’m programmed to function, ……….

Cos I’m being taken over by the Fear…”:

Is this how you’re programmed to function?  That’s a very big question, trying to understand a cognitive bias towards the greater influence of the negative.  One partial explanation has been advanced on the basis of research studies that demonstrate negative issues are more likely to be perceived as true.

In last Friday’s post, ‘tis nobler asked what people were talking about when things were described as impossible, given that they weren’t actually impossible.  Now there’s another question for you to answer:

When you say “I’m never going to be able to do this”, do you believe this to be true?

For it isn’t true; you’re just reflecting (without reflecting) one aspect of the negativity bias.  And you can transcend this perception in the same way that you can overcome the limitations of inexperience.  It’s more than a catchcry – effort is essential.

And never forget that positive things can be true.  Take this post, for instance ………

Slow Down, It’s Sunday

February 20th, 2011 | Related | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, ’tis nobler presents seven things that you may find inspiring, intriguing and informative.  Enjoy!

Would you like to join Project Noah and become a citizen scientist? 

Does the world’s technology equal one human brain

They talk about evidence-based initiatives, as long as they create the evidence

The ‘black smoke’ from Lost is now working in Japan – Swordfighting with shadows

It was goodbye Pluto (as a planet); will it be hello Tyche

At least we now know how old the Voynich Manuscript is. 

The Saga of Biorn …. has a twist!

Almost … Probably Not … Certain

February 18th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

The legendary literary sleuth, Sherlock Holmes described his problem solving technique thus:

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

‘tis nobler has previously talked about probabilities (see, for example, Probably) but this post looks at it from a different angle, the semantic rather than the statistical.  What do you actually mean when you talk about ‘almost’, ‘probably not’ or ‘certain’.

Perhaps, for many experiential learners, these words and phrases sound different but feel the same:

Attempts have been made to align the semantic and statistical meanings of estimators such as ‘almost’, ‘probably not’ or ‘certain’.  They are denoted as words of estimative probability; the following table is from Wikipedia: 


100%   Give or take 0%
Almost Certain 93%   Give or take about 6%
Probable 75%   Give or take about 12%
Chances About Even 50%   Give or take about 10%
Probably Not 30%   Give or take about 10%
Almost Certainly Not 7%   Give or take about 5%
Impossible 0

  Give or take 0%

 How do these estimates compare to the way you use these words?  Whether it’s learning or behavioural change, when you say something is impossible, what do you actually mean?  And, if you don’t mean that it is literally impossible (and you rarely will), what are you actually talking about and why are you talking about it this way?  ‘tis nobler is ‘almost certain’ that you are ‘almost certainly not’ talking about your chances of success!

When things sound different but feel the same, what are the influences that lead to different descriptions of the same, or similar, experiences?  Then again, when things sound the same and feel the same but are actually different, what are you missing?

Of course, using these sorts of words overlooks the many subtle variations that are lumped together within these broad categories.  And it is invariably the subtleties that add learning value and support or hinder behavioural change.

‘tis nobler is certain about that – what about you?

One Thing Leads To Another

February 16th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Regardless of what skill you’re learning, it’s impossible to know when the learning started.  It will always pre-date the time when you first started doing but by how long is anybody’s guess.  And it doesn’t really matter, for it is not the starting point but the journey that is important.

When learning first starts, you see ‘things’, even if you don’t notice them.  As you continue, you realise, and begin to understand, the connections that exist between these ‘things’.  As the connections multiply, so your understanding deepens.  There comes a point when you transcend these connections, forming patterns from groups of connections.  Only chumps don’t chunk!

And these patterns allow you to compare and contrast what’s in your head, the stored experiences that have created these patterns, with the actual ‘things’, connections and patterns in the world around you.  They will allow you to respond effectively but, more crucially, they will allow you to anticipate and respond more efficiently.

There are always times when you need to go beyond what is around you – can you think of any such circumstances?  In these circumstances, you are trying to match valid patterns in your head with incomplete or ‘fuzzy’ information that surrounds you.  In these circumstances, you fill in these gaps with the possibilities and probabilities you’ve collected through experience.  This is an example of going ‘beyond’.

There’s another type of going ‘beyond’, and this is where you can run into problems for you are also going ‘beyond’ your experience, not just the immediate circumstances.  Let’s use an analogy to help explain; many people have heard of the halo effect whereby, on the basis of a single, positive quality, other positive qualities are ascribed without any evidence whatsoever.  These are assumed connections that are not derived or inferred from relevant experience.  One thing leads to another and, as Vanessa Amorosi sings, “before you know it, you’re in too deep:”

One thing does lead to another – that’s how you learn experientially.  But there are ‘anothers’ that flow from your experience, either directly or indirectly, and there are ‘anothers’ that have little or no relationship to your experience.

When you arrive at an ‘another’, how did you get there?

To Do, Not To Do

February 14th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Aristotle said:

“What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.”

Willpower and self control are recurring themes in experiential learning and behavioural change, vital building blocks in systemic performance.  But their portrayal in programs does leave a lot to be desired, often reducing to simple encouragement to ‘do better’ or ‘try harder’.  There is a great to-do about ‘to do’ and ‘not to do’.

In ‘Ends can end the means’, ‘tis nobler wrote:

Learning can never be about dogmatic willpower, for what could be an exciting future will progressively narrow to a constantly receding pinpoint of light.   Don’t let your attachment to goals prevent you from reaching them!

Summary: willpower is never enough!

In ‘This too shall pass’, ‘tis nobler wrote:

All of this is based on the traditional view that willpower is a finite resource that eventually runs out.  The only way to get it back is to take a break and return refreshed.  Just as there is a limit to the number of push-ups you can do at any one time, there is a limit to the amount of willpower you can apply.  But some recent research suggests that this may not be the case and that, perhaps, the limits to willpower are believed (or learned) rather than actual.  What changes if you realise that limited willpower is a self-fulfilling prophesy rather than a fact?  Are you able to turn this around by learning that your willpower is not limited, that it is possible to keep going and going?

Summary:  limited willpower may just be in your head and it is possible for unlimited willpower to be there instead!

In ‘The manager manages the manager’ and ‘Don’t do that, d’oh’, the ineffectiveness of suppression, of thoughts and behaviour, was noted.  You always remember that which you are consciously trying to forget while just trying to stop doing something leads to you doing it more often.

Summary:  to suppress is to pretend you’re in control.

And we shouldn’t forget the issue of ‘baggage’, that there is an inverse relationship between self control and procrastination – the more you exert self control, the less of a procrastinator you’ll be.  It can also be possible to ‘import’ self control from other aspects of your life and apply it to your learning journey; if it exists somewhere, you can use it here.

Luckily, we can rely on Aristotle to tie up some of the many loose ends; he said:

“For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing.”

And the point of this post is that there is evidence to indicate that there is a practice effect for self-control.  Implementing self control behaviours, rather than just coping through willpower or suppressing the ‘objects of your desires’, does lead to more effective self control.

If you have to learn self control before you can control yourself, you learn self control by controlling yourself.  And if, through effortful practice, you equip yourself as well as you can, everything looks sharper, more colourful, crisper and more meaningful:

Think of self control as a skill that responds to practice rather than a practice that requires finite willpower or a strong personality.  It’s never beyond you for you just need to make the effort to learn.

Slow Down, It’s Sunday

February 13th, 2011 | Related | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, ’tis nobler presents seven things that you may find inspiring, intriguing and informative.  Enjoy!

Left alone in a dark room with a pile of money, the Irish decided what they really wanted to do with it was to buy Ireland. From one another.  When Irish eyes are crying.  

Is a universal influenza vaccine possible?

What would you say about this essay on bad reviews

The last Japanese man in Kazakhstan

When a photograph isn’t just a photograph! 

Together they form a judging panel, evaluating my ability to do one of the strangest things I’ve ever been asked to do.  I must convince them that I’m human.  Fortunately, I am human; unfortunately, it’s not clear how much that will help.

“Paradise is lost without others.” The Guest.

If Only Or If, Then?

February 11th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments


If only this post was more entertaining, my life would be much better.  But it isn’t and it isn’t.

Sigh.  If only things were different, things would be better.  But they aren’t and they aren’t.

So we wait for all of our ‘if onlys’ to arrive and for things to then change.  But they don’t and they don’t.  And we pay the price, in many different ways, for this inaction.  And the price we pay pushes positive action further and further away.  For, when we get disheartened or annoyed, frustrated or irritated, the evidence indicates that we are more likely to be reckless.  In fact, there is evidence for associations between negative feelings and a range of negative behaviours.  If only I didn’t get so annoyed, I wouldn’t be so reckless.  But you do and so you are.  Annoyed and reckless.


What happens if you tolerate this?  The Manic Street Preachers sang about this at a societal level; if you tolerate an ‘if only’ perspective, what are the personal consequences?

One thing to consider is the potential value of ‘If – Then’ thinking, for which there is supporting evidence.  In contrast to the passive nature of ‘if only’ thinking, ‘If – Then’ can promote positive action by replacing usually forlorn hope with practical actions.

And it may be that the commitment to act that is implicit in ‘If – Then’ is more important than the specific type of action.  But that’s another story, another part of the journey.

If only we could replace ‘if only’ with ‘If – Then’, things would be different.  Sigh.

If we find ourselves bemoaning the lost opportunities reflected in ‘if only’, then we’ll replace ‘if only’ with ‘If – Then’.  And then we’ll act accordingly rather than just hope to act.

Only then will things change.

You Are Such A …….

February 9th, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

What are the differences between names and labels?  A person usually has the one name and yet they are assigned many labels by others.  Names could be described as traditional or exotic, they might be straightforward, interesting or intriguing.  Names may have historical derivations or they may be without precedent, created by a novel combination of letters.

If you were to describe the perceived qualities of labels, what words would you use?  Labels may be convenient, perhaps inductive, and, or so it seems to ‘tis nobler, invariably negative.  We name people and objects without prejudice while pre-judging them with labels.

Issues are always more complex than labels indicate, so why do we persist with the use of labels?  Labels have as much to do with experiential learning as the legal system has to do with justice.  Little or nothing!  This is not to deny that there is inappropriate or unsuitable behaviour or people behaving like ‘jackasses’.  No age group, no gender, no suburbs or towns are immune; doesn’t the problem begin when you or ‘they’ start to believe that this type of (infrequent) behaviour is the only problem?

Describing something in a general way, like all of the sound bites you get on the news, is light years away from explaining or understanding it.  You are not a label.  You are not a category.  Life would be very different if everybody fitted into a small number of pigeonholes.

You are certainly not a problem.  Sure, you are different but, if just being different was a problem, then ……. hang on, sometimes, some people unfortunately think it is.  But, in these circumstances, it is their problem, not yours.

Recognise the differences. 

Manage the differences. 

Handle the differences your way.  Find your own way.

By your actions, show the labellers they are wrong.  Reject stereotypes, not just by words but also by deeds and thoughts – it’s time to put your best foot forward:

Make your own decisions – don’t just grab at labels.  Don’t do things just because others want you to.  Do your own thing.  Find your own way.  Be strong, be safe.  Stand for something or fall for everything.  Put your best foot forward!  If you decide not to, do you have a reason, or just an excuse?


February 7th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

How do toddlers learn the concept of ‘cupness’ – what constitutes a cup?  Recent research indicates that exposure to a bigger range of ‘cups’ accelerates this learning.  This direct effect is complemented by faster learning more broadly.  Diversity makes a difference, variety really adds value. 

Can you identify the ‘cupness’ challenges in your experiential learning?

Replace ‘cup’ with customer, baseball pitch, traffic intersection or any other element you encounter in your specific learning journey.  Negotiating a deal, resolving disputes, making strategic decisions, hitting home runs or getting from Point A to Point B safely are all ‘cups’.

The quantity of your experience in any of these circumstances is an important predictor of how well you do, but quantity has its limitations.  Still, quantity of experience has a direct relationship with effectiveness.  Obviously, the more you do, the better you get.  While you do get better, you had also better get other things packed into your experience!

Quality of experience is perhaps more crucial than quantity for a number of reasons.  Quality of experience can comprise both connectedness with, and variety of, experiences a learner accumulates.  And, in common with quantity, quality of experience makes an important contribution to effectiveness.  More vitally, perhaps, is the positive effect that quality has on efficiency.

Think of a singular experience, a single ‘cup’, as a snapshot.  Then, increase the number of snapshots as your learning journey unfolds.  But, if you’re just taking a snapshot of the same thing over and over again, you’ll end up with a very small proportion of available snapshots ‘marching through your head’.  And the pictures you have in your head won’t be anywhere near as rich or detailed as this stop-motion video:

If your learning ‘cup’ overflows through quantity, make sure you add more ‘cups’ to incorporate more and different learning ingredients.  A toddler told me so!

Slow Down, It’s Sunday

February 6th, 2011 | Related | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, ’tis nobler presents seven things that you may find inspiring, intriguing and informative.  Enjoy!

Do you want an apology?  It might be better to imagine than receive

By helping other people look happy, is Facebook making us sad?

Oh My Heart, a new and beautiful song from R.E.M. 

Medieval mural of King Henry VIII uncovered during home renovations. 

Approach and landing at LAX – fantastic! 

Absolutely fabulous – the Google Art Project

And just in case you haven’t seen it yet – the best action movie ever made!

First And Often

February 4th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Previously, ‘tis nobler had quoted John Donne’s Meditation XVII:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main……. any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

That post was about one direct effect of connections – let’s look at another.

Life is not neutral.  Nor is it independent, from others, from rules or from conventions, implied or explicit.  It isn’t passive, it isn’t a spectator sport.  Upon reflection, it need not be benign or benevolent.  Information and influence flows in both directions in a two-way connection; as the number of connections grow, it might be difficult to determine the ‘cause’ of information and influence and yet the effects are regularly reflected in our behaviour.  The mass, through messages, produce the mess.

And it is our task to sort through the mess and to then sort it out, a task made more complicated and challenging given that strategy underpins (too) much of the substance.  Many studies have demonstrated the persuasiveness of ‘first and often’, the primacy of primacy and/or the force of frequency.

Naturally, these tactics are exploited by others in order to influence us and thus achieve their aims.  Remember, life is not neutral.  First and often is not just a consequence of what they say or what they show – it’s more subtle than that, and more pervasive.  The choices you make in the light of the influences you face are never as obvious as the choices you confront when listening to the greatest sports pep talk ever:

So, as an experiential learner, what should you do as you wade through the mess of the mass?  What should you do when confronted with the deliberate and repeated placement of the first and the often in many aspects of your learning?  Perhaps it might be worthwhile turning this principle to your own advantage.

Find your own way – first and often!


February 2nd, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Let’s begin with a quotation:

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’ –  George Santayana

How does this relate to your experiential learning or behavioural change?  If you realise the connections, if you can see ways in which you can use the past as a springboard to the future, then why doesn’t the rest of the world?  Of course, it may be that you are smarter than everybody else!  Without knowing you, and without wishing to offend anyone, let’s consider other explanations.

Why does the rest of the world seem to make the same mistakes over and over again?  Perhaps, just perhaps, they have little interest in real and lasting solutions and focus more on micro-managing the short term to produce the ‘best’ short term result.  Look at current geopolitical upheavals and wonder why leaders and governments are saying things now that ‘the people’ have been saying for a much longer time.  It apparently didn’t suit those with the power to encourage or create change to hear these voices in the past.

Surely they have heard about the saying ‘learning from your mistakes’ or ‘learning through trial and error’.  When learning experientially, the only way to reduce errors is to have lots of trials – getting as much experience as possible – and the best way to do this is to find your own way to the method(s) that suit you best.  One size does not fit all.

People are very aware of the past – they either choose to ignore it or, without any other changes, just believe that things will turn out differently this time.  Why?  Because they want it to or they hope that it will – but they rarely actually do anything to bring about a different result.

You see, learning doesn’t take place in a vacuum – it is affected by circumstances, conditions and motivations ….. and a lot more besides.  Unless everything is aligned in the right direction, the best of intentions will often be swamped by less than positive motives, decisions or behaviours.

Use yesterday to shape today; use today to improve tomorrow’s efforts.  Repetition is an important part of practice but, if you just repeat ‘yesterday’, then you will be stuck in the past ….. repeating past mistakes again and again ….. until you finally realise that turning a blind eye to issues that require action cannot be sustained indefinitely.