All Within, Partly Beyond
‘tis nobler has written several posts on the pattern of pattern formation, the gradual progression from coping with lots of little bits to efficiently managing the bigger picture:
Moving from novice to experienced status involves moving from bits to chunks, from pieces to patterns. It’s incorrect to think that you just get faster at handling the bits and pieces for it is the ways in which you compile larger, more sophisticated patterns from all of the bits that is a true sign of experiential learning. Whether you think of ‘bigger picture’, ‘mental model’, ‘forest not trees’, ‘holistic assessments’ or ‘internalised representations’, the process is the same. As a direct consequence of experience, your way of seeing the world around you changes.
Of course, other things change as well for you become more effective and efficient – for example, the ‘bigger picture’ supports multitasking. If you are no longer ‘drowning in the bits’, you have the resources to handle other demands in parallel. Patterns that are validated and refined through experience allow you to manage that experience with a minimum of fuss, leaving plenty of time and resources to deal with the exceptions.
Think of some of the things you have learnt through experience, things such as driving a car, doing your job or playing a particular sport. In a sense, patterns do protect you within your performance of these tasks but they don’t necessarily protect you beyond that performance. Within that statement hides the logic for the title of this post – ‘All within, partly beyond’.
There are specific performance elements such as (simple) reaction time that can transfer from one activity to another. It would not be surprising to find (and there is supporting evidence) that those with very extensive experience and considerable expertise on one activity would do well on other activities that do have some common elements. Whether it is judging whether a pitch is in the strike zone, a cricket ball is going to hit the wicket, a tennis ball is going to (just) go out or an approaching car poses a danger, there are some common elements that allow a top tennis player or cricketer to, for example, make better, yet still simple decisions on baseball pitches or road crossing opportunities.
In part-task demands within ‘unrelated’ activities that have some common elements, some of these overlapping elements that have been highly developed elsewhere can assist. But there are limits, which is why Michael Jordan didn’t succeed as a baseball player or top cricketers don’t play Major League Baseball. Elements may help the simple stuff but patterns prevail, for performance on a task never depends on a single element or set of elements. If it did, young people at the peak of their psychophysical powers would always out-perform older, slower participants. Anticipation is always better than reaction (regardless of how quick of the mark you are) and anticipation is enabled by patterns.
Regardless of how good you are at something, all good things come to an end when you leave that particular something behind:
A reliance on elements at the expense of patterns is dangerous – it reinforces the (incorrect) view that shortcuts are available and, as a consequence, effort is devalued. It is important to remember that whatever is developed within can only ever go partly beyond.