Posts Tagged ‘preparation’

An Upside To Risk

December 5th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Is ‘absolutely’ fabulous?  According to The Pet Shop Boys, it is:

There are many ways in which ‘absolute’ is anything but fabulous.  As a novice, you might have had absolute faith in absolute rules – this is what people are meant to do – and absolute confidence in your ability to follow those rules.  And then you realise that the real world is much messier; rules are replaced by skills and normative standards (the spirit) replace the ‘letter of the law’.  Absolute often becomes relative, with a ‘black and white’ view replaced by the colours of the rainbow.  Learning and changing becomes matters for continual and dynamic balancing, not adherence to blinkered absolutes.

Think of the words usually associated with risk taking or risk takers.  These words are probably, and overwhelmingly, negative – stupid, senseless, crazy, immature, thoughtless, idiotic or insane.  Risk takers are commonly seen as idiots.  Of course, there is an element of truth in these descriptions, particularly when risks are simply taken without being managed.  You could be excused for having an absolute position on risk taking in daily pursuits – it’s bad and always to be avoided.  Wouldn’t life be absolutely fabulous without risks and risk taking?

The answer is ‘No’, for you can’t adopt an absolute position on risk taking.  It can be relatively dangerous (with ‘danger’ being defined in many different ways) but rarely in day to day life is it absolutely wrong.  Think of the other side of the risk taking ‘coin’ – have you ever heard of risk taking being described as effective, positive or adaptive?  For managed risk taking can and should fit these alternative descriptions.

Experiential learning and behavioural change are traditionally viewed as methods to reduce or eliminate risks.  In contrast, ‘tis nobler conceives of experiential learning and behavioural change as methods to better enable self-management of risk, regardless of the type or level of risk.

Risk taking for the sake of taking risks is either unproductive or destructive.  Risk taking for the sake of learning and/or change can be managed.  It is essential to remember the big difference:

There is a big difference between the (self-) management of risk and risky behaviour.  Risky behaviour occurs when you pretend risk is absent, when you underestimate risk, when you are unaware of the consequences of risk, when you don’t reckon it is a problem for you.

Managing risk successfully can be exhilarating, can be fantastic, and can really make you come alive.  But you don’t manage risk just by saying that you’re going to be careful or you’re going to pay attention.  Successful management of risk involves effort; effortful practice, effortful preparation, effortful planning and real engagement, being ‘switched on’ rather than disconnected, being aware rather than oblivious.  Even so, managing risk isn’t perfect and there will be consequences. Serious consequences – but you strive actively to minimise the chances of coming unstuck.

Striking the right risk taking balance as your learning journey unfolds is crucial – too little is boring and too much is, well, you know what ‘too much’ is.  And ‘little and ‘too much’ are always relative terms, relative to you and the situation.

Managing risk by striking the right and relative balance can be absolutely fabulous!

All Within, Partly Beyond

August 29th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

‘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.

Preferably Reversible, Actually Not

May 20th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Can you remember the post (Day Tripper) that referred to figure skaters?  Among other things, it noted:

With equivalent amounts of experience, the better skaters in the group spent almost 50% more time practising more difficult manoeuvres rather than just doing the simpler things over and over again.  It all looked like practice, the quantity of experience was similar but there were significant differences in the quality of that experience…….If you are striving to succeed in anything, you must succeed in continuing to strive.

This is another reinforcement of the central point in Monday’s post that dismissed ‘natural ability’ for experiential learning is ‘never natural, it’s always effortful’.  And yet the temptation to find an easy way out is ever-present; it seems more comforting to ascribe our slow(er) progress to a lack of natural ability than to a lack of effort.  We can, and should act naturally:

But this does not mean that acting naturally can be reversed.  Still, we prefer to believe that acting naturally is reversible – we can naturally act, despite knowing that sustained, engaged effort is needed.  The contrast between preference and requirement was clearly shown in recent research that demonstrated a clear preference for endorsing natural talent.  Professional musicians were asked to assess recorded performances by two musicians, one of whom was described as having natural talent while the other had learned through hard work.  Their ‘methods’ were the only difference – the musical samples were, in fact, identical.

Despite professing the value of hard work, this group preferred the music produced by the naturally gifted ‘player’.  They could not conclude this on the basic of the music itself (which was identical, even though most could not discern this) but on the journey undertaken to produce it.  We cling to a preference for the ‘special’, for the ‘out of the ordinary’, for the ‘extraordinary’; does this mean that our strongest preference may be to leave ourselves an apparently acceptable explanation for our own relative performance?

It is important to act naturally; it is more important to realise that any skilled action does not come naturally.  Naturally, this is difficult to accept for we would always prefer to think that effort is not required.  Effort is essential.

Unusually, Usually

November 26th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

There are two types of ‘unusual’ things:

There’s the type of thing that starts out being unusual and gradually becomes usual, and;

There’s the type of thing that always remains unusual.

Don’t think it’s only the always unusual things – the odd, the rare, the unlikely – that present challenges to experiential learners, because it’s the usual things they have to watch out for.  Nobody is perfect in dealing with the usual things – error is a frequent companion to performance – and errors while doing the usual  occur many, many more times than errors learners make while trying to cope with the unusual.  Overall, there is more (aggregate) risk associated with the usual than the unusual.

When you start out doing something, most of it is usually unusual.  While you’ve seen others do it, while you may have watched it on TV, while you may have had a bit of a go from time to time, everything changes when you actually and seriously begin to do it.  Everything is, or appears to be, unusual.  With growing experience, much of the unusual gradually, very gradually, becomes usual; despite this shift and despite what you might think, the ‘usual’ remains your biggest problem.

So, don’t think that all of your effort is directed towards being able to cope with the unusual, because the unusual may never occur.

So, do think that all of your effort is directed towards being able to cope with the usual, because the usual happens every second of every performance episode.  But it is never as usual as you think it is.  But what should you do if you find yourself confronted with unusual circumstances?  What would you do in these circumstances?

Maybe the answer is to treat these very unusual circumstances in the same way you handle the usual stuff, the way you manage your ‘usual’ skilled performance  and its attendant risks day in, day out, time after time.  Do you think that the unusual demands that you do things that you don’t usually do?  Perhaps responding to the unusual with the unusual isn’t such a good idea.

Are you unusual in coping with the usual?  Are you usual in coping with the unusual?

Our Memories

November 22nd, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

The list is a long one, but it remains a list.  It might have length but lists usually have little depth.  It is possible to compile a long, shallow list of the many things that affect learning.  Memory would be somewhere on that list.  After all, education relies on the storage and retrieval of memories:

“What is the boiling point of water?”  “What was the former name of Ethiopia?”  “does the equator run through Brazil?”  “How many facts are on your list?”

But memory itself would have its own list – a list of the things that affect memory, which in turn affect learning, which in turn affect behaviour, which in turn creates memories that affect learning.  And so on, and on and on.

Context would be on the memory list, as would framing.  Priming would feature, along with state, mnemonics, repetition, rehearsal and environment.  It’s a very long list, as long as it is shallow.  Let’s have a look at one item – social memory.  When are two heads better than one?

Research demonstrates that there is a very clear, unambiguous answer to the question, “When are two heads better than one?”, which is set out succinctly below:


For the answer depends on a range of personal, interpersonal and task-related factors.  In experiential learning, however, there is another dimension to this question that warrants attention.  Perhaps, for experiential learning, we should focus less on the retrieval side of things (can two heads recall more than one head?) and more on the storage side (do two heads have more memories than one head?).  There is a very clear, unambiguous answer to the latter question, which is set out succinctly below:


The real world is very inefficient in presenting learning opportunities to experiential learners and this is where the value of ‘two heads’ comes in.  I can learn from your experiences as they will be, to some degree, different to mine.  Exploring your experiences can help me understand mine, while expanding the overall number of direct and vicarious experiences.

Use as many heads as you can in order to find your own way!

From A Distance

November 3rd, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

Bette Midler sang that, from a distance, the world looked blue and green.  Does decision making look much simpler from a distance?  ‘tis nobler is sure that it does, which is one reason why there are so many armchair experts.  From a distance, decision making looks easy and obvious.

This may be one reason why decision making styles have received significant attention.  From a distance, it’s easy to sit back and categorise the general ways in which decisions are taken.  Many issues feature on these lists, presented independently and in no particular order – locus of control, rationality, dependency, utility, effort, impulsivity, priority, speed, consultation, information search and a willingness to compromise.  From a distance, it’s easy to say that a particular decision reflected a rash impulse, a lack of awareness of some relevant information, a desire to conclude rather than prolong or an interest in placing others ahead of yourself.

From a distance, it looks easy and obvious but, for your decisions, you’re not at a distance (despite what people say about introducing psychological distance, something much easier said than done), you are right in the thick of the action.

Forget general guidance about style or process, for they provide little practical support.  Aim to strengthen the connection between doing and deciding – you can’t do in one place and decide somewhere else, especially from a distance.  It’s important that your ‘doing’ and your ‘deciding’ are congruent – they are the product of sustained, engaged effort, they have become highly-practised, automated activities that reflect your preparation, skill, motives and values.  Just as a skilled performer ‘knows’ how to do, a skilled decider ‘knows’ what to do, making the best use of their experience, their anticipation and their awareness.  When these qualities are incomplete, can you imagine the effect on decision making? 

Find your own way and make the effort.  And then you’ll know what to do:

Confidently Where?

November 1st, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

In experiential learning, has overconfidence replaced money as the root of all evil?  If you read press reports, you could be forgiven for thinking exactly this.  But a degree of (self) confidence is required to explore for, without it, your learning journey will take place on a carousel.  An unchanging view, endless yet limited repetition and static experience would combine to stultify rather than enthuse.  Going too far the other way – being excessively overconfident – creates different problems; too much confidence, relative to experience and ability, can be a real concern. 

Perhaps it’s a question of appreciation, in both senses of the word; more accurately, perhaps it’s a question of modest appreciation.  Firstly, you have to appreciate – acknowledge, understand and accept – the confidence you have; recognition that you have confidence, rather than fear or blind faith, is an important starting point.  Being balanced, being somewhere in the middle rather than at the extremes doesn’t shut off experiences through fear and it doesn’t invite otherwise avoidable consequences through blind faith.

But there’s another meaning to ‘appreciate’ – to grow.  The consensus is that moderate overconfidence is the position to strive for.  This tilts the balance (slightly) in favour of new experiences and more learning opportunities.  It can elevate your goals, it can motivate through challenge and it can sustain your journey (for the journey continues rather than circles).

This video has the title, Diary of a Disappointed Book, although it seems to me that the book doesn’t have much to be disappointed about until the end; even then, it may just be the start of another adventure.  Can you imagine modest overconfidence as a red book?

‘tis nobler doesn’t see disappointment. ‘tis nobler sees the hallmarks of modest overconfidence.  It is extended, appreciated in a variety of circumstances, supportive and useful but not needed all the time.  Who knows what happened next?  With modest overconfidence instead of disappointment, the chances of something positive occurring are increased.

Fearful, fanatical or moderately overconfident, disappointed, reckless or actively learning – where will you strike the balance that’s right for you?

Great, Good, Uh-Oh

October 6th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

We think, and that’s great.  Whether it is the intentional, purposeful (and hopefully frequent) act of reflection or the automated, efficient processing of information during dynamic tasks such as driving, thinking is vital.  This would go without saying, except ‘tis nobler has just said it.

We know, and that’s good.  Usually, knowledge comes from education and it does provide useful starting points.  Is it unfair to suggest that this knowledge is necessary but never sufficient?  The demands of life require more than knowledge, they require the wisdom gained through experience rather than books or lectures.  Knowing is good, wisdom is great.

We think we know, and that’s where the uh-oh comes in.  Thinking we know, often without either knowing or thinking, can create all sorts of problems.  One example is in the false memories we have of our performance and behaviour.  To fill in the short-term gaps, we ‘remember’ things that never happened, we assume or infer rather than recall.  How often have you heard people explain their mistakes by saying “I thought that ….” when this thinking is at odds with the situation?

These inferred memories can be held with much confidence although the evidence is that high-confidence memory errors are more likely to be corrected than either low-confidence memories or guesses.  Perhaps people express greater confidence in their memories of things they know more about and are therefore more likely to be receptive to change.  However, this didn’t appear to be the case although prior knowledge might not be the most relevant factor – the value people place on the task could be a more powerful explanation.  It is unclear to what extent this effect translates to things we do rather than things we know.

Still, this has interesting and important implications for experiential learning and behavioural change.  So often, confidence and overconfidence pose problems for experiential learners; being confident in the things we think we know or the things that we think we did may be more amenable to change once feedback has been provided.

The main character in this fascinating animation has no option but to use her imagination in order to close the gaps between what she thinks, what she knows and what she thinks she knows.  Learners can close these gaps through effortful, purposeful and reflective experience.  Imagine that:

Finding your own way can be great at times; at other times, it can be good and, occasionally, uh-oh.  Can you see the differences between thinking, knowing and thinking you know?  What will you do about them?

Modes Of Travel

October 4th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

How do you get to where you’re going?  Do you know where you are heading?  Is there such a thing as a final learning destination?  Is arrival a stage or an ending?   Is it possible to complete your journey or does it simply continue in a different form?

You will arrive at many ‘stops’ along the way, sometimes for a breather and sometimes through achievement, but these milestones do not constitute a reason for stopping.  Milestones are not conclusions.

But, while there may not be a conclusion, there are many conclusions you will need to reach.  Otherwise, how would you ever make a decision?  Hence, the point of this post; in reaching conclusions, what is your mode of travel?

There are many correct answers to this question and you can establish each of these for yourself.  But there is one mode of travel that, to reach a conclusion, should not be considered.  This mode of travel is jumping:

Many things can combine to generate performance errors; there is a big difference between anticipating and getting ahead of yourself.  Cognitive biases, competing priorities, normative pressures, specific circumstances and perceived utility can all contribute to error.  This is why robustness and resilience, learning and overlearning, are necessary.  Any shortcut is a shortcoming.

Wingsuit or not, before you jump, plan, gather, analyse, decide, do and monitor.  And then keep doing it; while it becomes easier with experience, this remains indispensable.  It can be as much about self-management as it is about skill.

If you jump without doing these things, even if you’ve jumped many times before, you may jump to your own conclusion!

Eyes, Not Mind

October 1st, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

This post is about closing – yes, it’s closing time.  Don’t get too excited for ‘tis nobler is not shutting up shop; it’s another type of closing down.  Think of eyelids.

George Santayana said:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

‘tis nobler had talked a little bit about the past in the past – see the post titled Up, In And Towards.  But that is now in the past, what’s the issue for today?

It’s a simple one – closing your eyes helps you to remember.  When it is important to reflect on your learning journey to date as a way of organising the present and future, it may be useful to close your eyes to retrieve details.  Can you remember?

Close your eyes, not your mind.  Recall and use the richness of your experience for it is the details rather than the broad descriptions that add the most value to your experiential learning and behavioural change.  All you have to do now is remember to close your eyes when you’re trying to remember the ways to facilitate the retrieval of memories.

LAW Connections

September 28th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

Do you remember the song “I fought the law (and the law won)”, originally recorded by Sonny Curtis and the Crickets?  The best cover versions were put out by the Bobby Fuller Four and The Clash.  But this post isn’t about the law; neither is it about fighting, it’s more about a struggle.

The LAW in this post refers to a well-known trilogy in experiential learning and behavioural change – liking, achieving, wanting (although I’ve put them in that order so that the acronym would make some sense).  The logical sequence would be WAL, although logic can go out the window when struggling with WAL.

How are wanting and liking connected when achieving is the go-between?  Do we want what we haven’t got and do we still like it when we get it?  WAL can be confusing if there are variations driven by achievement and, in these variations, you can lose yourself:

The evidence indicates that achieving something that you really want can lead to you liking it less.  Conversely, achieving something that you weren’t too interested in can lead to you liking it more.  It seems that differences in wanting can produce the opposite difference in liking, once the goal in question has been achieved.  As with any rule, there are exceptions.

One of the ways to offset this inverse wanting/liking relationship is to engage with the achievement process.  If you have worked diligently, if you haven’t had achievement handed to you on a plate, if achievement is produced by your effort and involvement, wanting and liking do align.

Do what you want.  Want to try rather than be found wanting.  Like the effort as much as the outcome.  Want more, try more, like more.  Find your own WAL way.


September 24th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

It is possible that ‘probably’ is an ill-defined word.  Being an ill-defined word may be improbable, perhaps, but not impossible.  I’m just not sure how I could possibly establish how probable this assertion is.  As Jill Barber sings, “What are the chances”,

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What are the chances?  Establishing the probability of an event occurring can be a real challenge, even when the event is hypothetical.  This is demonstrated in many attempts to answer questions about probability during statistics examinations:

“It is desirable to study for this exam; if you do not study, there is an 80% chance that you will fail.  Even if you do study, there is a 20% chance that you’ll still fail.  History indicates that only 60% of students will study for the exam.”

If you didn’t study, what are the chances that you failed the exam?  If you studied, what are the chances that you failed the exam?  What is the chance that Student X will pass the exam (assuming study behaviour is the only variable)?  Research has shown that it is easier to solve questions like these by translating them into simple counting activities (if there are 100 students, 60 will study etc) instead of trying to deal with percentages and proportions.  Nevertheless, when you start introducing conditional probabilities (if this, then that), applying the necessary logic can be both difficult and daunting.  When you increase the number of conditions, the necessary logic, while more difficult and daunting, becomes increasingly irrelevant.  If your life has essentially infinite possibilities, all of which have a non-zero probability and many of which are dependent on most everything else, is there any point in trying to establish the chances?

Experiential learning and behavioural change are underpinned by conditional probabilities but you don’t really need to think consciously about them (unless they relate to obvious, perhaps risky, events, in which case you need to manage them).  Through experience, your learning and behaviour will become attuned to relative probabilities – the patterns that ‘tis nobler has talked about before.  Sometimes, these are called expectancies and they reflect your understanding of the world and how it works.  Much of your time will be based on expecting the expected, except for those occasions when you need to expect the less-expected.  Infrequently, you’ll have to expect the unexpected.

You do not need mathematical talent to assess the chances.  You don’t need to spend your time worrying over conditional probabilities.  But you do need lots of experience in order to incorporate increasingly refined expectancies.  Many people think it’s all about expecting the unexpected but this is less important than monitoring and anticipating the range of expected events.

With experience, you’ll know what the chances are.  There’s no ‘probably’ about it.

Understanding To Learn

September 23rd, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

Isn’t that the wrong way around – shouldn’t it be learning to understand?  After all, a goal of experiential learning and behavioural change is to increase your level of understanding so that the world makes sense.  Sense enables prediction and sense enables monitoring, two directly linked activities that underpin your performance.

Understanding can come before and after learning, which isn’t surprising if you stop to think about it.  The type that comes before learning is all about opportunities rather than outcomes, enabling you to increase the learning value of your experience by optimising the LWD (longer, wider, deeper) characteristics of that experience.  You can’t understand ‘what’ at this point but you can understand the ‘how’.  The type that comes after learning (not that learning ever stops) reflects outcomes, with these outcomes being proportional to the quality of your experiences.  Nothing ventured, little learnt.

And sometimes these outcomes are different to what you expected:

But the value of experiential learning effort is usually not this explicit, and this is where feedback is so important.  You may not know exactly what you’re learning but you’ll always have a feel for how your journey is going.  Textbooks could be filled on the issue of feedback, and they have been, but let’s narrow the focus down as much as possible.  In the early stages of a learning journey, all feedback should be motivating and this generally means positive.  However well-intentioned, negative feedback has greater potential to affect your ‘how’ of learning adversely; if you constrain or abandon the ‘how’ due to this negative feedback, the ‘what’ will inevitably suffer.

You may think that, with the passage of time,  feedback should make a gradual transition from positive to negative, from ‘rosy’ to realistic but ‘tis nobler sees it slightly differently.  Once the ‘how’ has been sufficiently embedded to avoid being dislodged from your daily activities, feedback, particularly from yourself, should become progressively more accurate.  Accuracy emanates from both activity and your real involvement in this activity.

Understanding to learn and learning to understand – be positive then accurate.

Flowing Slowly

September 17th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

With increasing experience as a learner, you start to flow.  What was once ballistic or choppy becomes smooth, what was once loose becomes controlled and what was once pressured becomes unhurried.  ‘Find your own way’ is not about ‘going with the flow’; it is, importantly, about flowing as you’re going! 

And then the flow slows!  This is yet another benefit of sustained and engaged effort.  In a previous post – Fro And To – the two-way relationship between time and fun was explored:

It turns out perceptions of time and fun, just like perceptions of other related combinations, can operate in both directions.  That is, you can manipulate either one to produce the appropriate perception of the other.  It’s not a case of ‘to’, it’s a case of to and fro, and fro and to.

Now, research has indicated that being experienced can be associated with a slower perception of time – the subjective perception of time is longer than it actually is because the performer is more fluent and very efficient.  That is, ‘experts’ feel they have had more time to complete tasks, answer questions or implement skills than novice performers.  Expertise seems to slow time.

One example of this could be the popular notion of ‘being in the zone’; not only are you doing everything effectively and efficiently but you seem to have all the time in the world in which to do it.  Everything seems to be unfolding in slow motion, allowing you plenty of time to anticipate, act and monitor your actions.  It’s like you are living your life at 1000 frames per second but the world around you is moving at 50 frames per second:

And there’s another connection to happiness here.  As a learner, the repeated exposure to the world around you allows you to assemble ‘patterns’ from the ‘bits’ and this leads to perceptual fluency.  This type of fluency, another form of flow, has a flow-on (pun intended) effect to happiness.

First, you need to achieve the flow.  From the flow comes the slow.  And when you’re flowing slowly, along comes the smile!

All At Once

September 13th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

Can you be too switched on?  Can you try too hard?  Can you fail because you want to succeed too much?  If you focus, really focus, on the details, won’t you have a very detailed focus?  And isn’t a detailed focus a good thing?  If it is, why do people talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees?

Perhaps William George Horner or  Charles-Émile Reynaud might be able to throw some light on these sorts of issues as they invented the zoetrope and praxinoscope respectively.  Both of these devices use a number of small pictures and either slits or mirrors to create a big, animated picture.  Here’s a great music video that uses praxinoscopes for their visual effect (you can see how it was done here):

Hhmm, so you get an integrated big picture from a series of little bits.  This is similar to one of the benefits of experience – the ability to transcend the bits and deal with situations at a more holistic level.  When you commence, your learning space might seem like a large number of jigsaw puzzle pieces; rather than form a coherent pattern, you get lost in the details.  Experience doesn’t give you the bits, it gives you the pattern!  And operating at the level of patterns instead of bits produces an array of benefits.

There is some evidence that people might make better decisions if they do so without conscious thought, and this might lead to downplaying the value of analysis while reinforcing the apparent benefits of distraction or ‘intuition’.  However, what some ascribe to ‘intuition’ is more often a reflection of the benefits of increased experience, the ongoing development of mental models and a consequent reduction in intentional effort.

When you begin your experiential learning journey, you’ll only be able to see a few of the trees, not all the trees and certainly not the forest.  As you continue, the trees will form patterns; eventually, you’ll become very efficient at detecting patterns and deviations from them.  When you choose to do something because you’ve detected a deviation, often without conscious thought, you are reaping the benefits of experience, not intuition.

Intuition is intuitively appealing but is mistakenly thought of as separate from experience, something magical rather than derived from hard work and extensive preparation; effort has less appeal but much more value.  Find your own way, all at once.

The Wrong Frequency

September 10th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

The wrong frequency is another deliberately ambiguous title.  Ambiguity is one way to encourage effort and engagement.

Have you ever tuned a radio or TV and not got it quite right?  You’re getting some reception but it lacks clarity; you can make out what is being broadcast but it’s just not right.  Close enough is not good enough particularly when, with just a bit more effort, the improvement and enjoyment are significant.

Exactly the same applies to your learning and change efforts.  If you’re on the wrong frequency with the task, even if you’re just ‘off’ (less than fully engaged or with your mind wandering elsewhere), then the clarity of your connection will suffer.  Things may not seem all that different to you as you’re not tuned in sufficiently to notice.  Others probably won’t notice either as you’ll appear close enough for them to assume you are tuned in.  But close enough is not good enough!  If you’re not on the right frequency, you must be on the wrong frequency.

Cinema Red And Blue introduce a way of thinking about another type of wrong frequency when they sing:

Well, I’m not waiting any longer at the bottom of a learning curve ……

… The same mistakes again will be the end, the end, the end of me


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 Regardless of your level of experience, the potential for error remains ever-present; gaining varied and significant experience is the best way to reduce the frequency of errors (the ‘wrong’ frequency) but error will remain a constant companion.  You perform better, but never perfectly.  This ‘wrong’ frequency is never set to zero.

This ‘wrong’ frequency may also be wrong, that is, more than it should be if you don’t apply and sustain vigilant self-management on a continuing basis.  It is almost guaranteed that the times when you don’t think you need to manage your behaviour will be the precise times when this management will be most needed.

This second ‘wrong’ frequency can be managed and low or neglected and elevated.  This ‘wrong’ frequency cannot be eliminated but the first ‘wrong frequency’ can be.  Tune in correctly, switch on rather than turn off and participate in your learning actively rather than simply receive it passively; eliminate one sort of wrong frequency and the second sort will be minimised.  Firstly, do you understand which is which?  Secondly, are you frequently wrong in managing the wrong frequencies?

Attending To Predict Ability

September 7th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

Look at this post’s title.  What do you think it means?

It’s not about the value of self assessment/self predictions of future performance, both of which are important metacognitive techniques for optimising learning.  After all, it’s difficult to find your own way without predicting assessments and assessing predictions.  This is a story for another day.

It’s not about the value of experience in enhancing a learner’s predictive powers.  Anticipation, operating in advance of real time as you see patterns unfolding and preparing responses before they are actually required, may be the single most crucial benefit of experience.  In experiential learning, for each action there may be a hurried and ineffective reaction; however, for each anticipation, there will be a smooth and effective action.  This is a story for another day.

It is about the disruptive effect of constrained predictions and the flow-on effects on overall performance.  Constraints can be generated through partial information and that’s of direct concern – if you fail to notice something that should be incorporated into your anticipatory process, the quality of your anticipation and subsequent response will suffer.  But this direct effect is compounded by an indirect effect that you may not be aware of.

Partial information can also have a ‘mesmerising’ effect, drawing your attention towards it in order to (attempt to) offset your inability to make predictions.  Your attention is partial to partial information!  This has been proposed as an explanatory mechanism for the distracting effect of overheard telephone conversations and could generalise to other areas where information constraints apply.  Perhaps this is a reason why this video grabs your attention – comprised of clever parts rather than wholes, you might attend to it more closely as it is difficult to establish what these parts might do:

The availability of  partial information is another ‘trap’ that can only be broken through experience; less experienced learners operate under information constraints that reduce the validity of predictions directly and attention is drawn to these constraints, which can degrade performance indirectly in other ways.  To anticipate you need to attend, but attending may impair your anticipation.  And it’s not as though you only have to manage attention and anticipation, is it?

In The Dark

August 30th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

The Hawthorne Effect describes atypical responses by those being studied that are due to the fact that they are being studied and not to the effect of the independent variable(s) that form the basis of the study.  Many of the original studies, from which the effect derives its name, manipulated factory illumination levels.  You could say that employees saw the light and reacted positively even when there was very little light by which to see.  Everybody likes to feel wanted and, as they are made to feel wanted, workers did a gloomy job in the gloom very well.  The gloomier it became, the better they worked.

But the results had nothing to do with illumination and everything to do with knowing that they were being subjected to being a subject.  What effect does actually being in the dark have?  Well, if you believe The Balconies, ‘if you do it in the dark, no-one sees it’:

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In fact, though, the evidence indicates that the fact that ‘no-one sees it’ is not all that relevant as being in the dark is sufficient to affect your behaviour even when darkness does not provide anonymity.  In two studies earlier this year, participants in relatively darker conditions (who could all see one another) displayed less ethical, more self-interested behaviour than their counterparts in lighter conditions.  If you behave poorly and other people can see you, it’s seems more likely to be dark!

Darkness as a metaphor can also apply to learning and behavioural change.  When you commence your journey, you are ‘in the dark’ and must work effortfully and persistently to illuminate and then manage the challenges.  At every stage, it is possible for you to remain ‘in the dark’ but this is now a different type of darkness – it’s the sort of darkness that you might consider enables you to cut corners, take shortcuts and place short-term interests ahead of lifelong learning.  After all, if you do it ‘in the dark’, then others may not see it; all you have to do is fool yourself.  And this is such an easy thing to do for legitimate reasons are scarce and flimsy excuses are abundant.

Find your own way – it’s harder but still possible ‘in the dark’.

Down, Down, Down We Go

August 26th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

Located in Siberia and with an average depth of almost 750 metres and a maximum depth approaching 1,650 metres, Lake Baikal is the world’s deepest lake.  Challenger Deep, at the southern end of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, is the deepest point of the world’s oceans, reaching a depth of almost 11,000 metres.  Starting at the surface, any descent at either place would feel like you are just going down, down, down.  At the surface, there is little evidence of how deep you can go; you could swim around and have no idea that the bottom is a very long way below you.  You are immersed in much more water than you might ever realise.

These physical examples have many strong parallels with experiential learning and behavioural change; you don’t need to be a brave, bulging, buoyant clairvoyant to realise the importance of complexity and depth:

People talk about the ‘illusion of knowledge’, a situation in which people believe they understand more than they actually do.  One aspect of this illusion is the lack of explanatory depth; when you start to struggle with a task and seek to explain what the problems are, you realise how weak your grasp of the task and its demands actually is.  In experiential learning, you’ll never be able to unpack your performance through talking; with experience, you’ll demonstrate explanatory depth through what you do, not what you say.  It’s probably better to think of this as experiential depth.

It’s another tangled learning and performance web – overestimating knowledge and ability, underestimating the time and effort required and adopting the simplest, apparently most straightforward approach.  If you stay in the shallows, your learning will be shallow; if you venture progressively into deeper and deeper water, your learning will be deeper.  Learning and change are challenges; accept the challenges and be your own Challenger Deep!

Expect And Dream

August 19th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

If I can dream, how should I dream and what else should I do?  Wendy Matthews sings:

If I can dream of a better land,

Where all my brothers walk hand in hand,

Tell me why, oh why, oh why, can’t my dream come true.


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So, why don’t some dreams come true?  Should I expect my dreams to come true?  I am positive that something negative might help.  Dreams can be fantastic in several senses of that word, including the sense that they may be fantasies – there is a difference between imaginative and imaginary.

Dreams are also of events yet to occur and there may be much that intervenes in the interim; although they will often be grounded in past or present occurrences, this foundation is usually more tenuous than another type of future-oriented thought, expectation.  Expectations have a harder edge to them than dreams; they can be based more strongly on evidence and are more amenable to probabilistic assessments.  An expectation is more akin to anticipation whereas dreams have more in common with hopes.

Don’t get me wrong – both have important roles to play.  We just need to sort out the relationship between them.  What should we expect from expectations?  Well, it’s probably not unexpected to discover that the evidence indicates that positive expectations are more predictive of success than negative expectations – there are probably elements of self-fulfilling prophesies at work here.  But it’s the evidence on dreams or fantasies that is more surprising.

When people were asked not what they expected to happen but what they imagined these happenings to be like, those who reported negative fantasies were more likely to succeed than those whose ‘dreams’ were more positive.  It is possible for positive dreams to become an end in their own right rather than a (motivating) means to the desired end; if the positive dream is enjoyed now, it is less likely to produce goal achievement in the future.  The dream is enjoyed even though it never leads anywhere.

Think through this as it applies to experiential learning or behavioural change.  Having positive expectations, supported by evidence (of effort, insight, progress, feedback etc), leads to success.  Having negative ‘dreams’, the images that the learning process will be demanding, time-consuming and extensive can also contribute to success, for they are directly connected with the evidence on which expectations are based.  Positive ‘dreams’ are unconnected with anything except your dreaming.

Expect the positive and imagine the negative!