RSTP and Deliberate Practice

Yesterday, I was reading back through the volumes of notes I’ve taken over the years that have informed the development of a Rapid Skill Transfer Protocol.  I saw that some of the ideas were discarded long ago.  Then, I came across a summary of a foundational piece of my thinking back in those early, formative days.  I rediscovered an article by Cal Newport, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, The Grandmaster in the Corner Office:  What the Study of Chess Experts Teaches Us about Building a Remarkable Life.  In it, he summarizes the work of Geoffrey Colvin’s book, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (see “Resources” page).  Colvin’s book greatly influenced the direction I would ultimately take with RSTP.   

Since the notes were from way back in July of 2012, I got to wondering how my thinking had evolved over the last 4 years, if RSTP had grown enough to address the Deliberate Practice requirements laid out in the summary of Colvin’s work.  Deliberate Practice is a key component in HOW you acquire a skill set, HOW you get good at something.  Here’s my take on how RSTP address each of these points (the numbered points are those of Newport’s, the comments in blue are mine).

1. It’s designed to improve performance. “The essence of deliberate practice is continually stretching an individual just beyond his or her current abilities. That may sound obvious, but most of us don’t do it in the activities we think of as practice.”

Each RSTP skill transfer sequence is built from small, bite-sized, incremental steps, arranged methodically in a logical progression that stretch the individual’s ability just beyond their current abilities, every step of the way until an entire skill sequence is mastered.

2. It’s repeated a lot. “High repetition is the most important difference between deliberate practice of a task and performing the task for real, when it counts.”

Targeted repetition is built into the very fabric of the RSTP.  The fundamental approach to the RSTP is to isolate each lesson, based on a single-verb action (eg depress, lift, glide, etc), then repeat that action, in a very precise manner, a sufficient number of times to drive it through an individual’s attention capacity bottleneck into their unconscious competence (see “Consciousness Spectrum” ).  Those individual sub-skills are then methodically aggregated and practiced, step-by-step, until the entire skill set is built into their unconscious competence.

3. Feedback on results is continuously available. “You may think that your rehearsal of a job interview was flawless, but your opinion isn’t what counts.”

The RSTP contains a feedback loop – each building block of the skill set must be mastered, to a very precise outcome.  The student must then pass a test for unconscious competence before they can move on to subsequent building blocks.  The RSTP emphasizes virtuosity, a concept borrowed from gymnastics and is defined as “performing the common uncommonly well,” in an article, Fundamentals, Virtuosity, and Master: An Open Letter to CrossFit Trainers CrossFit Journal, August 2005 by Greg Glassman  (see “Virtuosity and RSTP”).  With RSTP, it’s not even possible progress to the “fancy moves” of a skill set, you can’t even advance to the next basic moves, until you’re performing the common, the fundamentals of the fundamentals, of that skill set so uncommonly well as to have them deeply embedded into your unconscious competence, until they’re hardwired into your nervous system.

4. It’s highly demanding mentally. “Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it ‘deliberate,’ as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.”

In traditional skill-transference approaches (see “The Problems with Traditional Skill Transference”), multiple skill segments are often glommed together into one practice lesson, overwhelming and discouraging the student.  RSTP, on the other hand, is deliberate in that it forces the student to focus solely on one micro-skill at a time, in isolation of all others, until it’s mastered.  Because each lesson is comprised of just a single, bite-sized piece of skill transfer, the student gets the sense that it’s demanding (as is learning anything new!!), but not overwhelmingly so, making success a high probability!

As an aside, the really cool thing is that, because of the way RSTP builds the lessons, it places the practice smack dab in the Goldilock’s Zone for eliciting a Flow State in the student – not too easy, not too difficult, but juuuussst right – it navigates the fine balance between the degree of challenge for the student and the level of their capability – and it’s built right into RSTP (lol, in truth, this was just a happy accident!!) (see “RSTP and the Flow State”)


By w:User:Oliverbeatson (w:File:Challenge vs skill.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

5. It’s hard. “Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands.”

Deliberate practice actually demands that we do things that are hard, uncomfortable, lying distinctly somewhere outside of our comfort zone.  RSTP makes sure the practice is hard, but just the right amount of hard – the kind that forces the student to focus – again, falling into conditions ideal for eliciting a Flow State, but not so much so as to land them in the worry or anxiety territory. 

6. It requires (good) goals. “The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.”

Setting good goals is embedded into the RSTP process!!!  Each subskill has a goal of its own, but the emphasis is on the practice – which also lends to that Flow State – you have a very precise goal you’re shooting for with each lesson, getting feedback towards that goal, and you’re very concentrated on the process as you’re working towards that goal.

So, what’s the conclusion?  Does the RSTP incorporate the basic tenants of deliberate practice?  As far as I can see, DELIBERATE PRACTICE IS BAKED IN TO THE GOODS!!!  RSTP NAILS IT!  Happy, happy assessment!!

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