Kiteboarding, Coding, and the Epic Quest for the Holy Grail of Skill Transference

For a long time, one of my little personal mottos has been “Under, Over, Parachute in Behind.”  By this, I mean that whenever confronted with life’s inevitable challenges, there is always a way to get from where you’re at, to where you want to go, by countless, imaginative means – that you can go under or over the wall in front of you, or, if the situation requires drastic measures, you can even parachute yourself in behind.

Back in 2009, I failed miserably in my attempt to learn how to kiteboard – there were two particular times when David watched in horror as I launched, board strapped to my feet, 9m kite strapped to my waist, some 10 feet into the air off of Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan, before doing a super-man landing in the shallow waters.  Those moments cemented (for the time being!!!) my fear of the sport.  But, the whole experience also cemented in me the idea that the currently accepted methodology for learning a new skill is terribly flawed, and that there had to be a better way, a more precise, methodical approach to learning that would lead to greater success for both the instructor and student (see “My Kiteboarding Ah-Ha Moment”).

That's Jess

That’s Jess on the same trip

Since then, I’ve been researching and working on building out a language-based, fill-in-the-blanks, Mad-Libs-type skill transfer protocol that codifies the skill transfer process from an expert in any field to a novice who would like to possess that particular skill set.  And pursuing this project has required its fair amount of creative tactics to continue moving forward.

So, fear not, to all those brave souls who wish to pursue whatever great ends (for any pursuit worth pursuing is, indeed, great!!).  The road will, no doubt, be long and treacherous, full of obstacles, dead-ends, circling back and an endless number of heartbreaking setbacks.  It will be asking a million questions, and looking for the next answer and the next, over and over again.  But, if you employ all your creativity to surmount each and every one of those hurdles, you will be rewarded for your fearless efforts. Continue reading

Why Accurate Distinctions Make the Difference Between Success and Failure

My greatest wish for humanity, is that each and every individual have the opportunity, and the tools, to be the most extraordinary version of themselves as they wish to be.  Success or failure, in all things, has a great deal to do with making distinctions.  But, even more importantly, the distinctions must accurately reflect reality in order for them to be of any use in progressing towards desired outcomes.   

 I’ve written at length as to what distinctions are, the various types of distinctions there are (micro-distinctions, nested), why they’re important, the problems associated with making them, and how RSTP puts distinctions at the heart of the skill transfer process

But, all the distinctions in the world are worthless if they don’t accurately reflect reality.  A few years back, I came across a gem of a book, written way back in 1973 by Harry Browne – How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World.  I return to its lessons over and over again, especially when I’ve ignored it’s basic wisdom to my own great peril and disaster (my attorney has instructed me to NOT talk about it… sigh…).  

Browne is very explicit that one must, absolutely MUST, correctly assess the nature of people and situations (ie make distinctions) and work in alignment with that very nature.  I tend to think of this in terms of the Aesop’s Fable, “The Scorpion and the Frog.”  Basically, the scorpion talks the frog into swimming him across the water.  The scorpion allays the frog’s concerns that the he will sting him partway across and he’ll drown by pointing out the absurdity of him stinging the frog, for he, too, would die.  Predictably the scorpion stings the frog.  They both know they’re gonna’ drown.  The frog asks, “Why, oh, why would you do that?” and the scorpion basically shrugs (can scorpions shrug??) and says “Gee, I can’t help it, it’s just my nature.”  Continue reading

What Sets RSTP Apart from Traditional Skill Transference Approaches?

There are many problems I see with traditional methods of skill transference (see “Problems with Traditional Skill Transference”).  But, to me, the worst offender is that it seems to be commonly accepted that the current state of affairs in skill transference is the best that we can do – that we’ve somehow reached the pinnacle of best practices in efficiently or effectively executing the transfer of any given skill set from one individual to another, an expert to a novice, with any amount of reliability or fidelity.  And, when we no longer see this as a problem, we stop looking for the answers – to finding a way of doing it BETTER!!!  I refuse to accept this!!  I believe this is where RSTP comes to the rescue!

Fortunately, RSTP, at its heart is all about making fine-grained distinctions.  In its methodical approach to extracting the entire skill transfer sequence, including the smallest of those distinctions from the SME (see  more info about “distinctions” “micro-distinctions”), RSTP addresses many of the problems associated with traditional approaches to skill transference, making for a greater degree of success and satisfaction for both the expert and the novice.

Below is a list of the key distinguishing features of the RSTP that set it apart from, and address the problems of, traditional skill transference approaches.

  • RSTP’s main emphasis is on making, and precisely encoding, distinctions for the successful transfer of skill – see “Distinguishing Distinctions – A Definition.
  • The protocol, by it’s very nature, is built to be very logical, methodical and systematic, in order to capture the entire skill set transfer sequence, including all the relevant distinctions, in its entirety.
  • Explicitness and precision are built into the protocol, to eliminate confusion in the transfer of the skill set – see “Explicitness/Precision.
  • The protocol is language based – the various parts of speech are the basic building blocks for building an effective skill transfer sequence – see “Language Based Skill Transfer.
  • It addresses the conscious attention capacity bottleneck by methodically moving the small skill set building blocks through the student’s conscious capacity, then reassembling them methodically– see “Conscious Attention Capacity Bottleneck.
  • RSTP Addresses all the problems in traditional skill transference methodologies – see “Problems with Traditional Skill Transference.”
    • The you’re-either-born-with-it-or-you’re-not problematic mindset demonstrates that “natural talent” is not necessary to acquire a given skill.  A methodical transference approach, containing all the essential skill DNA pieces, is what is necessary to gain proficiency.
    • The you’ve-either-got-it-or-you-don’t debilitating belief – again, this is just an erroneous belief baked into our culture that keeps us from looking for a better, more successful approach to skill transfer and acquisition.
    • You-have-to-reach-the-pinnacle-or-why-bother mentality – most of us are not looking for obtaining a skill set at some 1%, top-of-the-game level – we’re looking to gain proficiency – RSTP makes that possible!
    • The random nature of acquiring a skill set – RSTP removes ALLLL the randomness – that’s its VERY PURPOSE!
    • The problems inherent with the Subject Matter Expert – see “The Expert Doesn’t Know What They Know
      • The difficulty in extracting, from the SME, the nuances that have become unconscious for them – the RSTP process facilitates the deep-extraction necessary to get at these nuances.
      • The SME often doesn’t deem certain skill segments significant – RSTP uncovers and encodes all the necessary skill segments.  The testing process then uncovers any that may be missing because the student will fail to acquire the skill at those failure points.
      • Frequently instructors glom too many skill segments together before they are learned individually.  RSTP, again, points to these failure points.
      • The failure to build in safety measures – these are just additional skill segments that are learned into the progression at the appropriate points in the instruction.
      • The SME confuses an information dump on the student with actual skill transfer – this simply is not possible given the structure built into the protocol.
  • It’s potentially evolutionary – each iteration of any given skill set allows for an evolution to better and better “Best Practices,” each one building on the previous best practices.
  • Having a protocol in which to record the accumulated wisdom of the SME allows them to record it once well, freeing up their time to go further in their field, rather that being stuck in an endless loop of repeatedly disseminating their hard-won skill – they might as well just record it once well!
  • The “Go-Slow-to-Go-Fast” approach built into RSTP leads to a rapidly accelerates progression for the student, facilitating a feeling of THRILL in the student.
  • The methodical format of breaking the skill set down into discrete, bite-sized, single task lessons forces innovation in teaching approaches – see “Innovation.
  • It WORKS!!  It transfers skill not just information – see “Skill Transfer vs Info Dump.
  • It WORKS!!  And it transfers that skill more efficiently and effectively than traditional approaches – a 95% level of proficiency, and in 50% of the time with nearly 0% of the stress and anxiety associated with traditional skill transfer approaches.

Whew – I think that about covers it!!  For now 🙂

Making Distinctions_Their Importance

So far, we’ve created workable definitions for distinctions, micro-distinctions, and nested distinctions as they relate specifically to the rapid transfer of skill.  But, why are distinctions of any stripe so important to the transfer of discrete, tangible skill sets, from expert to novice?

Given that a distinction is “the difference in value of a characteristic or property that makes an actual/realized difference in anticipated outcome,” it stands to reason that a skill set is the cumulative distinctions that have been made across the entire set of sub-skills that make up that entire skill sequence.

But simply knowing what to do, what distinctions to make, is not enough.  In order for an individual to possess, to be able to actually execute that skill set, rather than simply possessing a theoretical understanding of it, they must not only make those distinctions, they must also methodically practice each and every one of them into their unconscious competence (see “Skill Transference vs Information Dump”).  Therefore, all successful skill acquisition rests on making the full suite of appropriate distinctions and then methodically practicing them into the unconscious competence.

For example, you can theoretically know how to hit a nail with a hammer – someone can tell you how it’s done, you can read a dozen instructional manuals and you can watch countless YouTube videos – but until you have actually practiced all the various distinctions (swinging the hammer from the elbow, contacting the hammer head parallel to the head of the nail, etc) to the point of unconscious competence you cannot say that you actually possess the skill of driving a nail.

And here’s where the RSTP comes into play, dramatically flattening the learning, skill acquisition curve.  When the expert uses the precise and methodical approach provided by RSTP to encode all the distinctions they’ve acquired over the years for a particular skill set, the novice is then able to sequentially and faithfully replicate that entire suite of distinctions.

My assertion is that, because the fine-grained distinctions that the expert makes are laid out so specifically and methodically, and in such exquisite detail, the student can literally “go through the motions” of acquiring the skill-set and actually acquire a 95% level of proficiency, and in 50% of the time with nearly 0% of the stress and anxiety associated with traditional skill transfer approaches.

Next, I’ll look at some of the common challenges associated with making the necessary distinctions for successful skill transference (see “Making Distinctions_Common Problems”) and how RSTP looks to solve those problems (see “What Sets RSTP Apart from Traditional Approaches”)

Making Distinctions_Common Problems

While the Rapid Skill Transfer Protocol is, at its heart, all about making fine-grained distinctions (see “Distinguishing Distinctions – A Definition”), it’s important to recognize that there are several challenges associated with making those key distinctions.  Traditional approaches to skill transference don’t seem to recognize these challenges, and if they do, don’t seem equipped to do much to counter their impact on achieving the stated and desired outcomes of the instruction. 

1)      Oftentimes, the most important distinctions to make, the ones that are the most impactful on outcome, are often also the most difficult to recognize for the Subject Matter Expert (SME) or the student – frequently they’re barely perceptible, yet often make all the difference between success and failure of desired outcomes.  In order to initiate a toe-side snowboarding turn, one must ever so slightly depressing the front edge toe, a move that would be very difficult to perceive. 

2)      Often the SME has no idea that they’ve even made certain key distinctions, therefore, those subtleties don’t get relayed to the novice and success is limited and unpredictable.  (see “The Expert Doesn’t Know What They Know”)

3)      Bad or less-than-best-practice practices get turned into the norm that is then viewed as standard practices.  Like a game of follow-the-leader I watched as dozens of lovers, young and old, rowed their boats around the lake in Central Park – BACKwards!!  The vast majority of people were rowing the flat stern of the boat forward, making slow, exhausting, chaotic progress as they imitated those who had gone out before them.

4)      Bad practices are subsequently re-repeated in an even more broken fashion as time goes on, like a bad game of telephone, or a broken gene sequence – bad practices are replicated with additional deviations that further remove the process from one of best practices.

5)      Once certain practices become the norm, those assumptions are rarely revisited.  There can be an “it’s always been done this way” phenomenon where progress of process is halted, frozen in practices of the past.

6)      Instinct and common sense are not always the best guide toward best practices (see “Best Practices”). For example, in kayaking, it’s counterintuitive to lean TOWARDS a huge rock if you’re going to hit it sideways – but it IS the best practice.

Fortunately, RSTP, in its methodical approach to extracting the entire skill transfer sequence, including the smallest of distinctions, from the SME, addresses many of the problems associated with traditional approaches to skill transference, making for a greater degree of success and satisfaction for both the expert and the novice.  (see “What Sets RSTP Apart from Traditional Skill Transference Approaches”)

Sample RSTP Lesson_Stick Shift Driving

A friend of my mine, David, was asking me the other day what a lesson, built in RSTP-style, would look like.

Before I ever strapped a snowboard on my feet, I had worked out a bunch of theory, testing it on the skill set of stick shift driving.  I love watching the TV series, the Amazing Race, where teams of two race other teams around the world to win a $1M prize.  I marvel, seemingly every single season, as one team loses the incredible opportunity to hop all around the globe, because they cannot, for the $1M life-of-them, seem to figure out how to drive a standard transmission vehicle when that is business-as-usual for most of the globe!

For my purposes, it was a very accessible, concrete skill with which to work to work – the car was just sitting out in the driveway – I could work on this project whenever I had a bit of spare time. As a result, I have nearly completed a full rough draft of the transfer sequence languishing in a file on my laptop.

In theory, RSTP’ed lessons are built to be precise, explicit, focusing on just one micro-skill segment at a time. The purpose is for the student to embed each piece of the instruction into their unconscious competence before tackling the next segment (see “Consciousness Spectrum”). The segments are then sequenced to aggregate in a very methodically way in order aid the novice in efficiently and effectively acquiring the skill set (see diagram below).

Conscious Competence Bottleneck

The flow of micro-skills from the unconscious incompetence, through the bottleneck of the brain’s capacity to consciously attend to new material, into the relatively unlimited capacity of the brain for attending to the material of the unconscious competence.

And, here’s a little taster sample of what an RSTP’ed lesson looks like.  Click on the link below and it will open the Power Point “Stick Shift Driving Program,” complete with instructional videos – I apologize – it takes a few minutes to download – still working on my technological proficiency 😉

Stick Shift Driving

Be sure to go to the “Slide Show” menu in Power Point, and then click “From Beginning” to work through the instructional series.  Use your down arrow key on your keyboard to advance to the next slide.

Snowboarding_Comparing Traditional to RSTP Skill Transfer

One of the distinguishing features of the RSTP is that, because it breaks down the instruction so fine-grained, in such an explicit, language based fashion (see “Language Based Skill Transfer”), far more critical distinctions are made than with traditional instructional sequences (see “Distinguishing Distinctions”).  As a result, the skill transfer sequence is much more thorough, therefore making the transfer much more efficient and effective for both the instructor and student.

As an example, in my research on snowboarding, I found a great little video series on YouTube.  Other than one distinction that came from some other video, their 9 video series was pretty much the only thing I used to figure out what I felt I needed to start piecing together my own series to learn snowboarding. By comparison, I’ve since broken out the basic snowboarding sequence that they had built out in 9 session into roughly 70 – 7x more lessons!!  So far…  I expect it will be a larger number by the time I’m finished.

What this says to me is that traditional instruction falls WAY short of its objective to transfer skill to a student!  It tells me that too many micro-skills are glommed together for the student to have any hope of actually mastering them simultaneously (see “The Problems with Traditional Skill Transference”).  It indicates that the instruction is designed to push the student through the various component skills much faster than is physically possible.  And it ultimately tells me that it’s bound to fail, leaving the instructor frustrated and the student feeling incapable (see “There’s Something Wrong With Me”), not what either of them is likely looking to experience. 

My theory is that any skill formatted to the RSTP should facilitate the glorious feeling that comes with ULTIMATE SUCCESS!!  I know I watched all manner of people, of various ages and athleticism flounder right beside me, as I methodically progressed towards my ultimate goal:  SNOWBOARDING LIKE A GODDESS  😉