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

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”)

Nested Distinctions: Distinctions within Distinctions

When I first dove into snowboarding, as a way to test out the RSTP, I started making coarse distinctions (see “Distinguishing Distinctions – A Definition”). Each one of those critical differences that I discovered, made it easier and easier for me to learn-in each of the various building blocks of the skill set.  With each new discovery, I felt more confident that they would all ultimately add up to my ability to actually carve like a strangely-middle-aged-looking hipster-chick, down the slopes of a Sierra Nevada mountain (at least this is how I picture it in my head!!  Lolol).

And as I became more adept, I started to notice how what I, at first, thought of as being only one task or building block, was actually comprised of MANNNNY smaller subskills that had to be recognized, addressed, and then practiced in a logic sequence until they were systematically mastered.  I discovered that, frequently, there’s a nesting of micro-skills that all come together to make up a larger sub-skill.

Nested distinctions are those distinctions within distinctions that make up a larger whole.

I alluded to this in one of my earlier posts, (see “Testing, Testing RSTP Theory – Snowboarding, PART 2a – Using the carpet lift on the bunny slope”).  One would think, and virtually every instructor would lead you to believe, that riding the absurdly non-threatening bunny slope carpet lift is not even worth mentioning to the student.  “Just ride the lift to the top!!” (see “‘Just’ is anything but ‘Just’”)

Bunny slope_carpet lift

Yet, here’s where the RSTP shines… a light…  in all the tiny dark corners of instruction, and illuminates the myriad ways in which it goes wrong.  It’s especially good at clarifying all the points along the way of the instruction in which the student unknowingly misses key distinction steps in the process they are attempting to learn and possess.

So, the directive to “Just ride the lift to the top!!” is actually quite complex: 

There’s a couple of subtle little distinctions needed to successfully mount the lift

  • It’s necessary to place the snowboard facing straight up the lift, both sides of the board parallel to the sides of the lift, not sideways or at an angle.
  • It’s important to position the front tip of the board approximately 8” out over the moving treadmill without allowing the board to touch down onto the moving surface.
  • You must then press the tip of the board down onto the moving treadmill and at the same time that the board catches, place your back foot on the stomp pad while also maintaining an upright position and balance, facing perpendicular to the direction of the moving lift.

There are distinctions that must be made to successfully ride the lift

  • For the duration of the ride, the rider DOESN’T MOVE – this is instructive because even NOT doing something IS doing something intentionally (see “Not doing IS doing”). 
  • Once the individual is balanced, they must maintain a loose stance with knees slightly bent in the riding position, and looking straight ahead (perpendicular to the movement of the lift).

There are separate distinctions necessary for successfully exiting the carpet lift

  • One must keep their board pointed straight forward (just don’t move), both sides of the board parallel to the sides of the lift, not sideways or at an angle, keeping weight balanced in the center, foot on the stomp pad. 
  • As the board comes to the end of the lift, it will be pushed off the end.  DON’T MOVE – again, intentionally remaining still, centered and balanced over the board.
  • Then one must straight gliding until they come to a natural stop.

In a future post, I’ll look at the vast difference there is between traditional instruction and RSTP instruction.  (see “Snowboarding_Comparing Traditional to RSTP Skill Transfer“)

Micro-Distinctions: Measureable Distinctions

Making distinctions is at the heart of the Rapid Skill Transfer Protocol (see “Distinguishing Distinctions – A Definition”).  And, for the purpose of efficiently and effectively transferring skill, I found that distinctions actually come in a couple of flavors and are likely to each be suited to different applications.

What are distinctions and micro-distinctions and what is the difference between them?

There are the coarser-level, garden variety-type distinctions (see “Glossary“) in which the value of the characteristic/property/variable has a broad descriptor.  As a result of the loose nature of the terms used, they’re likely to be able to be interpreted to have multiple meanings, and can, therefore, be quite ambiguous – for example, what exactly is “fast” vs “slow?”  Different people are quite likely to interpret those values of the speed characteristic quite differently – is “fast” 50 MPH, or is it 100 MPH?

A micro-distinction (see “Glossary“), on the other hand, is very fine-grained in nature, and has the criteria that it must be able to be measured or quantified in some way.  This helps greatly to remove any ambiguity – for example, the precise value of “at a rate of x feet/second” or “positioned at a 45 degree angle” articulates the target outcome very precisely in a way that all can agree upon.

Why is making micro-distinctions important?

In regards to the individual building blocks of skill transfer, being able to quantify a precise value of your characteristic/property/variable gives a much greater precision in the skill transfer process – there’s no ambiguity – the instructor can articulate precisely how she wants the student to perform and to what standards, and the student knows precisely what they’re expected to do and whether they’ve achieved that standard or not.

Making measureable micro-distinctions also allows for control and testing in order to facilitate an evolution in the best practices used for any given skill set, over the entire skill set.  Using micro-distinctions, rather than just rough distinctions, allows the expert the opportunity to test the various values for any given variable, within any given skill transfer segment, to find the BEST value to use for the desired outcome.  This can be done on each and every skill transfer segment to find the best values for each and every dimension of the skill transfer sequence.  I expect the end result will be the skill set evolving to better and better “best practices” for the benefit of anyone desiring to acquire that skill.

How do you know whether to use a distinction or a micro-distinction?

There’s one especially important consideration regarding distinctions, one that I don’t have an answer to as of yet.  I suspect it will be important for the Subject Matter Expert to know when to use a simple distinction and when it’s best to drill down and make a micro-distinction for a given characteristic.  The question is whether using a micro-distinction in a given context is a meaningful distinction, or whether it is so needlessly fine-grained as to be meaningless?  (eg Is it necessary to know the exact primary color constituents of the color orange to press the orange button, or can I just say, “push the orange button”?)  It’s something I’ll have to work on, answering the question, “What is the test you use to determine when to use a more or less precise descriptor?”  But THAT will have to be left for another day!!  🙂

Distinguishing Distinctions – A Definition

In the next few posts, I’m going to dive into the deep end and explore the world of distinctions (see “Glossary“)

At its heart, the Rapid Skill Transfer Protocol is alllll about making fine-grained distinctions (see “What Sets RSTP Apart from Traditional Skill Transference Approaches“).  And the way that I’m defining the term is one that I’ve developed specifically for RSTP purposes.

A distinction is made up of two parts: 

  1. A CHARACTERISTIC or PROPERTY of something (amount, length, speed, frequency, height, time, pressure, direction, temperature, color)
  2. THE DIFFERENT VALUES OF THAT PROPERTY (short, medium, long; 2 sec, 5 sec, 10 sec; red, blue, green)

Continue reading

TESTING, TESTING – SNOWBOARDING THEORY, Part 10b – Carving – Distinctions

I’ve talked before about how critical/important distinctions are in the skill transfer process (see “Distinguishing Distinctions – A Definition”).  Up until now, the distinctions I’d been making had been of a more theoretical nature, an intellectual exercise.  I could envision how slight changes in movement could alter the outcome – simple physics.  But, today I EXPERIENCED, for myself, the difference in outcome by becoming aware of those tiny differences that make ALL the difference.  Today was the day I experienced distinctions, not as an intellectual exercise.  But I felt it, for myself, in my body!!

During my practice session, I warmed up with a few runs doing everything I had learned to date.  Then it was time to add carving down a fall line down the slope.  I carefully, methodically followed the sequence I had been shown in the video series I had been using to figure out the broad brush strokes for snowboarding:

  • Put pressure on the front toe, then pressure on the back toe, then roll your front knee in towards your back knee to finish out the turn to the right
  • Put pressure on the front heel, then pressure on the back heel, then roll your front knee out away from your back knee to finish out the turn to the left
  • Alternate between these two movements to carve an S-shape down the hill

I slowly strung the two parts together, back and forth when, suddenly, it hit me.  I realized that sliding and digging in the back toe then back heel, in a rocker-like motion, back and forth is what really facilitates the downhill carving motion. 

I’d made a distinction – in my muscles, in my body, as to what variable really made all the difference in performance.  And it was EXHILIRATING!!!  I LOOKED and FELT like a snowboarder!!!  

As a result of the distinctions made, the sequence became much more precise:

  • -Put pressure on front toe, put pressure on and slide the front toe backward and lean on back toe to dig in back toe; let your body lean forward slightly
  • Put pressure on front heel, put pressure on and slide back heel forward and lean on back heel to dig in back heel; let your body lean backward slightly
  • Alternate between these two movements to carve an S-shape down the hill

Now, all that was left to do to OWN this snowboarding skill set, to OWN this little piece of the mountain, was to hardwire it into my unconscious competence (see “TESTING, TESTING – SNOWBOARDING THEORY, Part 10c – Carving – Nailed It! ”)