The Problem with “Just”

The word JUST is a big indicator word – if we hear the word “just,” our ears should perk up!!  We try to tackle various aspects of our lives and are told to “just” do something (see “Just is Anything But ‘Just’”).  We think we should be able to “just” do it – whatever “it” is, no big deal!!  Unfortunately, there’s usually so many pitfalls lurking behind that tiny little, no-surprise-here-that-it’s-a-4-letter, heinous word than we can imagine!!  And, I would posit that this one cruel little word, “just,” is likely to be the centerpiece in the failure of any attempted skill transference!!!! 

There’s general far more going on than what the Subject Matter Expert thinks is going on when they try to transfer a given skill to a novice (see “The Expert Doesn’t Know What They Know” ) 

Therefore, they often inadvertently simplify a whole complex series of actions or processes (see “My Kiteboarding Ah-Ha Moment”) and gloss over critical distinctions (see “Distinctions” series).

And, this unfortunate setup leads the student to think there’s something inherently wrong with them – they wonder “Why can’t I ‘just’ learn it???” (see “There’s Something Wrong with Me”).

Ultimately, there is titanic-sized failure to gain the skillsets that forward our fondest of life dreams – and that, to me….  is very, very sad – the “Vast Untapped Human Potential” is left unrealized…

Fortunately, there is an antidote to ‘just!!’

Just is Anything BUT “Just”!!

What I’ve discovered over the years of fleshing out this idea of breaking down a skill set into its constituent verb-based parts, is that ‘Just’ is anything but ‘Just.’  How many times have you gone to learn something new or tried to change your behavior in some way, and heard that insidious little word.  “Just….”   

Some examples of stupid sh*t that is difficult, but made to sound super-easy to do:

  • Stick shift driving – “just” let off the clutch and press down on the gas, well yeah, at the same time!!
  • Golf – “just” hit the ball straight
  • Fear of heights – “just” don’t look down!
  • Carpentry – “just” hit the nail with the hammer
  • Waterskiing – “just” keep your legs together while you’re standing up – no problem!!
  • Trying to lose weight – “just” don’t eat so much – wanna’ another piece of this stratospherically tasty chocolate cake??
  • Snow skiing – “just” turn.  Turn!!!!  TURN!!!
  • Bad memories – “just” stop thinking about it! 
  • Kiteboarding – “just” lean back, do a power stroke, and stand up – uh huh!!  Yeah right!!  That’s how I launched myself 10 feet into the air with the greatest of ease – TWICE!! And then quit!!  (see “My Kiteboarding Ah-Ha Moment” post)
  • Snowboarding – 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 get on and ride to the top!!” 

The word “Just” implies that what you’re about to do is no big deal – easey-peasey!!  And worse, it hints at the possibility that there’s something a little bit wrong with you for not being able to do something that is clearly sooooo very easy to do!!  For the record, I’m calling, “Bullshi*t!” 

The first time I took a stab at figuring out a better way to transfer skill was related to cleaning up the dishes after cooking a meal.  I had never given dishwashing much thought.  When I was considerably younger, I had worked as a server and dishwasher every night for several months at a nursing home before heading off to college.  I was driven by my desire to get outta’ there every night as fast as I could to get on with critical task of, well…. being a relatively free, single 20 year old!!  I had gotten realllllly good at doing the dishes!!  I was efficient, I was effective!!  I had made distinctions that I didn’t even realize were distinctions (see “Distinguishing Distinctions – A Definition”).

A friend noted to me that, despite her many years of cleaning dishes, she still had no clue how to do it well.  That’s when I realized that there were distinctions; that there were approaches to any task or skill that were good, and there were approaches that were less than “good.”  And, the possibility that maybe there was a methodical way to teach (eg “transfer” in my new language) those distinctions. 

Before my friend’s comment, I would have said, you “just” dive in and do it, and in no time flat, you have clean dishes and a sparkling kitchen.  Now I know, there is no “just” in doing anything.  There are distinctions made with everything that we do, some more effective and/or efficient than others in achieving a desired outcome.

When I got down to looking at all the distinctions I’d made in something so mundane seeming as washing dishes, I was shocked by how many there actually were.  Here are a few, in only a very loose beginning-to-end order…

  • Batch process at every step along the way
  • Bring everything to the sink area first
  • Put away all the food
  • Warm/hot water matters
  • Stacking like items in the sink while water runs; and from biggest to smallest
  • Presoaking is critical
  • Repeated soaking is necessary – keep filling in with dishes to be soaking while rinsing others
  • Rinse the dishes going into the dishwasher before doing any dishes that need handwashing (typically they need more time to soak because those are usually the things that have the most stuck-on food)
  • Rinse like items, then put them in the dishwasher
  • Hand wash from cleanest to dirtiest
  • Wash like items together
  • Cleanup last, from furthest out location in the kitchen to the closest
  • Presoak anything stuck on the flat surfaces – squeeze water onto them and let it sit while continuing cleaning

A lot of distinctions!!  And there are probably many more.  BUT, and this is a huge but – with what I know about speed-cleaning up a kitchen, my little family of 3 would have Thanksgiving dinner clean up, from start to finish, in 30 minutes!!  Not too shabby!!  There must be something significant to this RSTP thing!!   

See the “The Problem with ‘Just'”

RSTP, SKILL ACQUISITION AND THE FLOW STATE, Part 2: How RSTP addresses each element of the Flow State

If Deliberate Practice (see “RSTP and Deliberate Practice”) is a key component in HOW you acquire a skill set, HOW you get good at something, then the Flow State is how you FEEL while acquiring that skill set.

In Part 1 we took a quickie look at what the Flow State looks like.  In Part 2 we’re going to assess just how well the RSTP addresses each facet of the flow state.  The numbered points are those of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of The Evolving Self, regarding the various features of the flow state .  The comments in blue are mine.

1) Clear goals: an objective is distinctly defined; immediate feedback: one knows instantly how well one is doing.

I discussed both the need for clear goals (point #6) and immediate feedback (point #3) in “RSTP and Deliberate Practice.”  Setting good goals is embedded into the RSTP process!!!  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.  Each subskill has a goal of its own, but the emphasis is on the practice that lends itself to achieving that flow state – you have a very precise goal you’re shooting for with each lesson, getting feedback towards that goal, as you’re focus is very concentrated on the process as you’re working towards that goal.

2) The opportunities for acting decisively are relatively high, and they are matched by one’s perceived ability to act. In other words, personal skills are well suited to given challenges.

The overall structure of every lesson is based on the Gradual Release of Responsibility model (see “Gradual Release of Responsibility”). Therefore, every lesson is built on a foundation of explicit, decisive action that requires the student to practice discrete micro-skills, to the point of mastery. The student starts their instruction with the most basic building blocks of the given skill set and works their way to progressively more difficult, and complex aggregations of the skill set– therefore the ability to act is quickly matched to the individual’s personal skill level.

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

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

3) Action and awareness merge; one-pointedness of mind.

RSTP meticulously lays out the micro-skills, the sub-skills that make up, cumulatively, the overall skill set. The student, at various points in each micro-skill lesson, is acting in sync with the instruction causing both action and awareness to be single-mindedly focused on each of those small, discrete micro-skill pieces of the skill transfer sequence.

4) Concentration on the task at hand; irrelevant stimuli disappear from consciousness, worries and concerns are temporarily suspended.

Just- enough and just-in-time instruction (borrowed from the gaming world) feeds the student just the bare bones of what they need in order to execute the next given micro-skill skill transfer segment. In doing so, the RSTP weeds out extraneous details from each skill transfer segment in order to keep the practice manageable. But, at the same time, the lessons are structured to be highly demanding mentally (see point #3 in “RSTP and Deliberate Practice”).  Because the instruction is highly demanding, one MUST concentrate.

5) A sense of potential control

Because the RSTP-structured instruction is not in overwhelmingly large bites, and one only has to attend to each small piece at a time, the students starts out with a sense of control because all they have to deal with is the small, immediate step.  The mind isn’t divided on multiple learning segments, it’s concentrated on one item at a time to the exclusion of all else.  Also, repetition is built in to each segment (see point #2 in “RSTP and Deliberate Practice”), therefore, as the student gains mastery of each micro-skill, they gain greater and greater control overall.

6) Loss of self-consciousness, transcendence of ego boundaries, a sense of growth and of being part of some greater entity.

Focus on the task immediately at hand, at a level that is just difficult enough, but not too difficult as to cause overwhelm, takes up all the bandwidth – one cannot focus on self when all the attention is given to the task that is just right in its balance between skill level and challenge.

7) Altered sense of time, which usually seems to pass faster.

The hyperfocus on one skill transfer segment at a time, until mastery, engages the novice fully, leading to that “altered sense of time.”

8) Experience becomes autotelic: If several of the previous conditions are present, what one does becomes autotelic, or worth doing for its own sake.

And now we’ve come full circle, and we’re back to the idea of Virtuosity – “performing the common uncommonly well.”  “Virtuosity is a practice, a DELIBERATE practice, in elevating the execution of the basics of a skill set to an almost meditative, in-the-moment, Zen-like practice; in finding the joy to be found in the deliberate attending to, and execution of, the fundamentals, over and over again, and then still relishing the quest for an ever more exquisite and elegant execution of those foundational elements; in imbuing those fundamental building blocks with the qualities of beauty and profound satisfaction – to make their never-ending practice an art form in their own right.” (see “Virtuosity and RSTP”).

I have to ask, what more extraordinary experience, what greater thrill could there be, than the mastery of a desired talent, acquired through a deliberate and euphoric attention to the fundamentals, as a highly personal expression of one’s own volitional intent?? 

RSTP, Skill Acquisition and the Flow State, Part 1: What is it?

My first “Flow State” experience happened long before there was a term coined for that euphoric state where you are so immersed in an activity that time and place fade away, and your skills are stretched but equal to the given challenge.

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

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

That first taste of that mental and emotional high happened to me in Mrs. Morris’ kindergarten classroom – surrounded by easels and huge building blocks.  I can still recall that sense of momentum, rewarding challenge and mastery over 45 years later!  We were given a self-paced reading program contained in these little booklets – just enough to be demanding but not daunting. I was up to the task – reading, comprehending, marking the answers to the questions, checking my work. One little story, one little booklet after another, soaring – dancing over words, flipping pages, working to completion, hungrily devouring another and another.  It was exhilarating!  And then it was gone.  The teacher moved on to something else and I was left longing for an experience I couldn’t fathom or name.

I wouldn’t understand the phenomenon or how it could potentially be recreated intentionally until decades later, after having read the mind-bending book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  In it he writes:

“Over and over again, as people describe how it feels when they thoroughly enjoy themselves, they mention eight distinct dimensions of experience. These same aspects are reported by Hindu yogis and Japanese teenagers who race motorcycles, by American surgeons and basketball players, by Australian sailors and Navajo shepherds, by champion figure skaters and by chess masters. These are the characteristic dimensions of the flow experience:

  1. Clear goals: an objective is distinctly defined; immediate feedback: one knows instantly how well one is doing.
  2. The opportunities for acting decisively are relatively high, and they are matched by one’s perceived ability to act. In other words, personal skills are well suited to given challenges.
  3. Action and awareness merge; one-pointedness of mind.
  4. Concentration on the task at hand; irrelevant stimuli disappear from consciousness, worries and concerns are temporarily suspended.
  5. A sense of potential control.
  6. Loss of self-consciousness, transcendence of ego boundaries, a sense of growth and of being part of some greater entity.
  7. Altered sense of time, which usually seems to pass faster.
  8. Experience becomes autotelic: If several of the previous conditions are present, what one does becomes autotelic, or worth doing for its own sake.“

The Evolving Self – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 178-179

Those are the grown-up words used to describe the experience I had had so very many years ago, in my very first classroom.  And, here I now stand, several decades later, armed with RSTP and the ability to structure skill acquisition DELIBERATELY, INTENTIONALLY in such a way as to naturally elicit that delightfully ecstatic state for myself, and hopefully very soon, for others as well. 

In Part 2, I’ll be laying out just how RSTP addresses each facet of the flow state (see “RSTP, SKILL ACQUISITION AND THE FLOW STATE, Part 2”).

Virtuosity and RSTP

Deliberate practice (see “RSTP and Deliberate Practice”) of the fundamentals needn’t be a nightmarish, tedious affair.  Plinking endlessly away at the piano keys, running tirelessly up and down through the scales and churning through the various chords is desperately uninspired when framed as the boring stuff that we must trudge through until we finally get to experience the momentary end-goal joy of playing a “real” piece of music.   What if, instead, we incorporated the concept of “virtuosity” into our practice?   A concept borrowed from gymnastics, virtuosity 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 http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/Virtuosity.pdf.

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal” – Earl Nightingale

It takes great care, and a deep love, to elevate the seemingly mundane.  Michael Jordan didn’t just occasionally practice free throw shots.  Martha Stewart doesn’t just slap a roast on the dinner table.  Tiger Woods doesn’t just go out and knock some balls around.

Virtuosity is a practice, a DELIBERATE practice, in elevating the execution of the basics of a skill set to an almost meditative, in-the-moment, Zen-like practice; in finding the joy to be found in the deliberate attending to, and execution of, the fundamentals, over and over again, and then still relishing the quest for an ever more exquisite and elegant execution of those foundational elements; in imbuing those fundamental building blocks with the qualities of beauty and profound satisfaction – to make their never-ending practice an art form in their own right.

Because virtuosity dictates that the practice not be a means to an eventual and short-lived end, that it be an expressive end in itself, THE PRACTICE BECOMES AN EXTRAORDINARY EXPRESSION OF WHO YOU HAVE CHOSEN TO BE, AS A PERSON – for YOU have CHOSEN to be…  not a dilettante, but, A MASTER!!!!

The Rapid Skill Transfer Protocol, by its very design, emphasizes the deep, deliberate practice of each of every one of the tiny, fundamental subskills that grants profound satisfaction of progress in the moment as well as the sense of ultimate mastery in the end.

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 🙂