Every now and again I come across something that captivates me and leaves me wanting to know more...
I was first introduced to Complexity Theory and the work of Professor Dave Snowden by Al Smith at www.myfastestmile.com when we were delivering a seminar together in South Africa. At the time I remember that Al had a group of coaches wrestling with the conept and I was definitley one of them.
Having said that it was something that interested me and although I didn't totally get it I knew that it was something I needed to know more about. I made a mental note to learn more.
I was researching creativity and decison making on You Tube recently and discovered this seminar delivered by Professor Snowden thinking that I would see what it was about and take away a couple of nuggets. 70 odd minutes later and I was still rewinding the video so that I could take down the latest nugget that he had just uttered.
I highly recommend watching this talk if you have the time but if you haven't got and hour and a half to spare I have summarised the talk by sharing my field notes interspersed with some of the big takeaways underneath this video.
"Humans are basically pattern based intelligences. Not information processing machines".
"We basically evolved to make decisions very quickly based on partial data. Using half remembered memories of our own. And the vicarious memories of other people which we hear through stories or what are called 'micro narratives'".
We make sense of the world by being exposed to situations repeatedly and recognising the patterns. Without exposure to these scenarios enough times we do not have the opportunity become skilled at the pattern recognition.
Does this mean that players who can 'read the game' are actually players who have a lot of exposure to similar scenarios and can recognise patterns quickly?
If this is the case then perhaps we need to have talent systems which are all about scenario exposure so that players can begin to recognise patterns and develop solutions to what they recognise.
Adaptation is a linear evolution in biology. It can take a long time but it is shorter than we think
Epigenetics is showing this
"If you give bright mice, dumb mice to bring up, the children of the dumb mice are bright!"
Culture changes chemicals which activate or deactivate DNA. Within 1 or 2 generations, culture can change biology!
Significant changes can be 'exaptive' instead of 'adaptive'.
'Exaptive change' is when a particular set of characteristics or behaviours are repurposed due to a change in the ecological environment.
"The cerebellum in apes evolved fine motor skills to enable the ape to pick seeds from within seed pods. This fine motor skill ability then exapted to become speech and grammar".
We all want to develop players or athletes that can 'adapt' to situations or circumstances but how can we encourage more 'exaptations' where players explore totally novel ways of overcoming a challenge. Do our current development environements encourage this or are we focussed on 'the basics' or 'the fundamentals' which means that we discourage genuine creativity.
Most innovation happens at the elite level and then trickles down to the lower levels once it becomes 'acceptable' (think of Sonny-Bill Williams , one hand off load in Rugby or Kevin Pietersen's 'flamingo shot' in cricket.
How many of those techniques would have come from one of our talent environments?
"If you use high abstract, symbolic scenarios things will associate in completely novel ways. If you use concrete problem solving scenarios you will get good solutions with known capability against existing problems but you won't get completely novel ones!"
Are we sacrificing the emergence of completely novel solutions that might give us the point of difference in favour of functional solutions that achieve a certain level of competence but won't be world class?
Is this why so many world class performers emerge from outside of NGB pathways rather than through them because they are free to explore solutions that are thrown up by the challenges of their environment?
"The idea that human systems are like manufacturing is very dangerous."
"We are shifting from an engineering model of human systems to an ecological model".
Have some of our talent systems become too mechanical? Are we actually working against ourselves by putting kids into system that is obsessed with technical outcomes and overcoaches them when we would be better to create environments that force players to develop novel solutions and watch them emerge?
We need scenerios which foster 'co-adaptation' and 'co-evolution'. This process develops resilience...the organism or system can experience shock and recover.
"Resilience is surviving change without loss of identity. Robustness is just surviving without change".
Systems become hyper specialised and then when the system receives any shock it collapses catastrophically.
That is the process that human systems go through unless you deliberately disrupt the system.
This makes me think of Alex Ferguson who deliberately disrupted the Man Utd team when things became too comfortable. I think he instinctively knew that he had to use controlled disruption to ensure that the system adapted which then made it resilient and developed sustained success?
Some of this might have been forced upon him but I can't imagine that level of success for that long without some design in the background.
Nobody has innovated by following industrial best practice.
'Imitating a dominant predator makes you a jackal' all you do is end up serving the dominant predator
How many sports organisations look to the organisation that is top of the tree and seek to emulate them? As long as this continues the top organisation will always prevail. Seek to find new solutions by breaking convention and being brave enough to explore approaches that are not immediately obvious.
Types of system
Ordered system - fixed constraints - everything is very predictable, lots of 'rules'. It can be excessive.
Complex system - Adaptive - partial constraints. Use a lot of 'heuristics' - 'rules of thumb not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect but sufficient for the immediate goals'.
Heuristics can be mental short cuts that ease the cognitive load of making a decision.
Chaotic system - No constraints - complete randomness. Nothing is connected to anything else. It won't happen for very long. Humans will create order.
Most aim for an ordered system as they want simplicity and structure. This feels comfortable but actually comfort is the exact opposite of what you want if you aim to innovative and challenge convention. If you are looking to maximise potential in any sports organistion you should embrace complexity as that will lead to adaptive behaviours which can take advantage of emerging dynamic situations.
Can we use chaos to take advantage of the natural human disposition to create order and in so doing encourage self organisation towards complexity?
We can't say, "if you do this it will produce that effect". We can say, "if you do things like this it is likely to produce effects like these."
Future states can't be defined but you can map the present. We move from measuring goals to measuring vectors.
"Are we going in the right direction at the right speed?" instead of "have we achieved a specific goal."
Developing humans in any arena is complex and trying to measure this using discrete goals is not only inneffective but can also be counter productive.
If we focus on a 'critical path' based on our ultimate destination and then track the progress of our journey using regular orientation stops to check on progress (a virtual 'sat nav' if you like!) we can ensure that we don't go too far away from our intended route and don't waste too much time.
But by allowing the flexibility to deviate from this path we can explore areas that we did not originally consider and benefit from adapting and assimilating what we learn.
There was a lot more than this in the presentation and the there is a second part that I haven't had time to get to yet but hopefully you got as much from this as I did.
All the best
In a previous post I talked about implicit learning...can you remember what that is? Yes! Great what a diligent type you are!
Let me just check...I have a couple of questions...
Q. In the post, how do I define implicit learning?
No, no...don't just read on...stop, think, can you remember? Resist the temptation to click on the link above. Really try and remember and write down what you think.
Q. What is a technique I described that can be used to ensure that implicit learning is taking place?
Depending on how you found that little task will depend on whether you feel that you passed the test. Either way well done for being diligent and commiting to your learning...If you didn't pass the test ask yourself the following questions...
Q. How deeply did I read the information initially?
Q. Did I use any techniques to help retain the information like making notes, drawing a pictogram or linking some of the ideas to things I have done before?
Now we can move on to the next level....
I think you might be seeing where I am going with this...
This is one of the biggest things that I see missing in most coaching sessions I observe...
A lack of testing...
This becomes increasingly important if we are using a 'contraints led' or 'game sense' approach to coaching which involves 'implicit learning' as opposed to an explicit instructional approach where athletes simply repeat actions that are prescribed to them by the coach.
One of the challenges that 'implicit learning' poses is how do we know if learning is taking place. I see a lot of coaches standing at the side of practice and saying nothing which is obviously better than shouting instructions all the time. But I am not always sure that they have given thought as to how they can establish that learning has taken place.
In the sports landscape a well designed challenge or game can serve help to establish learning by serving as a test. In this sense the coach can put the players into a scenario that will require them to perform certain actions if they are going to succeed in achieving the objective and thereby show that they have actually learned a concept.
Coaches can choose to be 'overt' or 'covert' when applying these tests to see if the players are able to apply the concepts that have been learned effectively or not.
In an overt test the coach would pre warn the players that they are going to be observed and they may also provide information about what they are intending to observe.
In a covert test the coach just gets the players into the scenario and then observes whether the players make the correct decisions based on concepts that have previously been applied.
In this way the coach can be clear about what has or hasnt been learned implicitly and can then make informed decisions about whether or not to move onto the learning of another concept.
I know that some people reading this would have reeled at that statement...testing, in sport, Really? Sport isn't school!
Tests are a dirty word at the moment. There is a lot of debate going on about if they are good for children's development or if we should be putting this much pressure on youngsters just so that we can identify if a school is failing or not.
At one time I would have agreed with that response but I have found out a lot more about the educational power of testing and Inow think that it is an essential tool for the coaches toolbox.
Peter Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel make this case in their excellent book "Make it stick: The science of successful learning", and argue that testing needs to be viewed as a learning tool rather than merely a way of assessing.
As they say...
"There are few surer ways to raise the hackles of many students and educators than talking about testing. The growing focus over recent years on standardises assessment, in particular, has turned testing into a lightneing rod for frustration over how to achieve the country's education goals".
They go on....
"But is we stop thinking of testing as a dipstick to measure learning - if we think of it as practicing retrieval of learning from memory rather than "testing", we open ourselves to another possibility, the use of tasting of as a tool for learning".
This method of learning is known among education scientists as 'Retrieval Practice'. This is explained by one of my favourite education writers Annie Murphy-Paul in a series of articles that are all about a concept of something she calls 'Affirmative Testing'.
As Murphy-Paul explains...
"Retrieval practice does not use testing as a tool of assessment. Rather, it treats tests as occasions for learning, which makes sense only once we recognize that we have misunderstood the nature of testing. We think of tests as a kind of dipstick that we insert into a student’s head, an indicator that tells us how high the level of knowledge has risen in there—when in fact, every time a student calls up knowledge from memory, that memory changes. Its mental representation becomes stronger, more stable and more accessible".
And this approach has been proven to work in the class envoronment as well. Murphy-Paul's article makes forther reference when quoting some teacher who have been at the coalface of this kind of teaching...
“I had always thought of tests as a way to assess—not as a way to learn—so initially I was skeptical,” says Andria Matzenbacher, a former teacher at Columbia who now works as an instructional designer. “But I was blown away by the difference retrieval practice made in the students’ performance.”
So we we can see that testing is an important part of learning. Tests are used routinely to ensure that students have understood key concepts and have mastered specific skills that they will need to be able to work out other more complex tasks later on.
The video below shows this perfectly, it is worth observing how the head coach remonstrates (rather colourfully, PG warning here!) with his assistant coaches to say a lot less so that they can actually observe what the players have learned without being told what to do.
So what are the takeaways here...
1. Well designed games make great tests of learning
2. Use games to test if learning has taken place.
3. Use tests as a way of strengthening learning
4. Tests can be overt or covert
5. Usually use the starting game as a way to test what has been learned from the previous week
Let m eknow how you get on!