Why coaches like drills and how they are killing creativity


Scott Barry Kaufman is one of my favorite scientists! Not only does he host the fascinating 'The Psychology Podcast' weekly where he talks to leading people in the world of psychological science but he also founded and edits one of my favorite blogs, 'The Creativity Post' as well as being the author of several books including my bedside ever present 'The Complexity of Greatness' and 'Ungifted: Intelligence redefined'.

In a recent article for Scientific American, Dr Kaufman reviews Anders Ericsson's latest book co-authored with Robert Pool "Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise". Dr Kaufman makes a reference to a passage in Ericsson and Pool's book which he thinks is key. Dr Ericsson and Pool suggest...

"...the techniques of deliberate practice are most applicable to "highly developed fields" such as chess, sports, and musical performance in which the rules of the domain are well established and passed on from generation to generation."

But Dr Kaufman feels that deliberate practice is best suited to specific activities that are limited in variability and require repeatable actions instead of creative ones.

"Deliberate practice is really important for fields such as chess and instrumental performance because they rely on consistently replicable behaviors that must be repeated over and over again. But not all domains of human achievement rely on consistently replicable behaviors. For most creative domains, the goals and ways of achieving success are constantly changing, and consistently replicable behaviors are in fact detrimental to success."

As Dr Kaufman further argues, creative people "...are under constant pressure to surpass what they and others have done before, and it is precisely this pressure that drives them toward ever increasing originality".

He goes further by saying...

"Creative products, by definition, are the antithesis of expertise. This is because creativity must be original, meaningful, and surprising...

Original in the sense that the creator is rewarded for transcending expertise, and going beyond the standard repertoire.

Meaningful in the sense that the creator must satisfy some utility function, or provide a new interpretation.

Surprising in that the original and meaningful creative product must be surprising not only to oneself, but to everyone".

All this got me thinking...

Have we been looking at sport from the perspective of expertise when we should be looking at sport from the perspective of creativity?

If you look at sport from an expertise perspective then you will agree with Prof Ericsson's standpoint that Deliberate Practice is important as the rules of the game are fixed and the techniques are the techniques. Master the techniques or face the consequences later.

On the other hand if you look at the development of sports people as a creative endeavour then you would want to work to avoid providing technical information and allow techniques to emerge as an adaptation to problems presented by the ever changing and dynamic environment.

Witness the emergence of Dwayne Bravo's slower ball bouncer or Tilekaratne Dilshan's 'ramp shot' in T20 cricket or Christiano Ronaldo's dipping free kicks or Sonny-Bill Williams one hand offloads or Tiger Wood's 2 iron 'Stinger' as examples of originality that is meaningful and also surprising.

All of these techniques are being created by these great players as solutions to problems that are presented by changes to the rules, changes to equipment or changes to the nature of the way the game is played in order to find an advantage.

In other words they are adapting to their environment....

In this blog post the excellent Mark