Learning to fall

Wandering along the river at the weekend we saw a small boy take a spill on his bike.

It was enough of a fall to draw a sharp intake of breath from both my wife and me but no real damage was done.

The boy instinctively dusted off his hands and winced at the bits of gravel embedded in the palms of his hands.

His Dad, walking behind us shouted, “That’s alright. Just dust yourself off. It won’t hurt as much if you ride on the grass.”

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My mum insisted my brother and I learn how to fall when we were little, “Tuck your elbow in and land on your hip and shoulder”. Good advice for adventurous boys.

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Over the years, I’ve introduced a handful of people to rock climbing; encouraging them as they take their first nervous steps up from the safety of the ground into the unknown.

The pattern of a first climb is pretty common: grip tightly to the holds, head up using mostly arm not leg strength, get to the top, clutch onto the largest object at the top, look down nervously, eventually release death-grip on the wall to be lowered down, grip the rope tightly on descent, kiss the floor with relief/sense of achievement, stare with wonder at forearms which appear to be pumped and burning, realise that you arms are now too tired to climb again for a long time.

Falling

Until you reach the top of the climb and release your weight onto the rope, you haven’t tested the system. You have no real trust in it. No experience of how it feels to sit in the harness, deliberately or otherwise, until you are in an exposed position.

So why not learn to fall when the stakes aren’t as high?

That’s how I teach. On terra firma I tie the person into their harness, show them the basics of my belay device, take up the slack in the rope, then I just fall down into my harness next to them. “I trust the system”, I’m saying. “You can too.”

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I’ve laboured the analogy; forgive me.

My point is that being comfortable and familiar with falling allows us to ride and climb better. We’ve reduced the cost of failure.

This doesn’t just apply to the great outdoors.  Learning to fall in our personal and work lives gives us the confidence to push our experimentation & creativity further.

So why isn’t learning to fall an integral part of every new undertaking?

 

Try something new for 30 days

Think about something you’ve always wanted to add to you life and try it for the next 30 days. ~ Matt Cutts (TED video)

I really recommend the video. It’s only 3 minutes long and pretty inspiring and persuasive.

TL-DR: the usual “thought -> action -> habit -> character -> destiny” progression logic. 30 days is apparently long enough to form new habits; be they exercise, diet, a photo a day, write a novel, avoid Facebook, TV, etc.

Something new

Inspired, I thought I’d give it a go. I picked doodling. A bunch of people like Sunni Brown have been championing the learning, creativity, problem-solving and innovation benefits of doodling recently.

So I began drawing. Very simple things and shapes. The sort of thing you can scribble on a whiteboard as a visual aid. Not Turner prize material. Using a free app on the iPad with one-click publishing to a free basic Tumblr site: Dreadful daily doodles

So far so good

20120911-145520.jpgI finished the 30 days and am carrying on with my new habit as I’ve learnt loads: cats can easily look like rats, dogs are really hard, our brains override what our eyes see with preconceived ideas of what something looks like, outline and shape can imply movement much better than detail, less is more.

Continue reading Try something new for 30 days

The optimism bias: Was Eeyore right?

Attempt at E H Shepard's Eeyore by Rob Tatman

A. A. Milne’s downbeat donkey is the poster-child for part 3 in the series about cognitive biases.

Eeyore had it right, we’re overconfident and too optimistic. Some evidence from the US:

95% of our teachers report that they are above average teachers.

96% of college students say they have above average social skills.

Time Magazine asked Americans, “Are you in the top 1% of earners?” 19% of Americans are in the top 1% of earners.

David Brooks: The social animal (TED Talk)

Continue reading The optimism bias: Was Eeyore right?

Confirmation Bias

Welcome to Part 2 in the series about cognitive biases. Critical thinking hats on…

  • Confirmation bias: the tendency to gather or interpret information that confirms our existing lines of thinking.

For example, I enjoy travelling and collect quotes and arguments for travelling (previous post) that ignore the anti-travelling view. (Is there one?!)  This is a blind spot for my critical thinking, albeit one that I recognise.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of cherry picking relevant information when time / resources are tight or when we have already settled on an answer.  However, we may regret discarding information in the future, particularly if our decisions are held up to scrutiny.

What can we do to minimise this bias?

One way is to deliberately seek out opposing views. Abraham Lincoln famously countered confirmation bias by forming his cabinet with those that publicly disagreed with him. Bold!

Creativity expert Roger Von Oech goes further and suggests we ask a fool to provide a different perspective and challenge our assumptions to stimulate our thinking.

BTW – If you are tempted into thinking this is all a bit fluffy then you may have succumbed to a confirmation bias about creativity experts; Von Oech has a Ph.D. from Stanford University and has provided creativity consulting to Apple, Disney, Sony and Intel. Continue reading Confirmation Bias

Biased? Me?!

Like most people, I like to think of myself as fairly rational. I’m not biased. Am I?

It turns out that there are lots of ways in which my thinking habits introduce bias into my decisions and judgements.  And yours.  I’m fascinated by these cognitive (aka thinking) biases and I’ve been keeping notes since discovering the concept on the Henley MBA. It’s both amazing and scary how they can distort our thinking.

Fortunately, I’ve found that learning about cognitive biases can help me recognise the common traps and so make better decisions.  In his book, A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink refers to this as equipoise: the ability to have the serenity to read the biases and failures in your own mind.

Continue reading Biased? Me?!