Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Like a surgeon

An interesting article on coaching by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker. If cyclists and sopranos have coaches, why not surgeons? Is the question he asks. There's insight into just what a coach does for you, but also peeks into sporting culture in general. For instance, this paragraph:
What we think of as coaching was, sports historians say, a distinctly American development. During the nineteenth century, Britain had the more avid sporting culture; its leisure classes went in for games like cricket, golf, and soccer. But the aristocratic origins produced an ethos of amateurism: you didn’t want to seem to be trying too hard. For the Brits, coaching, even practicing, was, well, unsporting. In America, a more competitive and entrepreneurial spirit took hold.
Apart from car culture and great distances, it helps explain why America tends to be a country of cyclists, unlike other countries that tend to have people who cycle. This sentence really stuck in my head:
Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence.
That's exactly the learning road that drills attempt to lead you through. They break down a complex movement into constituent parts (suddenly making conscious your incompetence with one or more of these parts), and then repeat them over and over in an unnatural way, gradually leading you through to (one hopes) unconscious competence. Sometimes, the mistakes you make are simple and easy to correct. The hard part is knowing you're making them in the first place. When paying for coaching, I often remind myself of the old joke about the mechanic who hits an engine with a hammer to get it to work. When asked to give a break down of his outrageously high bill, he writes: Hitting engine with hammer, $1. Knowing where to hit engine with hammer, $999. More to come on the subject of coaching!

1 comment:

  1. The formula of expertise sounds about right. Unconscious incompetence -->Conscious incompetence --> Conscious competence. The point about paying for coaching came up on a recent ride with Arvind last week. I thought that most people here need to know about and agree with this hammer story for paid coaching programs to do well here in India.